Only in the dystopian, secretive world of Croydon in 2012 could an open meeting begin with a public servant, the £248,000 council chief executive, demanding that the press must leave.
That’s exactly what happened yesterday at a West Croydon Community Forum, with Jon Rouse refusing to discuss matters of great public interest in terms of post-riots recovery work along London Road until Inside Croydon and other media left the room.
West Croydon Community Forum is an organisation set up to rally the community in the London Road area since the 8/8 riots. Rouse had kept the 25-strong audience at the Croydon Voluntary Association waiting for 40 minutes, and after he finally turned up, he took exception to the first question from a local resident about regeneration efforts and parking matters, stating that he is “accountable only to scrutiny committees of the council”.
Rouse said such questions should be addressed to a meeting populated by “democratically elected politicians” and that it was not appropriate for such a question to be posed to “professional officers”.
Rouse singled out one member of the audience, objecting to their being present at what had been publicised as an open meeting and asking them to justify their attendance.
Rouse then said he was “uncomfortable” and would refuse to co-operate with the meeting while the press was present.
“I just feel uncomfortable about this situation,” he said. “It’s not appropriate for an officer to be placed in this position. It is going to be a very different meeting if the press are here.
“It is not my job to place myself in a position in which I have to defend council policy and have my words scrutinised and reported on by the press. That is the place of our democratically elected politicians.”
This is a fascinating insight into the working of the mind of the council’s most senior executive: presumably, without a meeting being recorded properly and reported by the media, he would be more comfortable, since he would be able to tell members of the public any load of old cobblers and never have what he said checked against his record or delivery. Well worth £248,000 of public money.
Rouse’s stance prompted a vote to be held to decide whether the press could stay. With many abstaining, it was decided by 5 votes to 4 to ask the media to leave. Showing just how politically active the professional CEO is, Rouse then ignored the chair of the meeting, to claim that more than five people had voted for the exclusion.
Today, the Ministry of Truth at Taberner House made another ill-conceived effort to spin their boss out of the latest mess he had made for himself, trying to claim that the meeting was not an open one and that it was all a “misunderstanding”. Had Rouse managed to turn up on time, he will have heard it referred to as a public event, and he might have also realised that the press had been invited by WCCF’s vice-chairman.
Croydon Council, under Rouse’s management, continues to try to avoid accountability for the spending of your taxes on Croydon following the riots. There is growing concern, and some resentment, at the amount of money – intended to assist residents and businesses affected by arson and looting – being spent by the council on an expensive public relations consultancy.
“It’s bad enough having our business burnt out,” one London Road trader told Inside Croydon. “Now we find we’re being looted all over again, with the riot recovery fund is being handed over by the council to their expensive PR companies.”
And Nitin Mehta, of Croydon Motor Spares on London Road, backed up that sentiment when he said, “A lot of people are scratching their heads asking where the money has gone.”
Before Rouse arrived at yesterday’s meeting, another council officer had advised the meeting that the council was about to look at a new set of contracts with consultants. The council had this week refused to answer questions on how much was being paid to existing consultants White Label, saying “it is not appropriate”.
White Label claims to have worked for a range of publicly funded or part-public organisations connected with the council, including Your Croydon, Croydon Commitment, the Croydon Business Awards, Croydon BID, Croydon Constructing and Develop Croydon, as well as the council itself.
Yet in response to a question put to Public Question Time, asking for details of payments to White Label by Croydon Council or via third parties, the council admitted only to £35,373.95. Could this really be true?
Well, not according to a paper smuggled out of yesterday’s meeting, which showed more than £255,000 paid over on such essential items as “Destination Branding”, “Business Engagement (White Label), “Event Management: White Label” and some food events.
It is a damning piece of evidence about Croydon Council’s approach to the problems of the area, and further reinforces the fears of many residents of West Croydon and those worst-hit by the riots, who are increasingly convinced that taxpayers’ money is being frittered away, to line the pockets of a few council-friendly consultants.
- Legacy of the riots: Croydon abandoned by middle-class (standard.co.uk)
- £30m libraries privatisation could be sent for judicial review (insidecroydon.com)