#WadGate: Labour announces inquiry into Tory leader’s cash

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.

Time to face the music: former Council Leader Mike Fisher

“Bet you didn’t know about my May payment”: former Council Leader Mike Fisher

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.

Council Leader Tony Newman and his choice of CEO, Nathan Elvery, share a joke at a council meeting

Council Leader Tony Newman and his choice of CEO, Nathan Elvery, share a joke at a council meeting

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.

Anne Smith: to chair the #WadGate inquiry

Anne Smith: to chair the #WadGate inquiry

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.

Coming to Croydon

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Mike Fisher, Nathan Elvery, Steve Hollands, Steve O'Connell, URV, Vidhi Mohan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to #WadGate: Labour announces inquiry into Tory leader’s cash

  1. The only way that any inquiry into #WadGate or Elverygate will have any validity at all is if it is chaired by someone who has nothing at all to do with Croydon, no stake in the Borough and no possible interest in the outcome.

    Worthy as she seems, Anne Smith is not that person.

  2. Gutter politics.

    When Labour was in control of the council they introduced this allowance system so that most of their councillors had no other income could earn some money out of the tax-payer.

    This increased the budget by £1.4 million and to cover that and other over spend they had to increase the Council Tax by 27%.

    The Tories who made such a big issue about the 27% Council Tax rise failed to bring the Council Tax to the same levels as before. I do agree that part of the increase was for the London Mayor Ken Leavingsoon and then Boris Johnson (the one who got on the wrong train to East Dulwich, not East Croydon).

    If councillors have no other source of income (pension or another job), it is perfectly reasonable to claim an allowance provided they spend more hours doing council work.

    Some councillors claimed that they worked 80 hours a week including their full-time jobs. If one works 80 hours a week then he or she can’t be productive .

    It is morally wrong for the cabinet members to claim £43,000 for part-time work, when council officers who actually do the job are not paid that amount for their full-time job.

    I am a Conservative but for a very good reason I am with the TUC on this one.

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