Wonders will never cease.
For the first time in its 50-plus-year history, the Fairfield Halls management board has no members imposed upon it by Croydon Council.The decision was announced by the Labour-run council last week, in among its various other appointments to affiliated bodies. The move for once creates a more arm’s-length relationship between the council, as lease-holders of the Fairfield Halls site and lead developers of the area around the arts centre, and the artistic management responsible for the day-to-day running of the venues.
This move ought to avoid the sort of sniff of unpleasant impropriety which occurred under the previous Tory Town Hall administration, which was taken to task by the Charity Commission for its misfiring attempt to takeover the Halls – which was halted after being uncovered by Inside Croydon.
Having some distance between the Fairfield Halls management and the council is also important at this time, with tens of millions of pounds of public money due to be spent on a long-overdue refurbishment of the venue.
Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s cabinet member for culture had, until the decision to withdraw council appointees, been one of five councillors to hold places on the 11-person-strong Fairfield board.He said, “It comes about at the right time for the Fairfield. They have had Kate Vennell in place as a new chair for about a year and have conducted a governance review.
“This prompted me to fully consider the options and I decided it would be best for the Fairfield if they had the freedom to recruit directors that matched their governance needs, as opposed to having five councillors who although caring and passionate for the Fairfield were not appointed to match the needs of the organisation.
“The Labour council is actively supporting the Fairfield deliver a much-improved building over the next three years and this move helps them do that is an open and ethical manner.”
The perception of “the Favoured Halls” may linger, with the complex continuing to receive such significant funding from the council while other arts venues and projects suffer a grant drought. But the removal of the likes of the Hon Emily Benn and Dudley Mead from the Fairfield board ought to mean that the councillors will no longer be receiving their previous freebie tickets for the pick of the shows.
This startling move, of Croydon Council actually doing the right thing, comes hard on the heels of Gavin Barwell, supposedly the MP for Croydon Central, finally divesting himself of his positions within the Whitgift Foundation (though no one is so naive as to assume he won’t continue to prioritise his lobbying on behalf of the borough’s biggest landowners, on the premise that it’s “for the good of Croydon”).
Whatever next? Will Mike #WadGate Fisher, the disgraced former leader of the Tory group at the Town Hall, refund the £15,000 in allowances which he paid himself in secret out of the public purse? Or maybe Labour’s Toni Letts will decide to stand down from the Whitgift Foundation while she serves as the cabinet member for economic development?
Of course, realistically, we will be reporting on a fly-past of a herd of porkers over the Town Hall before either of those outbreaks of ethical conduct occur.
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