WALTER CRONXITE welcomes a rare opportunity for Croydon’s councillors to meet at the Town Hall tonight
Croydon’s well-rewarded cabinet, the nine Labour councillors hand-picked for his top team by leader Tony Newman, get together in the council chamber at the Town Hall tonight. Make the most of it; this rare appearance will be the final Croydon Council cabinet meeting until late September.
Indeed, it is just the second time that the council cabinet has managed to hold a public meeting since March.
“They get more holiday than teachers,” one disgruntled former Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon. In total, Newman and his cabinet receive more than £440,000 per year from the tax-payer in “allowances”.
But now, as well as being accused of having things a bit easy, Newman is criticised for not being open to questions from the opposition, his own back-benchers or the public.
The lack of meetings – a scheduled cabinet meeting in April was cancelled; the councillors must have had more important matters to deal with – and Newman’s choice of agenda and handling of discussions in the Town Hall chamber is beginning to see complaints raised about a lack of transparency and accountability – and not only from the opposition Tories, who were always very fond of hiding important matters away in the “Part B”, secret section of the agenda.
When the council staged a cabinet meeting last month, it began with an almighty row as Conservative shadow cabinet member Jason Cummings complained because he wanted an opportunity to debate the £3 million “loan” from the council to a preferred business, Boxpark, to encourage it to set up shop next to East Croydon Station.
Newman, who chairs the cabinet sessions, shut-down Cummings’ objections, and the meeting then spent the best part of an hour listening to presentations from the Crystal Palace Foundation, a charity linked to the football club and which does vast amounts of good work in the community. And in which the Croydon Council has had little, if any, involvement.
This all meant that there was relatively little time left to discuss the next item on Newman’s agenda, “The Croydon Economy – Our Priorities”.
“Seems that they’ve got their priorities all wrong,” former Waddon councillor Tony Harris told Inside Croydon.
“Or was it planned to take up so much time of the 180-minute meeting that there was insufficient time to discuss important cabinet papers and whether or not there was a ‘Part B’ to the agenda to discuss the Boxpark loan?”
Harris described the meeting as “confusion and chaos”.
Of course, the lack of public debate by elected councillors into the management of council business will suit Nathan Elvery, the council’s CEO, and his own team of six-figure salaried executives who inhabit Fisher’s Folly. The Boxpark loan, for instance, is thought to be the brainchild of Jo Negrini, the council’s increasingly powerful planning chief.
But if none of the council officials’ decisions are subject to careful scrutiny, then the people who are really running Croydon Council can get on with their work uninterrupted by any troublesome concepts, such as public accountability.
For example, before he was elected as leader of the council in 2014, Tony Newman made a very public pledge to “blow open the books” behind the council’s new headquarters offices and how they had cost £144 million – or about £100 million more than similar sized and spec office blocks built in London.
Since taking charge at the council from the Tories, Newman has confirmed Elvery’s appointed as CEO, apparently “to ensure continuity”, and he has refused to investigate the massive costs of the council building because “this would be a waste of public money”.
Has Newman simply ensured that Croydon gets more “continuity” than anyone might have imagined?
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