How long does it take a £43k pa councillor to answer a letter?

Having seen Inside Croydon’s report last night about the many interesting interests of Dudley and Margaret Mead, Croydon Council’s very own Terry and June, loyal reader John Gass got in touch.

Margaret Mead: half of Croydon Council's "first couple", banking £90,000 a year between them in allowances

Margaret Mead: half of Croydon Council’s “first couple”, banking £90,000 a year between them in allowances

Our report was about the various charities, businesses and committees which the Meads are involved with, but which they had forgotten to declare on Croydon Council’s register of interests. Or which they had deliberately left off their declarations.

According to Gass, Margaret Mead, the £43,339-a-year Croydon cabinet member for adult services and health has been forgetful on other matters, too, such as getting around to writing to local residents on questions involving her council responsibilities.

“If, by any chance,” Gass wrote, “Margaret Mead agrees to speak with you regarding these issues, can you please remind her that she still hasn’t provided an answer to my question, which she promised she’d give by mid-December 2012?”

Gass had asked a question of the Croydon cabinet member for health at a mental health meeting held last November. But Margaret Mead didn’t know the answer then, and invited him to write to her.

Gass shared with us his correspondence with Mead.

From: John Gass
Sent: 16 December 2012 11:20
To: Mead, Margaret
Subject: Answer to question from CVA

When I asked you a question at the Mental Health Forum meeting at the CVA on the 28th of November, you were unable to give me an immediate answer but said you’d respond within a week. I said that I wasn’t trying to put you under undue pressure, so we agreed a timescale of two weeks. That time has now elapsed, so I’m writing to remind you that this action is still outstanding.

My question was: “Do you care that, of the boroughs which use SLaM [South London and Maudsley] to provide adult mental health services, Croydon pays the lowest amount per capita? For the year 2010-2011, expenditure per capita was… Lambeth £299, Lewisham £271, Southwark £249… Croydon £161.”

I look forward to receiving your reply,
John Gass

This is the response that Gass received on December 18 from the Heathfield councillor:

Dear Mr Gass
I apologise for the delay in coming back to you as promised. I did email for clarification of the figures you quoted but unfortunately my computer went down and I had to resend the information.
However, I have asked for the information as soon as possible.
I am so sorry I have not been able to keep to the timetable I expected and thank you for your patience
kind regards

A sort of digital age version of “the dog ate my homework”?

Well, if Gass had then received any sort of answer, as now had twice been promised, maybe we could assume that Margaret Mead’s difficulty with her email was genuine.

Patiently, Gass waited again for an answer. By early February, nothing had been received. Maybe Margaret Mead was too busy with all her committees, Whitgift Foundation meetings and charities?

So he wrote to the Croydon Council cabinet member again. This was sent on February 5:

I am very disappointed and dismayed at the lack of any meaningful reply to a question which you said you would respond to way before Christmas. Can you please let me know why you seem unable to answer what is a fairly simple and basic enquiry?
John Gass

Gass says, “This email has never been answered or even acknowledged.”

Maybe the £43,000 a year councillor just forgot, like she and her husband forgot to fill in all their interests on the members’ register?

If you would like to contact Councillor Margaret Mead and not get a reply, her contact details are:

Margaret Mead (Cllr)
Cabinet Member for Health & Adult Social Care
London Borough of Croydon – Heathfield Ward
Tel: 020 8405 6746

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8 Responses to How long does it take a £43k pa councillor to answer a letter?

  1. Offering, ever so helpfully, to look into a matter and get back to the enquirer with a reply is a common ploy used by our councillors to avoid awkward questions in public meetings.

  2. Have I missed something here?

    The cost of treating a patient is surely determined by the nature of the illness, not the postcode.

  3. Sadly, David, that’s not how it works.

    SLaM (the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) is the main provider for mental health services across several boroughs, as can be seen in my original question.

    Each council allocates a certain amount each year for the provision of SLaM’s services, and SLaM provides services accordingly. This is why people from other boroughs who are suffering from mental health issues have access to a wider range of support and services, which are delivered to more people, than those of us who live in Croydon.

