Democratic control is an alien concept at the Town Hall

CROYDON COMMENTARY: What powers and influence do our elected councillors really have? ROD DAVIES, a local resident and a local authority official in the past, poses the questions

Water colour by artist Lis Watkins

Water colour by artist Lis Watkins

Croydon Town Hall’s 70 elected councillors are all dependent on professional officers, the borough’s civil servants, providing best advice to them on situations and the range of available options, and helping them develop the strategy. This encompasses a vast and diverse range of complex services, unlike any private sector organisation, many of which the public is barely aware of. Many of these services are delivered on behalf of central government. As a consequence, councillors can only direct a small proportion of the total budgets.

The council’s Chief Executive Officer is charged to ensure that councillors create policies that deliver on these mandated services. So the CEO inherently appears to dominate elected members at times.

“Sorry Councillor X, I know that Children’s and Adult’s Services are uneconomic and that no private sector organisation would consider attempting to deliver them; but you can’t decide to stop delivering these services on that basis.” It is not unknown for elected members to lack any business, management or leadership skills whatsoever and to hold some extraordinarily eccentric views. The consequence is that CEOs and their management teams must be able and willing to stop members doing daft and illegal things.

However, there are questions to be asked about the culture prevalent in Croydon Council. Does a competent council get involved in a partnership deal with a private sector developer during a recession, where they manage to build new offices that end up costing more, per square metre, than one of the most prestigious buildings in the world?

There are also repeated questions about unspent funds following the riots in 2011 and the use – or non-use – of Section 106 funding from Altitude 25 by Park Hill and the law courts, with no credible answer appears forthcoming. The list goes on…

In the absence of the truth, it is rumour and speculation which becomes valid currency. We can only guess at the answers. You can conjure any number of quasi-conspiratorial options:

  • Aliens from outer space control Electoral Services, and have ensured that only automatons under the control of the CEO are elected. Nathan Elvery is the uber-alien, fostering a hive of subordinate aliens in Fisher’s Folly. The aliens control both Labour and Conservative Parties, and that’s why no one from the other parties ever gets voted in.
  • Has there been a secret takeover at Croydon Council?

    Who is really in charge at the Town Hall?

    Councillor Tony Newman and his inner circle, and Nathan Elvery and his inner circle have formed a compact to line their own pockets at the public expense, and we can daily expect news that they have fled abroad with all the cash, together with what is left of the Riesco collection.

  • Neither councillors nor officers have any idea of direction and are looking to the other for leadership. Both sides are waiting for the other blink and until that occurs the council wallows in chaos.

All of the above is, of course, entirely hypothetical. You can take your choice or imagine some your own scenarios. Perhaps Inside Croydon should run a quarterly Croydon Council Conspiracy Theory Competition with a special award for the most lurid explanation of council decisions and actions.

In the meantime, the residents and businesses of Croydon will have to continue to endure while the council does not appear to serve their interests.

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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
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3 Responses to Democratic control is an alien concept at the Town Hall

  1. timbartell says:

    If they were to scarper with the remains of the Riesco collection they wouldn’t need any extra baggage allowance, whatever happened to the money made by that sale?

  2. davidcallam says:

    Excellent piece from Rod, but no conspiracy theory is needed to explain the apparent non-change of administration following last year’s decisive election victory for Labour.

    The problem is a lack of leadership at the top of Croydon Labour Party, with more or less the same tired old team in place that lost the election to the Tories eight years previously.

    The party seemed to have a few good ideas in opposition, but they evaporated like Scotch mist once Tony Newman got his hands on the keys to the leader’s office.

    His refusal to investigate the outrageous £144 million cost of Fisher’s Folly, the new council offices, and his secretive appointment of Nathan Elvery as chief executive are just two matters that require a proper explanation to the people who pick up the tab; Croydon Council Tax-payers.

  3. Rod Davies says:

    I do wonder whether the enormity of the problems they have inherited is simply overwhelming the Labour administration. What happens if they do undertake the investigations that some people are demanding, and they find that the entire senior and middle management is implicated in a succession of inappropriate, unwise decisions due to their incompetence? Could they sack them all?

    If there is the suggested wholesale incompetence (and I am not saying there is), it would surely be very difficult to investigate if the officers perhaps closed ranks fearful for their jobs.

    Regardless of what I think of Tony Newman, he still has to ensure that basic services are delivered, bills are paid etc, never mind trying to change the organisation.

    Anyway I thought some conspiracy theories might liven things up, in the face of gloom and doom

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