Council pays public money to private school for election count

Croydon’s Tory-run council is to pay thousands of pounds of tax-payers’ money to a wealthy private school to use its halls for the election count later this month, instead of using its own buildings, like the £140 million “Fisher’s Folly” new head offices in the centre of town.

The old school ties bind Barwell to the Whitgift FoundationThis comes at a time after many council-run facilities have been axed or still face closure because of cuts being imposed by the Conservative group that has run Croydon Council for the past eight years.

The election count will be held at Trinity School in Shirley, one of the independent schools run by the Whitgift Foundation, among the country’s richest education charities.

The chairman of the governors of Trinity is an old boy of the school, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, or as he is increasingly known, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, for his on-going role on the organisation’s board. Another notable Trinity old boy is Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Tory group on Croydon Council.

The count and election result declarations for all 24 of Croydon’s wards will take place at the school throughout Friday, May 23, the day after polling.

“It’s like holding the count in Barwell’s living room,” one election candidate told Inside Croydon, adding that they were “disgusted” with the decision.

“Trinity’s about three miles from the town centre, and is a lot less easy for many people from around the borough to get to using public transport, especially if they want to go there after the polls close at 10pm on May 22, as candidates are entitled to do,” our source said.

“Wasn’t the point of spending £140 million on building the new headquarters to make sure that the council’s own venues are used for important civic occasions such as this? Are they going to claim that Bernard Weatherill House does not have a suitable space to hold the count? Because if they do, then clearly it’s another important aspect of the design brief which the council and John Laing got horribly wrong, at the expense of Croydon Council Tax-payers.

“And aren’t there any state schools in the borough with halls where a count could be staged, and which could probably do with the rental fees far more than Barwell’s old school?

“In hard times, it is important that we ensure that public facilities and venues work, and to do that, we have to make sure that they get maximum use. The Fairfield Halls used to hold election counts, and the rental paid was an important source of income. It offered good facilities and having local television cameras gave the halls some good profile.

“Someone on the council needs to explain why the only place they can find to hold Croydon’s election count is a posh private school which has close ties to Barwell and senior councillors.”

Tory deputy leader Dudley Mead: his old school is getting thousands of pounds of public dosh

Croydon Tories’ deputy leader Dudley Mead: his old school is getting thousands of pounds of public dosh

The borough’s senior election official, the returning officer, is Nathan Elvery, who also happens to be the interim chief executive of the council. Elvery has a budget of around £7,500 to pay towards hall hire for the count, out of his overall election expenses grant provided by central government.

Croydon Council took its election count to Trinity School for the first time in 2010, when there were counts for the  General Election and Town Hall elections. Since then, the fee-paying school which charges pupils around £15,000 per year to attend has also received public money for staging the AV referendum vote count in 2011.

The council opened its new headquarters building on CostYouAMint Walk last October, so this month’s elections would have been the first opportunity to utilise the building.

When in 2011 the council press office was asked to explain the decision for paying public money to the private school, they told Inside Croydon,  “Because the returning officer has decided that is the best venue for it.”

Can that rationale still apply?

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

About insidecroydon

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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6 Responses to Council pays public money to private school for election count

  1. davidcallam says:

    This is a curious decision.

    I have no idea whether Fisher’s Folly has a large enough floor space to host an election count. As I recall, the counting used to be done in the Arnhem Gallery at Fairfield. What’s wrong with that? It is much more central for all concerned than Trinity School in Shirley. And if there are fees to be paid they would be going to a cash-strapped community cause that Croydon Council claims to support.

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    I’d like to know who made this decision to hold these counts at Trinity School? And who opposed it? An “Inner Cabinet” directive perhaps? This is a civic matter and should be hosted in civic circumstances. If the taxpayers of Croydon have to foot a bill for this (and probably only 35% will bother to vote) then it’s another example of this Council wasting our money. And it is OUR money.

  3. This is wrong for all sorts of reasons:

    a. Trinity School is a selective private school; many people in our community do not feel at ease socially in that environment. It is important that any part of a democratic process is held in a venue which has some sense of community ownership and where all stakeholders feel at ease.

    b. There are too many links between The Whitgift Foundation and people who are elected to represent the electorate. It is important that elected representatives are “seen” to be representing the people of Croydon first and foremost – not some major vested interest, which is the biggest property owner in the Borough.

    c. Croydon desperately needs clear divisions between its major stakeholders to bring transparent, robust governance to the Borough. Those stakeholders include:

    1. all major charities;
    2. the Council;
    3. Westminster representation;
    4. the faith groups including the Church of England;
    5. businesses.

    Good governance should also include regular rotation of people on governing bodies and in key posts to prevent cosy groupings arising because, as Adam Smith warned in 1776, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

  4. prometheus47 says:

    Doesn’t seem right to hold elections at a venue whose owners may have significant financial interests in the outcome of the election.

    Could this be referred to the electoral commission? do they have power to investigate/intervene?

  5. east1956 says:

    That the council should use the largest coherent venue in the borough for elections should not be an issue. It has lots & lots of space and massive car-parking facilities with suitable separation between toffs, hangers-on and the scum, and a super hall for the declarations. It also has lovely canteen & facilities that Cllrs, candidates, agents, the media and snr officers can use.
    I am led to understand from one of the porters that during the general election chaos ensued because while Trinity School let the premises & car parks on the understanding of exclusive use, it failed to cancel various sports clubs; inform car driving parents of this arrangement and had several buses full of schoolboys arrive when the porters expected to have exclusive and safe use of the car park area. Allegedly the council personnel trying to close the carpark for the set-up found themselves in a near impossible position offensively harangued by Trinity School evebing sports facilities users and parents.

    However, what should perhaps be the issue is just how much Trinity School, part of the Whitgift Foundation a charitable body for the education of poor boys of the borough, is charging the council. Surely the Whitgift Foundation shouldn’t be seeking to profit from the democratic process that has for a century & more indulged it so generously. But no doubt it all goes to help provide all those “poor boys” with paper and pencils.

    One Inner London council has decided to clear the equivalent of a floor of its newly built HQ, and told staff to work from home or get out on site, unless they have a role where they must be in the building to take calls from residents. Of course these lefty councils can take a Stalinist approach to telling the workers what to do, whereas Croydon is unique and couldn’t possibly do that!

  6. derekthrower says:

    The cost of hiring Trinity school should be a transparent figure which can be open to scrutiny. A second point is that members of the public cannot even attend the count at Trinity to see if all is above board. Only party workers are allowed access to witness the count and hear the results. The exclusion of members of the wider community seems to be an unusual state of affairs.

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