Croydon MP’s aide orders councillors to ignore residents

A Westminster aide to a Croydon MP, who has his wages paid by the tax-payer, has instructed his fellow councillors not to respond to local residents if they are contacted over concerns about evictions from housing co-operatives in Lambeth.

The unco-operative council: Vivienne Westwood, centre, with Kate Hoey MP, right, at a Lambeth United protest at Brixton Town Hall

The unco-operative council: Vivienne Westwood, centre, with Kate Hoey MP, right, at a Lambeth United protest at Brixton Town Hall

Matthew Bennett is the “head of office” for Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, or what in Croydon Labour circles has become regarded as “Lambeth South” since the Progress supporter’s election in 2012. Reed was previously the leader of Lambeth council.

As well as his publicly funded salary for working for Reed’s Croydon constituents, Bennett also draws down nearly £40,000 a year in allowances from Brixton Town Hall, where the Gipsy Hill councillor is the cabinet member for housing.

A group calling itself the Lambeth United Housing Co-operative last month contacted their councillors, raising once again issues with their council’s policies which have seen the forcible evictions of dozens of residents of housing co-operatives, established for more than 40 years. The group has the support of Kate Hoey, the veteran Labour MP for Vauxhall, as well as Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer.

Lambeth Council sending in the bailiffs to enforce compulsory evictions has been condemned by the campaign group as “social cleansing”. Campaigners claim that the evictions have cost ratepayers around £2million in legal and other associated costs. The human cost of people being forced out of their homes cannot be accounted for.

The evictions began under Reed when he was the leader of Lambeth Council. Now, they are being followed through enthusiastically by his right-hand man, Bennett.

In his email to his fellow councillors last month, Bennett – who refers to the housing co-operative campaigners as “the shortlife campaign” – says, “I’d be grateful if members of group didn’t respond to the email from the shortlife campaign which was sent on Tuesday evening.”

So much for openness and transparency, or even representing the people who got you elected…

Matthew Bennett: head of office for Steve Reed OBE

Matthew Bennett: head of office for Steve Reed OBE

Bennett seems to be relishing the task of using public money in expensive court actions to end long-standing and successful housing co-ops to evict residents, in the borough which his boss, Reed, boasted was a “co-operative council”.

“There’s been excellent progress over the summer,” Bennett told his fellow councillors, “a number of legal successes in the court and a number of long-term holdouts have dropped their court cases and asked the council to provide them with social housing instead.

“There are 37 households remaining who the council are working with. Of those 37, 22 have accepted re-housing and are waiting for a suitable property and one is in the process of buying their property. The remainder are in various stages of the legal process or in negotiation with the council about the terms of signing a possession order.

“I fully expect the shortlife programme to conclude before the summer next year. So far the programme has raised over £58 million to support our priorities, including going towards meeting our manifesto pledge for 1,000 new homes for council rent.”

That £58 million referred to is the cash raised by Lambeth from selling off the properties, which had been maintained and improved since the 1970s and made into habitable homes, by the people now being evicted.

Publicly, Bennett attempted to deny that he tried to stop other councillors from engaging with the co-operative group. Then Lambeth United published his email on its website.

The campaigners’ email which Bennett ordered his colleagues to ignore condemned the Labour councillors as “liars, pure and simple” for supporting the evictions after previously pledging their support.

They wrote: “You’ve already been told about one man who collapsed four days before his trial with a heart attack and about an elderly cancer sufferer who had to undergo one eviction and who – we believe – may face another eviction. Then there are cases of mentally vulnerable people whose conditions have worsened because of this vindictive policy. You don’t seem to care much – and if you do you’re not speaking loudly enough to help.

Laouth MP Steve Reed OBE campaigning in Rochester at the weekend, with several Lambeth council cabinet members. Can you spot anyone from Croydon in the picture?

Lambeth South MP Steve Reed OBE (sixth from right) campaigning in Rochester at the weekend, with several Lambeth council cabinet members. Can you spot anyone from Croydon in the picture?

