There is mounting evidence that some of Croydon Council’s most senior officials are behaving in a dubious manner in respect of the local elections later this month, when they have tens of thousands of pounds of public money at their disposal which potentially could be abused to favour one party over all others.
Some of the conduct is at best questionable, but there is also evidence that leading figures from the local Conservative Party, including senior councillors, have managed to blur the distinction between officials’ proper conduct, to the benefit of Tory candidates.
Council employees, such as Nathan Elvery and Julie Belvir, owe their positions, and their generous six-figure public servant salaries, to the likes of florid-faced Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Tories, and his henchman, Phil “Two Permits” Thomas.
Belvir is the borough solicitor who has always seemed most reluctant to take any disciplinary action over the conduct of Tory councillors. Such as when a member of the planning committee sent out job applications using her official council email address and offering her planning “expertise” to the potential employers. Belvir found an excuse to avoid acting on an apparent abuse of public office.
Elvery is the “interim chief executive” of Croydon Council. He also acts as the returning officer for the borough, supposedly overseeing the fair conduct of the local elections on May 22. Entrepreneurial Elvery’s appointment as the borough’s CEO, with its accompanying £200,000-plus salary, is still subject to confirmation. This may depend on which party wins the election in three weeks’ time.
The council’s employees are supposed to be strictly neutral and separate from the political process, and public money is not supposed to be used to favour any political party. But there have been a number of occasions when that supposed neutrality can be called into question.
This week, we have reported how Elvery has chosen not to use any civic buildings – such as the £140 million new council headquarters in the heart of the borough – but instead spend thousands of pounds of public money to hold the election count in a private school, where the chairman of governors is a local Conservative MP and one of its most notable Old Boys is the deputy leader of the Tory group on the council.
Then there were the Council Tax leaflets which were sent to every household in the borough in March and the latest edition of Croydon’s very own “Town Hall Pravda“, as government minister Eric Pickles would call it, the council’s Your Croydon magazine, which all looked like something produced straight from Conservative Party headquarters. And all published at the expense of Croydon Council Tax-payers.
There were even suggestions that the original design of the cover of the March edition of Your Croydon, featuring emergency services working on the Kenley floods, was withdrawn, apparently on the order of senior Town Hall figures, to be replaced with a soft-focus image of the Hammersfield development and graphics that were almost identical to those appearing in Tory election materials. More than mere coincidence?
Now Inside Croydon has obtained copies of emails sent in the past week which show how a senior Tory councillor contrived to get council directors and other officials to give a “heads up” to (as yet unelected) Conservative Party candidates, potentially assisting in their campaign on a key issue in one of the battleground wards which could determine who wins control of the council later this month.
The correspondence stemmed from an article published by Addiscombe’s Labour councillors about (what else?) fly-tipping in their ward.
As opposition councillors, Sean Fitzsimons and his Labour colleagues have had to watch over the past four years as the flawed policies and service cuts implemented by the Tory-run council have halved the frequency of bin collections, seen contractors Veolia allowed to monitor their own work (it saves on paying council officials to do so, but is the council equivalent of marking your own homework), and in 2013 saw the council bring the grand total of no prosecutions cases against fly-tippers.
Phil Thomas, the Conservative cabinet member responsible for the state of the borough’s streets, began the chain of emails at the start of the week when he wrote from his private account email@example.com , apparently to a council official: “Can you please get the fly tipping removed from Alexandra Rd on Tues ? There are numerous Veolia orange bags there attracting all sorts of rubbish. Thanks, Philip”.
So far, so good. It seems that even Thomas is beginning to acknowledge how bags of crap left on random street corners by his contractors attract ever more bags of crap.
Thomas had had the Addiscombe councillors’ website article pointed out to him by Mario Creatura.
Creatura is another public servant who is supposed to behave politically neutrally while he works on the Westminster staff of Croydon Central’s Conservative MP Gavin Barwell.
Creatura’s party political activity while on the public pay-roll has drawn regular complaints. His indulgent boss reckons Creatura always does his party work during his breaks from work.
Creatura also happens to be standing for election on May 22 as one of the Tory candidates in the safe Conservative ward of Coulsdon West, although before he was parachuted in as a candidate, he had no obvious ties with the area. So from May 23, he’ll be adding at least £12,000 a year in council “allowances” to the generous taxpayer-funded salary he already receives as the “gobby factotum” for Barwell.
He had written to Thomas about the Addiscombe fly-tipping from his official Westminster email account, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few hours later, Thomas was on the case again. Still using his private email account (was he writing as a Croydon councillor, or as a Croydon Tory?), at 9.58am on April 29, Thomas wrote to Anthony Brooks. Brooks is the director public safety and public realm at the council.
“Tony,” Thomas wrote, “Can we please target this road to catch the people fly tipping?”
Thomas copied his email to his Tory cabinet colleague Simon “I’m Cheap But I’m Not Free” Hoar, Creatura and his boss, Barwell, and to Andy Opie, another council official, the “head of community safety services”.
Significantly, the final name on the list of recipients of Thomas’s email was David Harmes, one of the three Conservative candidates in Addiscombe who are challenging to win back this key ward. At no point until now had Thomas sought to involve either the elected councillors for the ward, nor any of the candidates standing in the local election from other parties, such as the Greens, UKIP or LibDems.
Just after midday on Wednesday, Councillor Thomas got a formal response from Croydon Council, sent from Opie’s personal assistant. This was also sent to Fitzsimons.
It said: “I understand that you have both raised the issue of Veolia bags left in Alexandra Road in Addiscombe; thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. This matter was passed to the ISC Streetscene team for clearing yesterday, and I have also referred the matter to the Enforcement Team for further investigation. As soon as I have more information I will update you.”
Also copied in was Councillor Hoar and as yet unelected Tory candidates Creatura and Harmes. The email was addressed to “Councillors”. Maybe someone inside the council’s offices has some advance information about the outcome of the election on May 22?
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- These are the councillors who voted to build on a public park
- Tory council pays public money to private school for election count
- Telegraph poll suggests UKIP poised to win Town Hall seats
- Tea-time leaflet leaves Easter egg over faces of Waddon Tories
- What Barwell fails to tell you and the myths of Council Tax
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, May 4
- Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce Question Time, May 7
- David Lean Cinema: Wadjda, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- South Norwood local election hustings, May 12
- Thornton Heath local election hustings, May 14
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Broad Green local election hustings, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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