Head of lobby group says she has no access to £5,000 grant

The chairman of what appears to be a somewhat self-important, glorified talking shop has claimed that she and her committee have no control over £5,000 of public money which Croydon Council granted to the organisation more than a year ago.

Elizabeth Ash: in charge of CCC, but claims not to have any control over its £5,000 council grant

Elizabeth Ash: in charge of CCC, but claims not to have control over its £5,000 council grant

Elizabeth Ash was recently elected chair of the Croydon Communities Consortium, or CCC, a title so woolly and nebulous that even she admits publicly that her organisation dislikes it. In a somewhat woolly and nebulous manner, one of Ash’s first acts on becoming CCC chair was to set up a “working party” to decide on a better name.

The CCC, according to Ash, “aims to engage, to act as a forum to explore issues, to actively encourage debate, to share information and to follow up on the issues that matter to Croydon”.

Still none the wiser? Thought not.

Put another way, also in the words of the Ash-run Consortium, “CCC would act as a facilitator and could disseminate information but [does] not intend taking up individual issues. The aim [is] to empower local communities to follow up issues.” The scriptwriters of Ever Decreasing Circles would be so proud.

Ash describes the £5,000 as “a small grant from Croydon Council”.

The grant was made in 2012 to help CCC’s running costs, when it applied for help towards staging an ambitious programme of 20 public meetings a year.

Nearly two years on, and the Consortium is about to stage a public meeting – following two annual meetings last year – in Shirley later this month.

There are further CCC public meetings planned, one in Old Coulsdon in February and another to be staged in March, though at a rate of one meeting per month, Ash’s Consortium may struggle to meet the target which was made when bidding for the public funding.

Ash says that CCC’s programme of meetings for 2014 exceeds “the terms of the funding agreement from Croydon Council”.

What is less clear is whether the Consortium under Ash’s control complies with Croydon Council’s other, strict conditions for funding, which properly demand that the organisation should have “strong financial procedures in place”.

Ash herself has in the past week admitted on the Consortium’s website that, “The current committee have no access to these funds, nor did the working group before them.”

The Croydon Communities Consortium was formed after Croydon Council decided in 2011 to pull the funding rug out from under the existing Neighbourhood Partnerships.

The Partnerships network of groups around the borough had operated for a decade, liaising with the council, the police and residents’ associations, but was one of the victims of the Tory-run council’s austerity cuts – after all, you wouldn’t expect the people who brought us the £140 million Fisher’s Folly actually to want to engage with the residents that they are supposed to represent, would you?

There was a deeper reality, though: the Neighbourhood Partnerships too often involved  just one or two keen volunteers, meeting with council officers and just a few well-intentioned others in chilly church halls, largely unseen and unnoticed by the vast majority of Croydon residents.

The council wound-up the Neighbourhood Partnerships by axing its £60,000 a year grant, the NP people claimed that they could no longer hold any meetings for lack of insurance cover.

Croydon Council instead opted to stage “road shows” around the borough. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of having florid-faced Mike Fisher telling local residents what he and other councillors on five-figure “allowances” are doing for them. Most see these events as publicly funded publicity stunts for the incumbent Conservative council, offering what has been described as “death by PowerPoint”.

Is there a Croydon Communities Consortium meeting planned for your ward in the weeks before the May elections?

Is there a Croydon Communities Consortium meeting planned for your ward in the weeks before the May elections?

Those who worked the Neighbourhood Partnerships sought to keep them going in some form. The long-time capo dei capi of the various chairs of the Neighbourhood Partnerships, John Cheetham, formed a working party which came up with what is now known – by those who can be bothered to notice – as the Croydon Communities Consortium.

But Cheetham and most of the committee that formed the CCC were ousted in November by a bloodless putsch at the Town Hall led by his vice-chair, Ash.

After two years of relative inactivity by the Consortium, beyond making sure that they stuck in an application for council money, the council’s grant remains relatively untouched, except for a little more than £100 spent on a radio microphone. It is less reassuring to see that Ash has claimed ignorance to absolve herself and her committee of responsibility by stating that they don’t know where this property, bought with public money, now is. How careless.

Being a body receiving public funding, it is important for CCC to be fully accountable. According to its erstwhile treasurer, the Consortium’s accounts were scrutinsed by the council last October and it was satisfied that everything was in order.

Yet when the Consortium held its re-convened annual meeting in November, there were no annual accounts available.

CCC’s first stab at a 2013 annual meeting, last July, had broken up amid some acrimony. Four meetings for the committee scheduled in the weeks afterwards were all cancelled. At the “second” AGM in the Town Hall chamber last November, on a hurriedly re-arranged date, the “open and public” event for the whole of Croydon was attended by … just 37 people.

Although CCC claims to be apolitical, one-quarter of the attendees were either elected councillors or have already declared as candidates for political parties at next May’s local elections. It is suggested that others involved in CCC – including Ash herself – may intend to stand for the council.

The CCC’s November meeting accepted a note on the organisation’s finances from the original treasurer, Syd Cheesewright, who according to confidential memos seen by Inside Croydon, had already decided he wanted nothing more to do with Ash and the organisation. In his absence, Cheesewright was replaced by Coulsdon resident Roger Clark, the partner of the newly elected CCC membership secretary, Janet Stollery.

It would be reasonable to suggest that next week’s public meeting is not being staged after a “smooth transition” from the previous committee which obtained the council grant to Ash’s new “team”.

Croydon Town Hall, scene in November of the "bloodless putsch" takeover of the Consortium

Croydon Town Hall, scene in November of the “bloodless putsch” takeover of the Consortium

As soon as he had presided over the elections of the new committee, founding chairman Cheetham got up and walked out.

In the month since, the newly elected secretary, Marzia Nicodemi-Ehikioya (a Labour party candidate in Shirley ward next May), has resigned over a dispute with Ash. No replacement has yet been named.

Sanderstead resident Ash, a primary school-teacher by profession and governor of a local school, has had a high profile locally over the past three years, since appointing herself as the head of the Save Croydon Libraries Campaign. Ash’s badgering on Twitter so annoyed Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell that he resorted to dismissing her as “a loon”.

At one point, Ash even got herself banned by Croydon Council from approaching staff in the borough’s libraries. There is no record of the Save Croydon Libraries Campaign having had any meetings of members to discuss its policies or strategy, nor of any elections ever taking place.

Meanwhile, the process for people to attend Ash’s CCC public meeting in Shirley on January 14 appears to be overly complicated. Ash requires online registration, something which potentially eliminates many elderly and retired residents who are not wired to the interweb.

It also raises an important privacy issues, because despite Ash’s stated fondness for correct procedure, Croydon Communities Consortium is not thought to be licensed by the Information Commissioner to hold individuals identity details, as required by the Data Protection Act.

It will be interesting to see whether potential attendees are turned away for not having registered for an event which CCC’s website states is “open to everyone”.

Those who do manage to make it inside the Shirley Community Centre on Shrublands Avenue (7pm start) might struggle to hear what’s being said at the meeting.

Because despite her organisation having spent more than £100 on a radio microphone for use at such meetings, CCC chair Ash has recently put out another appeal for help: “Microphones: If you are able to help us with suitable equipment to amplify those speaking at our meetings, or have suggestions, please get in touch.”

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3 Responses to Head of lobby group says she has no access to £5,000 grant

  1. Chairman – would that be Madam Chairman by any chance ? Or perhaps Chair – for the modern.

    • Haha… It’s a tricky one, Terry, because we don’t seek to offend anyone, but the iC style guide determines that “a chair” is something someone sits on.

      “Chairman” is a position or office which can be held by either gender and is our preferred use.

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