Croydon Council: where David Brent is a management “guru”

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Only 15 per cent of Croydon’s staff say that  the council is a place where it’s easy to get things done. The council’s contemptuous approach to the Freedom of Information Act, and towards residents, demonstrates that on a near-daily basis, writes STEVEN DOWNES

A Croydon Council document of mind-numbing banality, with enough management BS to provide Ricky Gervais with an entire series of material for David Brent in The Office, arrives in reception at Inside Croydon Towers.

Compooter says No: Has David Walliams obstructive character infiltrated the offices of Croydon Council

Compooter say No: David Walliams’ obstructive character could be behind Croydon Council’s FoI answers

Entitled Let’s Talk, this 28-page document is the brainchild of Nathan Elvery, the council’s “interim” chief executive.

Our council clearly suffers from mismanagement through Powerpoint. The document is the basis of a presentation given recently by Elvery at “roadshows” to staff – who clearly have nothing better to do with their time, such as serving the people of Croydon.

Elvery, who is apparently as keen on empty axioms as David Brent, would do better to remember that the borough council’s motto is “Proud to Serve”. And to remind his staff  to aspire to such an attitude.

Instead of that, Elvery rallied his troops with Powerpoint slides headed:

“Our people – where do you want to be?”

The answers he offered to his own question included “Taking personal responsibility”, “Working with agility and flexibility” (has he hired Olga Korbut to staff the reception desk at Taberner House?), “Taking initiative and feeling empowered”, “Open, active, transparent communication” and “Looking outward at customers”.

“Open, active, transparent communication”. Remember that one.

Set aside all Elvery’s fine words, and consider instead our council’s true attitude to local residents by looking at their Freedom of Information answers, responses to requests from members of the public. Proud to Serve?

Often slow in responding – despite legal requirements on the council to comply within a set number of days – and almost always evasive or obstructive, Croydon Council’s FoI answers are the utter antithesis of Proud to Serve. More Let’s Not Talk.

It is as if Croydon Council’s office is staffed by another comedy staple, the David Walliams officious woman whose only response, ever, is “Compooter say ‘No’.”

The road works that have just started on Old Lodge Lane. IMage by Gary Wilson of the Old Coulsdon Residents' Association

The road works that have just started on Old Lodge Lane. Image by Gary Watson of the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association

Take the example of the council response this week about the subject of the disruptive road works on Old Lodge Lane which will cause inconvenience to thousands of Coulsdon residents for months to come.

The questions are entirely reasonable, and have been addressed to the local council seeking help and information, again entirely reasonably. It took Croydon Council more than three weeks to provide the following answer.

1.  Please provide PDF copies of the current road layout, and the proposed final road layout.  Please ensure these have enough detail to read all markings.

Unfortunately Croydon do not have these drawings as the project is Transport for London’s and they will have the drawings.

[Is this even believable? Could Croydon Council have not obtained such drawings from TfL in the three weeks since they received the enquiry? Proud to Serve?]

2.  Beside the plan of the new layout, please also provide a copy of the report setting out the costs and benefits of the scheme, setting out a monetary value of each element against its cost.

Unfortunately, the Authority do not have these as it is a TfL project.

[Compooter say No]

3.  Who within TfL actually gave approval for this scheme to go ahead?

Unfortunately, we are unable to answer this question as this is a TfL scheme.

[Compooter say No]

4.  London Borough of Croydon did not receive any traffic committee report on this scheme, despite its major impact on Old Lodge Lane.  How was LBC consulted over this scheme?

Discussions were held between the Authority and TfL a few years ago for some improvement works but nothing had materialised. The Authority attended a meeting on 30 April and TfL sent out their notification on 1 May.

[Is this an example of what Nathan Elvery means by “Open, active, transparent communication”?]

5.  Who gave approval within LBC for this scheme, and why?  How were Members consulted upon it?

Please refer to question 3. Members received notification from TfL on 1 May. TfL then held meetings with Council officers on 28 May and on 29 May met with Members, Council officers and Resident Associations representatives.

6.  In terms of the closure of Old Lodge Lane for 4 months, and long diversions, which would be very disruptive to local movement:  Who within TfL actually gave approval for these works to be implemented in this way?

Please refer to question 3.

[Compooter say No]

7.  LBC did not receive any traffic committee report for these works, despite its major impact on Old Lodge Lane. Why was this?  How was LBC consulted over these works?

Please refer to question 3.

[Compooter say No]

8.  Who gave approval within LBC for these works, and why?  How were Members consulted upon them?

Please refer to question 5.

[Compooter say No]

9.  Please provide the cost-benefit analysis for this option and all others considered, such as keeping Old Lodge Lane for all or most of the time, and possible oneway working in Old Lodge Lane.

Please refer to question 3.

[Compooter say No]

If you are dissatisfied with the way the council has handled your request under the Freedom of Information Act you may ask for an internal review….

Croydon's interim CEO Nathan Elvery: mismanagement by Powerpoint

Croydon’s interim CEO Nathan Elvery: mismanagement by Powerpoint

That last bit is not added by Croydon Council as some sort of sick joke. It is added by the council because it is a legal requirement. But Croydon Council’s utter contempt for the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, and for local residents, is about the only thing about our council which is actually transparent.

“Taking personal responsibility”?

“Working with agility and flexibility”?

“Taking initiative and feeling empowered”?

“Open, active, transparent communication”?

“Looking outward at customers”?

Proud to Serve?

There is one fact from Nathan Elvery’s verbose Let’s Talk document, though, which does have the ring of truth to it. “Only 15 per cent of staff said the council’s a place where it’s easy to get things done”.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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4 Responses to Croydon Council: where David Brent is a management “guru”

  1. Mary Wolf says:

    I’m no standard bearer for Croydon Council at present but isn’t there a wider issue here – TfL’s even WORSE levels of communication and accountability? What is the route for a London citizen to obtain information from TfL?

    • FoI, also. But our local authorities and London Assembly Members ought to work as intermediaries to keep the city-wide transport authority accountable.

      By definition, our focus is Croydon. This enquiry might have been dealt with in two, better ways. Within a day, Croydon might have responded advising the resident to contact TfL. Or they might have passed it on to TfL themselves and sought an answer on behalf of the resident.

      Instead, they kept the resident waiting for three weeks to basically tell them to eff off.

      And we pay them to do this?

  2. ndavies144 says:

    TFL are at least as good as Croydon Council for trying to get out of answering FoI requests. A quick nose round Whatdotheyknow finds gems like as well as a continuing discussion on the siting of bus stops in Coulsdon

  3. There is another way in which the council operates that limits public engagement and transparency.

    Members of the public are limited to submitting one question up to 50 words to a council meeting and have to give two weeks’ notice. This means that in order to get detailed information on a particular issue covered by more than one question members of the public have to co-operate together to submit several questions.

    It also means that urgent issues that emerge in the two weeks before the council meeting cannot be subject to a submitted question.

    Perhaps both main political parties would consider promising improving the public question system to enable more than one question per member of the public with a higher maximum of words, and provision of questions by 10am of the morning of the meeting on urgent matters?

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