STEVEN DOWNES, editor of Inside Croydon, winds up the pre-election coverage on what all parties agree is a vitally important day for the borough
This is the £1 billion local election.
As if eyeing a prize dangling at the end of a special Croydon edition of Who Wants To Be A Billionaire, the local Labour and Conservative parties know that on offer is the opportunity to have their hand on the tiller at the Town Hall as the £1 billion Hammersfield development comes to fruition. Handled properly, for the benefit of the many, it can help the town prosper for a generation. But handed over to a few greedy developers, few people in Croydon will truly benefit.
Less often mentioned, at least by the Conservatives who have been running – or is that ruining? – Croydon for eight years is the £1 billion debt that they have accumulated since 2006.
If the political map of the borough is to change at all, then it is up to the people of Croydon, and Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, to carry out their civic duty at a polling booth today.
Make no mistake, if florid-faced Mike Fisher and his Tory cronies cling on to power after today’s election, they will change the face of Croydon forever. Barely disguised attempts to gerrymander parts of the borough, with high-end Yuppie developments being built to the exclusion of more affordable homes, could secure marginal Tory parliamentary seat Croydon Central for the Conservatives for the foreseeable future.
That is why the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, Gavin Barwell, has been so hands-on in these local elections, openly joking that he has been working on the strategy for the last four years, as he has camped out in the Members’ Room at the Town Hall – an area supposedly reserved for current, not past, councillors. Such is Barwell’s, and Croydon Tories’, arrogant sense of entitlement and privilege.
This election really ought to be about trust.
- Croydon Conservatives clearly don’t trust the people of Croydon. That’s why they didn’t produce a proper manifesto, because they did not want to commit to putting forward any real promises or policy for the borough.
- Can you trust the people who have raised Council Tax by more than £170 (Band D), to one of the highest levels in the whole of London, yet have spent all their time during this election campaign referring to a previous administration’s tax increase, and one which they have done nothing to reverse?
- Can you trust a self-serving set of councillors who almost the first thing they did when re-elected in 2010 was to hike the allowances that they pay themselves, so that Croydon Council Tax-payers now fork out more than £1.4 million a year to Messrs Fisher, Steve O’Connell, Phil Thomas and Dudley Mead and their chums?
- Can you trust the same set of councillors who have meanwhile cut funding to voluntary and youth groups, have axed the jobs of lollipop traffic patrols, halved the frequency of our bin collections, privatised our public libraries, flogged off the Riesco Collection at a knock-down price, and reduced funding to the Family Justice Centre?
- Can you trust the same set of councillors who meanwhile authorised the £140 million build of Fisher’s Folly, the luxury council headquarters and spent nearly £5 million more on comfy chairs and smart new desks?
- Can you trust an administration that in eight years has built up the borough’s debt to £1 billion, yet presides over one of the worst Council Tax collection performances in the country?
- Can you trust the same set of councillors who allow the council’s full-time Finance Director to set-up and run his own little private consultancy business on the side?
- Can you trust a group of councillors who allow one of their members who sits on the planning committee to abuse their position by sending off job applications from their council email account boasting of their planning expertise, and escape any public sanction?
- Can you trust a group of people who allow seven- and eight-year-old children to be charged thousands of pounds just to be taught to read and write?
- Can you trust a group of politicians who boast about “improving” school performances in the borough, when the GCSE results are among some of the worst in the country?
- Can you trust a group of councillors who are so laughably incompetent that they miss out entire wards of the borough in their own election materials, and who refuse public scrutiny by failing to attend debates on the radio or at hustings?
- Can you trust a group of councillors who willfully lie about crime in the borough, claiming its is “safer”, when Metropolitan Police figures show an increase in the number of murders, rapes and violent crime?
- Can you trust a group who for five years have kept top secret the details of a deal with a developer involving £450 million-worth of public property?
- And can you trust a group of councillors who allowed the 2011 Croydon Riots to happen on their watch, and who then proceeded to dole most of the riot recovery funds to areas less badly affected by the arson and looting, favouring their own wards at the expense of the victims of the rioting?
Mike Fisher, the leader of the council these past eight years, said he wanted the election to be fought on the Tories’ record, and he then spent the entire campaign talking about little else other than what happened at the Town Hall before 2006.
Of course, a vote for any other political party today requires an act of trust in what they say they will do when in office. Thing is, every other political group standing in Croydon today have put forward some sort of manifesto of policies, and most include promises to greater accountability and transparency.
The Conservatives who run Croydon have been profoundly unaccountable and have encouraged a culture at the council where transparency is actively discouraged.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that over the past eight years, the Conservatives in Croydon have lost our trust?
- Over the past months we have brought to you unrivalled in-depth news, views and analysis on the political scene in Croydon that has identified candidates, issues and the battleground wards. Do check out the archive here to search for references to your area or councillors
- The party line: Labour
- The party line: Greens
- The party line: UKIP
- The party line: LibDems
- The party line: TUSC
- The party line: Conservatives
- Policy analysis 1: The incinerator
- Policy analysis 2: Hammersfield
- Policy analysis 3: Crime
- Policy analysis 4: Housing
- Overnight we will be reporting live on the count from Trinity School, where the first results are expected after 2am. We welcome your election-day pictures and information, your comments and your observations, which you can email to us at email@example.com or via Twitter @InsideCroydon, using the generic hashtag #LE14