Virtually the first thing which Croydon’s new mayor, Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, was forced to do on taking office last night was to apologise to around two dozen members of the public because of the latest embarrassing council technology short-coming caused in the handover to IT outsourcing “experts” Crapita.
The members of the public had turned up at the Town Hall to witness the annual ceremonial “Mayor Making”, but instead were forced to sit in an ante room and watch a television screen which failed to carry any of the promised pictures from the council chamber.
The webcasting failure is linked to the chaotic handover of Croydon Council’s website and IT services to Capita, in what is supposed to be a £73.5 million, eight-year “mega-deal” that was agreed by the previous, Conservative-run council and the “interim” council chief executive Nathan Elvery.
Even this morning, more than a week after the “smooth handover” of service suppliers was supposed to have been completed, Croydon Council’s website was carrying a message to announce that its My Account function – which is used by a range of local businesses, council tenants and other residents – was not available.
And most of the keen new councillors attending last night’s ceremonial are as yet without their official, council-issue laptops and are also unable to access the council’s email system, all due to the problems with the Crapita handover. The local elections were staged as long ago as May 22…
The Tories who had run the council for the previous eight years seemed reluctant to handover the reins, as the pompous ceremonials were delayed in suitably shambolic fashion, adding to the stress of the council “Mace Bearer”, Peter Townsend, who is supposed to ensure the smooth management of such events.
First, the out-going leader of the council, Conservative councillor Mike Fisher, appeared to be late for the 6.30pm start, making him more florid-faced than usual. Disorganised or deliberately disrespectful?
Then the self-regarding Mace Bearer and the retiring mayor, Yvette Hopley (she of the dazzling array of frocks exhibited weekly on the Mayor of Croydon’s official Faustbook page), had to turn tail and return to the Mayor’s Parlour when the chamber’s projection screen descended to block the view of the PR flacks and wannabe hacks who had somehow persuaded someone to allow them into the press gallery. Or maybe it was deliberate, to screen the public from the grinning mugs.
Demand for places in the public gallery from friends and families was so high that Townsend had had to deploy the use of the overflow ante room. But the Council Tax-payers sent there and the council officials organising it were badly let down – yet again – by Crapita’s latest technology failure. Those in the ante room were forced to stare at a blank TV screen, or try to follow events via Twatter, or to play Sodutoo.
“Various futile attempts were made to get it working, resulting in nothing but people either getting very annoyed and leaving or others finding it all rather amusing,” according to one of Croydon’s residents who found they had wasted their time.
“Various people out of their depth made excuses and fiddled with plugs. There was one very apologetic and embarrassed bloke in a suit who told us ‘there was an intractable software problem’.
“I asked him if he was from Capita. ‘No, I’m from Interserve, in charge of the catering,’ he said. The nice man from Interserve later successfully served me with a glass of wine at the reception,” Inside Croydon’s loyal reader said.
Another who endured the blank screen said, “Given the problems they’ve had in the past, you’d think that they will have made sure the links were working before 6.25pm on the night.”
From this morning, Tony Newman, the new council leader, will be able to ask the council’s employees whether they will show him the secret papers denied to Labour councillors for more than five years while in opposition. Newman will be keen to see the contracts for the controversial CCURV council joint venture with John Laing in property speculation, as well as the financial penalties due to be paid to operators Viridor if the council opts to withdraw from the Beddington Lane waste incinerator deal.
Senior council officials, many of whom have spent the last eight years working very closely with Fisher and his Tory team on their multi-million-pound secret deals, have already made it clear that papers will only be released to councillors if they can show that there is a “need to know”. Someone in Nathan Elvery’s office in Croydon’s £140 million new HQ has been reading too many Len Deighton books: their time might be better spent reading the council’s code of conduct, the terms of their employment contracts, or even glance at the election results to discover who is supposed to be running Croydon Council now.
