Croydon Council has ordered the return of thousands of pounds of public cash which was awarded to a “community” organisation which has been taken over by a group of UKIP members and supporters of Nigel Farage’s party.
A grant of £5,000 was made in 2013 by the then Tory-run council to what now calls itself the Croydon Communities [sic] Consortium..
The grant included a range of conditions which required that the body should be apolitical, and that it should stage at least 20 public meetings per year.
The following year, after 12 months of inactivity by the previous moribund committee, the group was the subject of a takeover by people who, it has since emerged, include several UKIP members and supporters.
Led by Sanderstead housewife Elizabeth Ash, who swiftly had herself appointed as “chair”, these included Clive Locke as her deputy, plus Janet Stollery and Peter Morgan.
Stollery’s partner, Roger Clark, is the CCC treasurer.
Others who objected to the manner in which Ash and her colleagues organised events have quit the organisation, while CCC’s committee has since become a welcoming home to other right-wingers, including one failed Tory council election candidate.
Despite being in receipt of public money, Ash and her committee have dismissed with contempt public calls for them to be held accountable. A council demand for the return of £4,000-plus will be more difficult for them to ignore.
CCC attracted controversy last year when Locke issued a stream of Islamophobic and UKIP-supporting messages from his personal Twitter account. Locke refused to resign and CCC’s committee took no action, instead complaining of “harassment” when some concerned residents had the temerity to dare question their lack of action.
Locke eventually stood down at the CCC annual meeting in December, when he was replaced as deputy chairman by someone who has never kept his UKIP affiliations a secret, Peter Staveley.
Long before he was “elected” (proposed by Ash; there were no alternative candidates considered) to CCC’s committee, Staveley had been selected as UKIP’s candidate in Croydon Central at the General Election.
Stollery and Morgan were two of the three UKIP members who earlier this year cost Croydon Council Tax-payers between £15,000 and £20,000 when they demanded that a council by-election should be staged immediately in Selhurst ward, rather than wait and stage the vote alongside the General Election. Stollery has since resigned from UKIP, but has been elected as the chairman of the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association.
CCC has meanwhile provided Morgan with a platform to spread disinformation regarding the council’s proposals to introduce 20mph limits on residential streets; Labour was elected to run the council with 20mph limits in its manifesto.
It is uncertain how much of the original £5,000 council grant to CCC remains: last year, the self-important talking shop managed to spend £500 on “promoting” the organisation’s annual meeting, which was attended by fewer than 50 people. It would have been easier to hand out tenners on the door to anyone bothering to turn up.
But when one of the attendees – local trades unionist Glen Hart – tried to ask questions about the body’s accountability, he was shouted down.
Despite having received the council grant to pay for such items as venue hire, on other occasions, Ash has refused to pay local charity groups the full amount for hall hire.
Ash and the CCC committee will need to seek funding elsewhere now.
According to a Freedom of Information Act request to Croydon Council, “The Council has asked the Croydon Communities Consortium for the return of any unspent funds as at 22 December 2014.”
The council refused to provide details of the reasons for demanding the return of the public cash, though since it came after the CCC annual meeting, it seems likely that the domination of the group by UKIP will have been considered.
Oddly, though, Ash – who often makes claims about her organisation being “open” and “transparent” – has made no mention of the council’s demand of the refund on the CCC website.
It seems very likely that CCC has repaid what remained of the money, since they are continuing to try to organise public meetings this month; as a council-funded and apolitical body, such meetings ought to be impossible during the election purdah period.
Undaunted, though, Ash and her UKIP cronies have put in a new request for public money. The council’s FoI response states, “The organisation has applied for further funding from the Council’s Active Communities Fund. The list of successful applications will be posted on the Council’s website within the next two weeks.”
The council response continues: “The Council does not routinely publish the names of unsuccessful applicants as this could have an unintended detrimental impact on those organisations’ applications for funding to other bodies.”
Clearly, Croydon Council has no qualms about making such information available in the case of CCC.
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