It’s been a big week for Labour’s leader of Croydon Council, Tony Newman, culminating yesterday in the announcement of the appointment of the chairman and deputy chair of his pet project, the “Opportunity and Fairness Commission”.
Since Newman announced this initiative in the summer much attention has been focused on the £200,000 cost of running the commission. Rather more important is quite what the commission will actually do, or achieve. Indeed, how it might achieve anything at all.
Even after yesterday’s announcement of Jonathan Clark, the Bishop of Croydon, as the commission’s chairman, its prospects remain ill-defined.
Bishop Clark seems a good choice as chairman. Not that he was Newman’s first choice. Or second. Or third. Nor is Hamida Ali, a new councillor for Woodside ward, the first choice as the deputy chair.
When Newman outlined his plans for the commission in this report to the council cabinet (here: Cabinet report on Fairness Commission), Clark’s name was never mentioned as a possible chairman. Slated to be deputy chair was Councillor Sean Fitzsimons, the diligent chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee.
Ali may yet prove to be one of the rising stars of the Labour administration. But as a councillor for the same ward as Newman, however, she may be perceived to be less than arm’s length from her group leader when working on the commission.
Beyond the good intentions contained in Newman’s cabinet report more than four months ago, it is hard to tell what further progress has been made with this commission in that time. It will surely be important – given the over-riding influence of Newman and his cabinet on all council decisions – for the commission to have some clear blue water between it and the ruling Labour group, though that was hardly in evidence in the Labour leadership-dominated announcement yesterday.
Given that this is to be a “Fairness” commission, the presence of Mark Watson, the Labour cabinet member responsible for “safety and justice”, provided an interesting twist, given that councillor’s own approach to the rule of law in the past.
The Bishop of Croydon, someone who has already shown that he has a clear sense of social justice in our community, will clearly be keen to tread a path that does not tarnish his own reputation with political partisanship. Even Newman will not want to give the Tories further cause to bash the bishop.
Thus “photocalls” such as yesterday’s, with an amateurishly staged picture involving two Labour cabinet members and a third Labour councillor, but none of the other “great and good” or community figures we are told will be working on the commission, are probably to be avoided. The community figures accepted on the commission will play a crucial role in giving it credibility, and the bishop will now begin inviting candidates.
“I was honoured to be asked because it’s going to be an important piece of work,” the bishop told those media outlets who were not excluded from attending the announcement.
“If it does what it is supposed to it will focus the energies, not just of the council but a whole range of partners, around what our needs and opportunities are.
“Some fairness commissions have made a real difference and others have been left on the shelf. I wouldn’t be involved if I didn’t think it could make a real difference.”
Maybe Bishop Clark has already got some sense of how Newman and his council have been keen to avoid important issues if they do not suit their purpose.
Newman was quick to call an “independent” inquiry into the #WadGate scandal surrounding his erstwhile Tory opposite number, Mike Fisher. That was supposed to report in November, but not a murmur has been heard.
On that occasion, Newman called that inquiry on the matter of £11,000 of councillor allowances, secretly claimed by Fisher. But he has censored any questions at Town Hall meetings into the secret, undebated appointment of £180,000 per year chief executive, Nathan Elvery, without the post ever being advertised or subject to the council’s equalities policy.
And Newman has failed to fulfil his own promise to “blow open the books” of the previous Tory administration’s £450 million (at least) CCURV urban regeneration vehicle, or how the council’s new headquarters offices, Fisher’s Folly, managed to cost the tax-payer £144 million to build, plus at least £80 million in interest payments.
Indeed, Newman – the man who has authorised the spending of £200,000 of public money on a Fairness Commission, and ordered an inquiry into a £11,000 allowances claim – has described any inquiry into the £224 million spend on the council’s offices as a “waste of public money”.
How odd. It’s almost as if there’s something Newman wants to hide.
Perhaps Bishop Clark’s Fairness Commission could look into the matter?
- The Fairness and Opportunity Commission’s stuttering, uncertain beginnings are reflected on its website presence: “Welcome to the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission website,” it proclaims. “More information coming soon.”
Coming to Croydon
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- St Peter’s Primary School Christmas Fair, Nov 29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- David Lean Cinema, The Riot Club, Dec 4
- St Andrew’s churchyard gardening session, 10am, Dec 6
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Croydon Philharmonic Handel’s Messiah, Fairfield Halls, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- David Lean Cinema, ’71, Dec 11
- Mayor of Croydon’s charity Christmas dinner, Dec 12
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- Concert of Christmas music, St Luke’s, Woodside, Dec 13
- Opera Soiree at Whitgift School, Dec 14
- Friends of the Earth Green Beanfeast, Dec 15 (book by Dec 1)
- Croydon Philharmonic Christmas concert, St Matthew’s, Dec 16
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Northern Soul, Dec 18
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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