Tony Newman, the Labour Leader of Croydon Council, this morning pushed himself front and centre of a campaign to hound his predecessor Mike Fisher out of public office, when he took the credit for announcing an “independent” inquiry into how the former Croydon Tories’ leader managed to award himself a secret £11,000 pay rise.
Yes: it’s now £11,000.
It emerged today that having claimed an additional £10,000 in previously unpaid allowances during 2013-2014, with a financial year that ends in April, Fisher continued troughing into May this year, when he was paid another secret nice-little-earner of £1,000.
This money was all in addition to Fisher’s allowance as Leader of the Council of £53,223.
Fisher’s secretly claiming the extra money has been described by his former colleague on the council, Croydon Central Tory MP Gavin Barwell, as “doubly wrong”.
As Inside Croydon reported yesterday, Fisher was also receiving more than £15,000 per year in publicly funded allowances through his position on the London Fire Brigade authority.
It means that in the past year, Fisher was receiving nearly £80,000 in pay funded by the tax-payer.
Newman – who himself is now being paid council allowances of £53,223, at least as far as we know – is seizing upon Fisher’s greedy misjudgement to make as much political capital as he possibly can. We know now that Fisher was not alone among senior Croydon Tories is considering his behind-closed-doors financial top-up scheme , since Steve O’Connell, an adviser to Boris Johnson at City Hall, plus the Tories’ Croydon North parliamentary candidate Vidhi Mohan and Fisher’s long-standing pal, Steve Hollands, were all considering making similar claims.
But it is hard to see how this piece of political opportunism will play out as anything other than a bit of a witch hunt by Newman, and all paid for – as usual – by Croydon’s Council Tax-payers.
Newman has been in office barely 100 days, yet his administration has already been guilty of conduct which might equally be described as secretive. Newman has enthusiastically endorsed the appointment of Nathan Elvery as the council’s £180,000 per year chief executive – a job which was never advertised, for an appointment that was not properly included in advance on the council sub-committee’s agenda, nor ever discussed at full council meeting.
And in his pursuit of Fisher, Newman is losing sight of the financial wood for the political trees.
There is a pressing need for a proper, truly independent and thoroughly forensic inquiry into how the council’s new head offices, built as part of the CCURV joint venture with John Laing, could possibly cost the borough’s Council Tax-payers £140 million.
Add the £80 million it is costing Croydon ratepayers to finance the building, and at £220 million total cost, “Fisher’s Folly” is rightly regarded as the most expensive council offices in the country.
There may well be considerable political capital for Newman in such an inquiry – the build was given the green-light, after all, by Fisher and his Tory cabinet, while they refused to put the terms of the £450 million CCURV agreement with Laings into the public domain. There might even be some financial benefit for Croydon Council – in terms of millions of pounds, rather than mere tens of thousands – were any wrong-doing to be discovered.
Of course, in charge of the council’s finances and deputy CEO while Bernard Weatherill House was being planned and built was Nathan Elvery. And since taking office in June, Newman has shown none of his previous enthusiasm to pursue the matter of Croydon’s £220 million white elephant.
Today, Newman said, “We are a council that takes openness and transparency extremely seriously.” Seriously.
In announcing the #WadGate inquiry today, former teacher Anne Smith was named as its chair.
Smith was principal of John Ruskin College until 1999, is an experienced school governor and chair of a local youth charity. She served as an “independent person” on the council’s ethics committee and independent chair of the standards committee. She is an enthusiastic member of the local arts group, Poets Anonymous.
Due to begin this month, the inquiry will be expected to present its recommendations to the council by November.
In a statement issued for Newman by the council’s “communications” department, he said: “This inquiry is not about members’ allowances per se. It is about asking the fundamental question ‘how was the former Leader of the Council able to take £11,000 of public money without informing the public?’
“We have a duty to the public – the people who pay our wages – to ask these very legitimate questions.”
Newman goes on to make an interesting point: “As a new administration we have already made significant and much-needed changes to the constitution. This includes changing the members’ allowance scheme at the first business meeting of the full council, in July 2014.” Which indeed they did. And all without a single minute’s discussion, and not one question from the opposition. We can now guess why that may be.
What Newman fails to state that while Labour has kept councillor allowances at the level agreed by the Tories in 2010, they have also introduced a system under which in future they will be set by the umbrella organisation, London Councils. At present, London Councils recommends that a “strong leader” of a London borough should receive remuneration of £65,000.
One change towards councillors’ accountability was announced today, with their allowances to be published monthly in future, rather than annually. This would be of real use if the councillors’ attendance records for council business were attached.
- #WadGate: Questions that Barwell has failed to answer
- #WadGate: Fisher forced to resign as Croydon Tory leader
- Tory leader Fisher is caught red-handed with £10,000 pay hike
- #WadGate: The Movie
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Coming to Croydon
- Tell Me About Your Ex, Spread Eagle Theatre, Sep 9-13
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Police question time, LNK at Centrale, Sep 17
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- The Complete History of the BBC – Abridged, Spread Eagle, Sep 19-20
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Ukrainian choir concert, St John’s Shirley, Sep 29
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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