It’s ordinary people who pay for council’s £43m incompetence

The Sage of Waddon, ARFUR TOWCRATE, on the injustices created by Croydon Council as its allows its mountain of uncollected Council Tax to grow ever larger

Council Tax form 1A few years ago I received a court summons from Croydon Council for not paying my Council Tax. It wasn’t that I was skint or unwilling – it was down to a muck up with the standing order. Despite a 20-year track record of paying on time I had to cough up something like £60 to get their legal hounds off my back.

Funny how I got that treatment, yet such huge debts – more than £43 million – have been amassed collectively through non-payment by others.

Had the council tackled these debtors with the same vigour as they did with me, then maybe the David Lean Cinema would still be open, I could visit the Katharine Street library on a Sunday, watch a show at the Braithwaite Hall or see a play at the Warehouse Theatre. And that’s just me. Loads of less fortunate, more vulnerable people have had their lives turned upside down because of this crap council and its cuts.

How can this be?

In 2009, a local newspaper reported the case of a former senior manager in the council’s finance department, Alan Langridge, who won his claim for unfair dismissal. He told the employment tribunal that he’d been sidelined after telling senior councillors that accounts were being manipulated. The council defended his boss – Nathan Elvery – and in a statement at the time said:

“The background to the proceedings is one in which a relatively short time ago the council’s finances were in a serious state with reserves at rock bottom and the organisation facing a bleak outlook. Urgent action was needed to restore financial stability and key top-level appointments were made to ensure this happened as a top priority.

“Director of resources and customer services Nathan Elvery was appointed with a mission to restore the council’s financial position and to manage the council’s budget in line with auditor approval. Working with members and the chief executive, Nathan has directed a successful recovery – a process which has required fair but robust management intervention to get the organisation fit for purpose.”

A successful recovery, eh? Maybe. But if we suspend disbelief, as Martin Fry sang so well, “that was then, but this is now”.

Croydon Council Tax collection

Fast forward a bit and we’ve read reports of collapsing council deals with contractors like Olympic South (minicabs for disabled kids), London Hire Services (bus services for disabled kids), John Laing Integrated Services (outsourcing library services) and Xfor (litter enforcement). Then there’s the smoke and mirrors stuff with the “free” or £150million council offices, the £3 million on new furniture to fill it, the redundancy payments and compromise agreements to gag those staff with stories to tell (having learned the lesson from Mr Langridge that there is such a thing as bad publicity).

What worries me now are two things. One is that Nathan Elvery is now the “interim Chief Executive”.

The other is that whichever party wins the local elections next May, there’s clearly a lot of work to do to restore public trust and confidence in how our council both collects and spends our money.

Events such as those mentioned above suggest the Tories are in denial about the problem – so what does Labour have in the way of an action plan?

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2 Responses to It’s ordinary people who pay for council’s £43m incompetence

  1. derekthrower says:

    It will be interesting to hear how much the illustrious local authority is writing off each year.

    Further, do they realise by allowing endless speculative land banking, building consent without buildings and empty property space, they are foregoing income for the Council Tax-payers of Croydon? I think they do, but we all know they have another agenda going on.

  2. A deficit of £43m is sizeable. It’s almost half as much again as the £30m we spent on a new central library; the borough’s most recent self-financed capital project.
    But I suspect this black hole didn’t materialise overnight. So when did it materialise, exactly?
    Is this substantially a legacy of the last Labour administration? Was the party as economically incompetent locally as it was nationally?
    If so, are there extenuating circumstances that mean the borough’s finances would be safe in Mr Newman’s hands, if we gave him and his Labour colleagues another chance next year?
    Does Mr Elvery have a cunning plan to recover the money, or must we write it off?
    And, if so, will central government pick up the tab, or will Big Eric (Pickles) pass the buck back to the long-suffering tax payers of Croydon?

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