STEVEN DOWNES, editor of Inside Croydon, suggests that the borough’s new council has allowed itself to be compromised by the council’s senior staff, developers and big business even before it has been in office for a month
Spot the difference.
The picture is a reasonable illustration of the consensus that runs British politics.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party nationally, was rightly pilloried for the total absence of good judgement – politically or in terms of simple human conscience – for going along with this tacky photo-shoot arranged by the Murdoch press. Awkward looking, he managed to piss off the whole of the city of Liverpool, plus Scotland, Wales… And a load of good it did the football team, too.
In Croydon, too, nearly a month after Labour was elected to run the council, you might struggle to notice any significant changes in the ethical outlook to running the Town Hall.
Yes, it is early days yet. But the signs are not encouraging.
One of the first utterances made by Tony Newman, Labour’s new Leader of the Council, was that there would be no increase in councillors’ allowances. Like this was somehow A Good Thing.
In fact, all that Newman is doing is endorsing and entrenching the policy of his Tory predecessors. Their first act on being re-elected four years ago was to try to hike the amount of public cash they paid themselves, before going on to cut the jobs of hundreds of council employees and reduce the services provided to every Croydon resident.
Cutting councillors’ allowances is actually a policy of the local trades unions, who not unreasonably believe that spending more than £1.4million a year on the borough’s 70 part-time councillors seems a bit much.
No one has ever said that some broken-time compensation payments for the amount of work most back-bench councillors put in of behalf of residents is not appropriate. An allowance of £1,000 a month seems reasonable. Yet last year only 21 of the borough’s 70 councillors did not receive some sort of “special allowance” over and above the basic figure. Clearly, the power of political patronage is strong at Croydon Town Hall, where a few extra grand a year for the deputy for paper clips can ensure enduring loyalty.
It means that we have part-time council cabinet members and shadow cabinet members being paid more in “allowances” than the average salary of hard-working, full-time nurses or teachers.
A cut of £10,000 per year each from the allowances of the 10 front-bench members of the Tory shadow cabinet would have saved the Croydon Council Tax-payer more than £400,000 over the term of this council. It would have also sent a significant message.
Even a modest reduction in the amounts which the Labour front bench pays itself would have offered a significant gesture of leadership. But if they can agree on nothing else, it would seem that as far as councillors’ allowances are concerned, Councillors Newman and the Tories’ florid-face Mike Fisher are as one.
Of course, it will take time to change the policy of the council and turn around some of the juicy deals and generous contracts which the Conservatives inflicted upon Croydon during their eight-year rule of the Town Hall. But in the early days, Labour could have offered leadership, set good examples, and looked to show how they might be different ethically and morally.
The word from the corridors of power in Katharine Street and Cost A Mint Walk is that in no time at all, the Labour group has “gone native”, already being absorbed into the malign machine which the council’s professional executive has carefully created over the past decade.
The council executives, led by “interim” chief executive and wannabe entrepreneur Nathan Elvery, have their six-figure salaries to protect and enhance. No bunch of local politicians is going to be allowed to rock that boat.
The senior executives working in Fisher’s Folly are truly entrenched. Thus you get the (Bliarite Labour) MP for Lambeth South publicly congratulating Steve Iles (one of Elvery’s key henchmen), for getting a gong in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work during the Kenley floods in February. And we thought it was the fire brigade and the army that shifted all those sandbags. Presumably, the absence of effective flood prevention work by Iles’s department at Croydon Council for the previous eight years can be forgotten?
Not all the blame for Labour’s initial moves can be laid at the door of the council’s senior executives. Poor judgement in the Labour group does not help.
A prepared slogan of “Don’t Mess With Croydon” was unveiled in the days immediately after the election. At least it saw the removal of the frankly terrifying images of Anne Piles from the side of the council’s contractors’ dustcarts. But is it anything more than mere lip-service to the promises to clean our streets and make our borough “green”?
Because since being elected, Croydon Labour has been almost silent on its previously vocal opposition to the scheme to use a waste incinerator at Beddington Lane, a development which, if it is allowed to go ahead, will impact the borough’s environment, and residents’ health, for a quarter-century or more. Campaigning residents have won the right to a judicial review in the High Court in the autumn, but there’s been barely a peep on the topic from Croydon’s new Labour-run council.
Maybe they have taken the counsel of the Borough Solicitor and are exercising legal caution in the hope of avoiding a multi-million-pound bill from the incinerator operators, Viridor. So much for the courage of their political convictions.
It has been business as usual for the politicians running Croydon Council in other ways, too.
In the days after the election on May 22, the victorious Labour group – including many who would form the ruling majority on the council’s new planning committees – were attending a celebratory party in an office block owned by a local property developer, who had bought it for more than £2 million at auction recently. Drinks and canapes all paid for. Nice. Cosy.
There are other unsettling examples, where any new approach to public governance appears remarkably similar to the old attitude of the Tories. The new cabinet member with responsibility for arts and culture remains embedded on the board at the Fairfield Halls.
The cabinet member responsible for economic development continues to sit on the board of the Whitgift Foundation, the land-owners behind the £1 billion redevelopment of the town centre, with its multi-faceted planning applications, road and transport schemes, and CPOs.
And next Thursday, the new Labour council is to have a Mayor’s Banquet. Just like the Tories always did. All 70 councillors, various Aldermen, council directors and other assorted hangers-on are to sit down and tuck in to some Indian nosh.
But don’t worry. This won’t cost the Council Tax-payers a penny. Because it is all to be paid for by Wragges, a firm of solicitors who benefit hugely from handling so much of the council’s legal work, and the council’s new IT contractors… Crapita.
Compromised? Much? Spot the difference.
- Mayor has to apologise as Crapita draws a blank for public
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- Shedding light on council multi-million contracts long overdue
Coming to Croydon
- Airport House swing dance free event, June 21
- Park Hill School summer fair, June 21
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- David Lean Cinema: Feet from Stardom, June 23
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- David Lean Cinema: The Lunchbox, June 26
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- Metamono Secrets of Nature, Upper Norwood, June 27
- St Peter’s Village Fayre, South Croydon, June 28
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Coast to Capital business briefing, July 4
- 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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Those Sun pictures side by side are telling: look how natural and relaxed David Cameron and Nick Clegg look, compared with geeky Ed Miliband. Those staring eyes and Neanderthal brows will return to haunt us, probably on a Tory election poster.
As for the initial performance of the Croydon Labour Party can I recommend reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm; in particular the section where the pigs move into the farm house.