Hard to calculate who was the biggest loser on Wednesday night: Stuart Collins, the council deputy leader who’d had to endure his beloved Chelsea being dumped out of the Champions League, or his boss, Tony Newman, who spent the evening at a gala dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel in the West End for the Local Government Chronicle annual bun-fight, and came away empty-handed.
The LGC Awards are a bit of a lash-up, with categories sponsored by the likes of Crapita, Grant Thornton and Civica – the very corporations which are pitching for local government contracts to the authorities they end up doling out the awards to.
Still, the publishers make a tidy sum out of the event: as Inside Croydon reported two years ago, a table for 10 to attend the awards then cost £7,000. That must make it some sort of almighty piss-up for local councillors and council staff. The sort of thing which in the past Newman himself has called “a junket”.
In 2013, Croydon Council when under Tory control booked no fewer than four of these £7,000-a-time tables. But according to one of the brains trust running our council, these tables didn’t cost the tax-payer a penny, because they were paid for by council contractors. It probably didn’t occur to the executive director who provided us with that information that the tables were being paid for out of the handsome profits the companies were making from the contracts that they have with Croydon Council… Oh well.
Looking at some of the more successful entries from last night, there ought to be some Groucho Marx-like ambivalence about wanting to be a member of a “club” that includes winners of categories such as the “Commissioning Pioneer”.
In this category, the beautifully put-together piece of plastic in the shape of the letters L G and C went to Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council for “Putting the Community in ‘Community Meals’,” and was presented by that famous daughter of Croydon, Sue Perkins, who in the pictures from the night looked as awkward and out-of-place at this dull corporate bash as a rabbi at Mid-West pork farmers’ convention.
This is what the award organisers had to say about Sefton’s award-winning entry: “In 2013, the council [Sefton] decided to cease the community meals service and identify alternative ways to meet any assessed need for nutrition.” So they were axing Meals on Wheels.
“… This involved decommissioning the existing service and instead using the council’s ability to influence, facilitate and enable in order to commission for the desired outcomes.” Ahhh. “Desired outcomes”, councilspeak which ought to chill the blood.
What they meant to say was they needed to cut £250,000 from the budget.
Is this really the sort of thing which local authority workers ought to be submitting as a competition entry to celebrate their handiwork?
“This compelling submission demonstrated what the judges thought to be brave and different thinking behind the decommissioning of services and the development of the market to provide alternative arrangements,” the LGC said.
“It stood out as representing a challenging piece of ‘commissioning without money’.” We may be hearing that phrase rather too often in the near future.
Given all that, it’s perhaps as well that Tony Newman and his council “team” from Croydon will have emerged into the Mayfair night pot-less. Although, given that entries had to be submitted last October when Newman and his Labour colleagues had been in power for less than six months, it was a little mean of him not to invite along Mike #WadGate Fisher, Cuddley Dudley Mead and a couple more Tory councillors to help wallow in Croydon’s non-prize-winning council status.
Labour’s “Don’t Mess With Croydon Campaign” against having rubbish strewn across our streets didn’t even get short-listed in the “Best Campaign” category, which probably explains why Councillor Collins was given the night off to go and watch rubbish of another sort.
But Croydon’s entries in the “Housing Initiative” and “Business Transformation” categories, though short-listed, failed to provide Newman with his Oscar moment and the chance to ask Sue Perkins for her autograph and the now obligatory selfie.
Maybe Newman and his finance supremo, Councillor Simon Hall, will be able to put in an entry for how they’ve refused to waste any more council money on investigating how Croydon’s council offices at Fisher’s Folly managed to cost £144 million.
Inside Croydon expects a full report on the council’s trophy-less night at the “Town Hall Oscars” to appear on the council website some time very soon, with a special write-up on the Leaders’ Blog, too.
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