The South London Waste Partnership, the grouping of four councils which signed the £1billion, 25-year deal for the incinerator with Viridor, is due to meet next Tuesday with new representatives from Croydon’s newly elected Labour administration and now-Tory Kingston. It will be interesting to hear what Croydon Labour’s “Green and Clean” cabinet member, Stuart Collins, will have to say.
In his out-going speech, Fisher wished his successor well “in challenging times”, but added later “not too well”. In another inept political move, Fisher’s defeated Tories are now claiming, post-election, that Labour will fail because of a £100 million “time bomb” of further cuts to services. Funny how Fisher and his mates forgot to mention that before election day.
As well as struggling to handle the borough’s finances – having built up £1 billion-worth of debt in the last eight years – last night Fisher, Hopley and council officials inexplicably, disrespectfully, struggled throughout the evening to pronounce correctly the name of the new mayor.
Mayor Shahul-Hameed announced that her deputy would be Addiscombe councillor Patricia Hay-Justice. As a slight nod to the fact that we inhabit the 21st century, neither of Croydon’s new leading citizens wore the ludicrously Trumptonesque tricorn hats so beloved of recent Tory mayors, and neither Elvery nor the Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, bothered too long with wearing the wigs that make them look like extras from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.
The two opposing political parties’ “new” front bench teams were announced. The information had been denied to councillors and to the public ahead of the meeting – again because of issues linked to the council’s technology systems.
The announcement by the Conservative group showed that the Terry and June of Croydon politics – Dudley and Margaret Mead – will continue their leading roles after all, and not as we had reported previously. Instead of Margaret Mead taking overdue retirement from the front bench, Fisher has dropped from his team Sara “Book Token” Bashford.
One-tenth of the 2014 crop of Conservative Croydon councillors also happen to be paid employees of Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation. Yet with Bashford’s demotion, none of them will be in Fisher’s shadow cabinet.
Bashford’s judgement as a cabinet member had often been called into question, and it saw her sacked from having responsibility for the borough’s public libraries after the shambles of the privatisation consultation.
Bashford had also tried to justify the sale of key parts of the Riesco Collection because she felt that Croydon’s school children could not tell the difference between kitchen crockery and the fine China. And it was Bashford’s “bright idea” to offer residents book tokens instead of libraries.
Bashford’s sacking will at least allow her to spend more time beavering away in Barwell’s office to try to ensure his re-election as MP next year.
Mayor Shahul-Hameed has chosen Age UK and MacMillan Cancer as her Mayoral charities for the coming year. The Mayor said that she intends to see her Mayoralty raise the profile of West Croydon in her ward of Broad Green, which is still to receive the long-promised post-riot compensation and funding. She will run her own website, hopefully free from the intervention of the Mayor’s Office which has a very old-fashioned conservative approach now rather charmingly disconnected from modern-day Croydon.
The Mayor also said that she intends to improve upon the appalling behaviour of councillors in the chamber, as she seeks “a different type of politics”. She also wants to open up the 1896 Katharine Street building as “the People’s Town Hall”.
Striking her gavel to show how she would try to assert herself upon the 70-strong council chamber, the Mayor said that she sought a “more open and transparent debate” held “in an appropriate manner” and “without heckling”.
She pleaded with councillors to act with consideration as to “how their conduct would be seen by residents”. She asked that councillors “refrain from personal remarks and keep to the issues, not personalities”.
We’ll see how long that lasts.
- Time for thorough ethical review of Croydon’s governance
- How Croydon Tories were trumped by more ideas and activists
- Council website down for 10 days since Capita handover
Coming to Croydon
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- An Improvised Murder, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 7
- Old Town residents’ meeting, June 7
- Crystal Palace Transition Town annual meeting, June 11
- Old Town residents’ meeting, June 11
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- Croydon Green Fair, North End, June 14
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Airport House swing dance free event, June 21
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- 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
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 72,342 average monthly page views (Jan-Mar 2014)
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