“Meanwhile, the destination of the monies raised by booting out some of the borough’s longest-term residents has been consistently hidden, with FOIs on the matter deemed ‘vexatious’. When Lambeth don’t like the questions it moves the goalposts. How democratic,” they wrote, accusing the councillors of abandoning their residents “in a flash of self-interest, careerism and short-termism”.

Councillor Bennett – who was appointed as Reed’s aide soon after his election as a Croydon MP – has clearly learned much from his boss, a man who has gone on the record to state that “most politicians don’t trust the people”. According to official Lambeth Council records, Reed even had a fellow Labour councillor’s emails spied upon when he was the leader of his council.

Might Reed and Bennett’s style of civic management be coming to Croydon now that Labour has control of the Town Hall?

  • In related news, last week Croydon North constituency Labour party, at its annual meeting, elected Catriona Ogilvy as its new chair. Ogilvy moved to Croydon relatively recently, from Lambeth. She had previously been the chair of another constituency Labour party, in Streatham, which is, of course, in Lambeth, and where one of the local members was… Steve Reed. Her husband, Mike Smith, was previously a local councillor… in Lambeth.

Coming to Croydon

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3 Responses to Croydon MP’s aide orders councillors to ignore residents

  1. Gordon Bennett what is going with the so called socialists who really care for vulnerable people? One thing is crystal clear. All politicians are the same.

  2. In light of Eric Pickles’ recent action regarding Tower Hamlets, it would be nice to see an investigation into the cronyism in Lambeth Council.

    I’d also like to see an investigation into Steve Reed & Lambeth’s drafting in of people from Hackney Council, especially Sue Foster, Lambeth’s current head of regeneration, who presided over a scandalous waste of money, the destruction of listed buildings and a mega windfall for developers with the Dalston Square fiasco. Read more here:

    After Sue Foster arrived, in came Simon Matthews, ex-head of Hackney’s Housing department. He’s now a director of a development consultancy (Platow Associates) and is currently responsible for evicting Lambeth’s Shortlife Housing Co-ops.

    Co-incidentally, or not, John McCafferty, ex-head of Hackney Council when they were embroiled in various scandals in the 1990’s, now works with Devonshires, Lambeth’s barristers and deals with us in court – getting possession orders against housing co-op residents. Simon Matthews was Head of Housing during McCafferty’s Hackney leadership.

    McCafferty and Matthews have held directorships of a number of property companies in Dalston and Hackney. Did they ever benefit financially during Sue Foster’s Reign of Error in Hackney? Are they benefiting from her now that she’s in Lambeth?

    One of McCafferty’s Hackney Council scandals was the Mark Trotter child abuse case, in which Simon Matthews and his wife, Denise Robson (also a Hackney councillor at the time, now a councillor in Gateshead) seemed to have had some oblique involvement. As did Jeremy Killingray, one of Matthews’ co-workers at Platow Associates, who was acting Head of Hackney Social Services at the time of the scandal.

    Matthews’ possibly less than perfect involvement with the Trotter scandal would, for me, question his working with vulnerable people within the Shortlife Housing Co-op community, but, it seems, people dealing with Shortlife don’t even need to be CRB / DBS checked according to Lambeth, because none of us are vulnerable, supposedly…
    This is less than perfect, considering at least two people I know of within the Co-op community were the subjects of child abuse when they were kids.
    I know of one person, a neighbour, who left his home of many years just hours before the bailiffs turned up to turf him. He wasn’t rehoused, he was left to sort himself out. He is a vulnerable man with serious mental health issues and Lambeth effectively evicted him onto the street.
    Matthews has absolutely no interest in the well-being of the people he’s charged with getting rid of.

    All of this has happened since Steve Reed took control of Lambeth Council, and it continues because the people he put in place are still carrying out the moves he started.

    I’m not an investigator, all this info is from the web, and I don’t know the ins and outs of all this (nor the actual facts!) but it looks to me like there are a lot of connections that could do with close independent scrutiny, the truth needs teasing out…

  3. Pingback: Break up of Lambeth Living explained as Cabinet Member for Housing gives reasons for taking ALMO in-house

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