    The number of people who need treatment is not taken into account, unless by the borough when considering how to divvy up their overall budget, and there is no sign of this being the case, in Croydon at least.

    What is beyond dispute is that Croydon residents have to fight harder to get access to a more limited and curtailed range of services than do residents of the surrounding boroughs. As an example, did you know that despite the talk of recognising the need to provide talking therapy instead of relying on medication, at any one time, only around three Croydon residents will be receiving talking therapy per 100 patients under the care of SLaM?

    And to be under the care of SLaM, you have to have severe mental health issues. It really is a postcode lottery, where Croydon residents are very unlikely to find themselves holding a winning ticket.

    If anyone is inclined to see how this plays out in practice, spend some time following the SLaM TWIG: Operations blog via the link given below. TWIG is the Trust-Wide Involvement Group set up to keep people informed about what SLaM is doing, and to help people to get involved and take advantage of the services on offer. It’s a well-respected umbrella organisation which provides a channel of communication between SLaM and the multiplicity of local mental health organisations and charities. You’ll need to follow the blog for a while to realise how often initiatives in other boroughs are launched, and how infrequently Croydon even gets a mention.

    It’s not bias! It’s a sad reflection of what’s available in Croydon.

    Here’s the link:

  4. It may not be Margaret Mead’s fault.

    Having had some dealings in the past with the multi-headed beast which is SLaM (SLaM Lambeth, SLaM Southwark, SLaM Croydon and SLaM Lewisham are all essentially separate organisations, with nothing in common except at the very top of the organisation, or at least that’s how it was 6-7 years ago) – if she did ask SLaM for clarification of the figures, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they haven’t answered her yet…

    • But Bernard: Margaret Mead wasn’t asked for the figures. John Gass provided those in his question.

      John Gass’s actual question was: “Do you care?”

      Clearly, she does not know what she thinks. Or more likely doesn’t care.

      Or has forgotten.

  5. Thanks for the info John – that’s scandalous.

    It sounds to me like a job for Steve Reed, recently elected MP for Croydon North.

    As former leader of Lambeth Council, Mr Reed has been involved with the most generous of the local authorities contributing to SLaM. Now he represents people who suffer under the stingiest.

    I would hazard a guess that Mr Reed has a number of constituents who are poorly served by Croydon Council in this respect.

  6. mraemiller says:

    When we had our run-in with Westminster Council in 2010 I wrote to every single London Assembly Member who represented me – both parties. Now I know I wasn’t asking questions that have simple answers or are covered on how-to-be-a-party-representative training course but I was genuinely shocked that I didn’t get a reply from even one AM.

    What do they do all day? What’s this extra layer of government for? Many councillors of both parties couldn’t be bothered even to send an acknowledgement either when it directly involved or affected them. I know they don’t have the budget of an MP but neither do they have the postbag of an MP.

    That said I’ve taken up minor personal disputes with my local councillors and David Fitze, Susan Winborn and Vidhi Mohan were pretty good at getting back (and they must know I’d never vote for them and they have safe-ish seats so they could ignore me). Maybe it’s because I asked a non-party political, non-controversial question they could answer. They are all Conservatives (shudders) …erm … credit where it’s due I think.

    During the flyering ban debacle, I also wrote asking if the Labour party had an official policy on the flyering issue to many people internal to the Labour party – on the NEC and MPs. And suggested if they didn’t know themselves what the answer was they could tell me speculatively what they thought or something or give a general answer saying they were thinking about it. Now I know there are protocols on who MPs can write to (not their constituents etc) but only Ann Black on the NEC could actually be bothered to reply. That’s a bit sad.

    Anyway Councillors – well, if you ask me it’s a bit of a lottery and I doubt Margaret Mead is alone in her sloth. Not that that makes it any better.

  7. hello. We’ve moved to Croydon recently from Lambeth. I’ve emailed the councillors (not just MM) to find out about the cycling strategy, because on the council website it says they’ve come up with one that’s looking at the cyclist as a whole (that’s all it says, I’m not joking). I didn’t even get an acknowledgement of my email.

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