Does Croydon’s new council have much to rave about?

One month on, WALTER CRONXITE, our local elections pollster who was first to call correctly the result of the Croydon Town Hall vote, takes a look behind the scenes in Fisher’s Folly to see what changes might be in store

“The Season” is in full swing. Royal Ascot is on, Wimbledon starts on Monday and there’s Pimm’s on the lawns of Henley Royal Regatta and Glyndebourne to squeeze in before Croydon South’s absentee MP, “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway, can manage to find the time to slip away for a month or so’s well-earned rest on the French Riviera.

The scene in East Croydon at the illegal rave last weekend: the council's message was ill-judged and tragically wrong

The scene in East Croydon at the illegal rave last weekend: the council’s message was ill-judged and tragically wrong

For the first time in 12 years, Croydon’s Conservatives can spend the summer weeks licking their electoral wounds, regrouping while they let Labour get on with things at the Town Hall.

Labour won the local election in Croydon a month ago with a positive message, “Ambitious for Croydon”, and in this honeymoon period they are making the effort to be positively active in the summer before the winter brings the likely misery of further ConDem government cuts to council spending.

Knowing that such cuts will drive the council even further to be reliant on voluntary groups and residents to deliver services, there is a strong emphasis on another theme from their election campaign of “building a strong community”. It’s Ed Miliband’s One Nation Labour in action at a local level.

While there are some who dismiss Lambeth Labour’s co-operative model as more talk than action, Croydon Labour is intent to look at co-op councils as the solution to the borough’s funding crisis. This is evident in Croydon Council joining the co-operative councils’ network, where good innovative practice can be seen at Labour councils like Oldham and Plymouth.

Whisper it quietly when in the hearing of Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North and former leader of Lambeth Council, though: there was not a single mention of his “co-operative council” in Lambeth Labour’s manifesto last month.

According to the habitués of Fisher’s Folly, the council’s suspiciously over-expensive headquarters building, in these first four weeks Labour’s deputy leader, Stuart Collins, has been particularly impressive. Within a day of appointment, Collins had launched his “Don’t Mess with Croydon” cleaner streets campaign.

Councillor Stuart Collins: impressed

Councillor Stuart Collins: has impressed council staff

It would normally take an expensive team of PR wonks weeks to come up with a slogan, a design and the tee-shirts for the photo shoot. We are meant to believe that Collins and his officers did it in less than a day. Yes, there will be debates as to whether the slogan is a bit too confrontational, a bit too in your face, a bit too… Croydon. Actually, rather than being plucked from a scene from the Sopranos, the slogan is borrowed from “Don’t Mess with Waltham Forest”. It just sounds a bit edgier when combined with Croydon.

Whatever the merits of the slogan, it’s all good for Labour as they are seen to act quickly on residents’ concerns about the issue of a filthy borough. Street muck and fly-tipping was a leading issue at both the local elections and the Croydon North by-election. There will be three extra trucks going round picking up the dumped piles of rubbish and a new fly tip phone and reporting email address is promised “soon”.

All this is indicative that, keen to make an impact in their first 100 days in office, Croydon’s Labour council is going to have a good summer.

Positive publicity for the council will further disquiet Gavin Barwell’s re-election campaign in Croydon Central, the Tory MP’s confidence having been severely shaken by the loss of the once true blue Ashburton ward. It seems that parts of Croydon Central, through changes in population make-up, are becoming like the ultra-safe Labour Croydon North. Such fears can become self-fulfilling.

To stem the tide there is already a change in tone for the Conservatives, as Barwell imposes a more upbeat and consensual approach on the local Tory machine as he makes a huge effort to hold on to his seat at next May’s General Election.

Barwell campaign badgeOut goes florid-faced Mike Fisher’s and hatchet man Phil Thomas’s negative campaign lines. Instead, working in his Westminster office and paid for by the tax-payer is Barwell’s assistant, Mario Creatura, now a councillor for Coulsdon West. Using his social media “expertise” (or what more straight-talking types might call “bullshit”), Creatura has been making uncharacteristically kind remarks about Labour initiatives and suggesting cross-party working for the good of Croydon. 

Labour insiders report discovering a weary team of council officials who are enthusiastic to work with a new political executive. Council directors claim that they are already in a reforming mode following the departure last year of the previous chief executive, Jon Rouse. A bullying culture is not tolerated in Bernard Weatherill House and power is now devolved to officials to act within their own discretion, claim the council’s elite employees, many of whom owe their positions to Rouse. But they maintain that the Rouse “command and control” regime has gone. Of course, that is not necessarily the view shared by council employees on salaries of less than six-figures.

Nonetheless, before the end of this month Labour wants to deliver proposals on a landlord register intended to help to improve on some of the more scandalous behaviour in the private housing sector. Such a significant development, a key promise in Labour’s manifesto, has yet to receive any promotion through official council press office channels.

Architects' diagrams of the buildings that CCURV wants to build on Queen's Gardens illustrate how they are utterly out of scale with the neighbouring Grade II-listed Town Hall and other existing buildings

Architects’ diagrams of the buildings that CCURV wants to build on Queen’s Gardens illustrate how they are utterly out of scale with the neighbouring Grade II-listed Town Hall 

There are also rumours emerging from Katharine Street that the Labour council is busily re-working plans for building executive flats on Queen’s Gardens. A development has to go ahead to help to pay for the new Council HQ. Nevertheless, some mitigation to reduce the amount of public park used for the new buildings might be possible.

Our sources suggest that the town’s historic twinning ties with Arnhem – cut by the Tories last year to save a mere £10,000 – could also be restored, with new councillor Oliver Lewis, who has strong links with the Netherlands having studied at university there, being put in charge. With the 70th anniversary of the Arnhem parachute landings in World War II rapidly approaching, this is another low-cost and populist policy Labour might have announced as they took charge of the Town Hall in the week of the poignant D-Day commemorations. It represents another missed opportunity: there was no mention of Arnhem in the speech given by the new Council Leader, Tony Newman, at the opening meeting of the new council.

Few were able to witness Newman’s speech. But access to council meetings looks likely to improve, with video podcasts of all meetings set to return. The council will no longer be reliant on audio broadcasts provided by Croydon Radio, whose decision to provide a platform for the National Front caused real anger among some Labour councillors, and embarrassment for Newman who was mislead into appearing on the same programme.

There is also to be a “Fairness Commission” to look at creating a better, strong community in Croydon, with a review as to how the council spreads its money across the borough. It has a bit of a post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission ring to it. Like the Waltham Forest slogan, it’s an approach borrowed from success elsewhere in local government, modelled on a Fairness Commission run in Islington after Labour took full control of that council four years ago.

But what may prove to be more significant is what the Fairness Commission doesn’t deal with. There will be no examination of the fairness, or otherwise, for Council Tax-payers, of the CCURV private equity company which Croydon’s Tories formed with builders John Laing to speculate public-owned property on the rates.

Tony Newman: who wrote his rave statement?

Tony Newman: who wrote his rave statement?

Nor will the Fairness Commission do anything about the risks to health in the poorer parts of Croydon caused by breathing air polluted by the proposed incinerator.

And nor will there be an inquiry into how there’s still little “riot recovery money” going to boost West Croydon three years after the riots.

The Labour council has gone very quiet on these important issues. There has been no attempt to slow the progress of the incinerator, with all the running being left to Green Party activist Shasha Khan and his to date successful pleadings in court.

And there are worrying signs elsewhere, too. The crass sponsorship of the Mayor’s Banquet by Crapita shows an odd contentment with a cosy corporate relationship and disregard for the appearance of a conflict of interest for the new Labour team. Councillors and their partners being treated to a nosh up by one of their very biggest contractors is not a seemly sight.

Such cosy complacency was visible, too, when Newman had cause to issue an emergency statement because of the illegal rave at East Croydon last weekend. The council’s communications department has long been seen as the propaganda arm of the Tories when they ran the council, even to the point of issuing clearly political press releases during the election purdah period.

Newman’s statement, when it came, lacked any sense of authentic voice from the Labour leader. Indeed, it read as if it had come straight from the desk of the “interim” chief executive, Nathan Elvery, raising the question of which of the two men is really running the council.

It was neither reassuring nor especially relevant for Newman, if these truly were his choice of words, to be saying that illegal raves don’t often happen in Croydon. Newman’s assertion that there were “no serious injuries” has since been proved to be ill-informed and tragically wrong.

The council press office’s statement put out in Newman’s name was very weak. This was in stark contrast to Barwell’s approach, which robustly challenged the police about what they knew about the rave before it started and why, as in the Croydon riots, they surrendered territory to lawlessness.

Accomplished political operators know that it does not matter what you manage to achieve unless you communicate the message speedily, clearly and in the manner that puts you in the best possible light. For Croydon’s new Labour council, whatever ambitions they might have for the borough, they need quickly to take charge of getting their message across.

The easy days of summer won’t last for long.

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This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Bernard Weatherill House, Capita, Coulsdon Town, Croydon 8/8, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Croydon Radio, Fly tipping, Gavin Barwell, Jon Rouse, Mario Creatura, Mike Fisher, Nathan Elvery, Oliver Lewis, Phil Thomas, Planning, Refuse collection, Richard Ottaway MP, Steve Reed MP, Stuart Collins, Taberner House, Tony Newman, URV, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Does Croydon’s new council have much to rave about?

  1. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    New administration first month.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    Last weekend’s East Croydon Rave and the council’s operational response to the loss of a critical infrastructure hub must have left the new administration wondering exactly what they have inherited.

    The Cherry Orchard Rd / Addiscombe Rd / Addiscombe Grove intersection carries the trams, buses, cars & trucks and an awful lot of pedestrians and cyclists. Once any part of this junction is closed it has far reaching consequences across Croydon & the rest of outer south London. It is hard to think of another more critical point in Croydon. Yet despite this rave ~ riot starting on Saturday night, at no point on Sunday was there any evidence in the East Croydon area that the council had deployed any operational teams to manage the flow of people and vehicles.

    As Chief Executive, Mr. Elvery has a responsibility to ensure that there are operational resources available to response to such incidents and to manage the environment.

    Thus Tony Newman and his Cabinet must surely have wondered where on earth were the duty council officers.

    What was in evidence by midday were a small number of community police drafted in from Sutton, who knew nothing of the local road layout and were clearly instructed to remain close to the police tape around the Royal Mail & NLA Tower buildings. Within sight of these positions, little more than perhaps 20 metres away, there was traffic chaos with cars being directed into narrow residential streets without any regard for where these drivers needed to get to. Motorists trying to pick-up & drop off passengers from East Croydon Stn were left without any meaningful direction. Pedestrians looking for the diverted buses relied on chance encounters with local residents and others to tell them where to go. The authorities’ stance seems to have been simply to push people and vehicles away from the “Crime Scene”, and what happened to them after that was irrelevant.

    Fortunately this all occurred on a Sunday, when it is generally quieter. Had this been Monday morning, the consequences would have been far worse.

    It also highlighted just how critical this intersection is and how vulnerable Croydon is to any disruption to it. The damage caused by the rave was minor. The closure period seemed to be about collecting evidence for a handful of possible, if unlikely, prosecutions. The cost to Croydon “Plc” of the closure of this junction must be in the tens or hundreds of pounds in lost retail sales etc.

    Had it been a major fire in the building or worse still a terrorist bomb the council’s lack of response and resources suggests that the consequences would be far far worse. The criticality of this junction should surely mean that it should have the highest priority for a planned response? If we don’t have a planned response for this area, is there any meaningful emergency planning for the entire town?

    The local residential & business communities, together with the rest of Croydon and south London, need assurance that the council’s response in future to the loss of this junction will be significantly better than last weekends.

    East Croydon Community Group –

  3. davidcallam says:

    Rod Davies proves the value of an East Croydon Community Group.
    He raises a number of important questions about the area around the station that Tony Newman should require Nathan Elvery to answer publicly as a matter of urgency.
    Will it happen? I sincerely doubt it!

  4. Rod Davies says:

    Despite being a grumpy old so and so, I do have sympathy for these young people (amazing isn’t it?).

    What spurred this sympathy was a gentle drift through my vinyls (see link below) – it was my second time in Croydon!

    What exactly is there for young people to do in this concrete waste land?

    The Fairfield Halls doesn’t do good gigs, the bars don’t want under-21s, the World Music Festival and the Mela are long gone…

    But isn’t this supposed to be a cutting edge metropolitan environment where happening things occur?

    But it’s Boredomsville – Dullzone – Crapstadt

    And then there’s all these old people controlling everything and stopping anyone having any fun – shit we’re stuck in the 1950s.

    And then I remembered my own teens and the re-released single…

    “I’m gonna take two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation
    I’m gonna take my problem to the United Nations
    Well I called “Mike Fisher / Tony Newman” and he said quote:
    “I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote”
    Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do
    But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues”

    Cochran Eddie – Summertime Blues

    And a link for those too young to remember the countless re-releases!

    See, something’s never change!

    For those of my many decades. They may like to wander down memory lane to the Greyhound of the 1970s, even if the haze of free love, alcohol and a heady mix of alternative pharmaceutical products made it a tad vague.

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