With an enfeebled opposition, and by keeping the big money items to late in the action, Tony Newman is managing to turn council meetings into a cure for insomnia, as WALTER CRONXITE reports
What follows is our contemporaneous/contemptuous [delete as applicable] notes of the Croydon Council cabinet meeting held in the Town Hall chamber yesterday evening…
“Policy”, blah, blah, blah. “Framework”, waffle, waffle, waffle.”Fantastic”, blah, blah, blah. “Ambition”, blah, blah. “Delivery”, blah-di-blah-di-blah. “Our time is now”, blah, blah. “Croydon jobs for Croydon people”, blah, blah. “Frankly, it’s a scandal”, blah, blah. “Long-term economic plan.” Zzzzzzzz.
Yes, you’re right. We made up that last one.
Here was another two hours following the life of our local authority which would have been better spent mulching the nettle patch. In Brixton last night, there were dozens of angry protestors on the streets to complain about the latest piece of social cleansing being undertaken by Lambeth’s Labour council. Over in Sutton, the Tories stormed out of their council meeting complaining of a “McCarthy-style show trial”, as the LibDems – who are building a waste incinerator at Beddington Lane after getting a £275,000 “gift” for a favoured church from its operators – sought to lecture their borough on their code of conduct. Yes, seriously.
And meanwhile, what did we get in Croydon?
Two hours of often dull presentations from cabinet members, speaking to reports which they take it for granted have been read and learned by rote by whoever is supposed to be their audience; a council leader who chairs the meeting but forgets that he’s supposed to speak into his microphone, and not away from it; and a front-loaded agenda that saw the core business of the evening, the financial review, not begin until one hour 40 minutes into the meeting, and so was given barely 15 minutes to be discussed.
There was hardly any debate all night, but this was not because of any tricks from the chair. The opposition Tory group nodded through (some may have nodded off) their assent to most of the business of the night.
Then Jason Cummings – who supplements his councillor’s allowances with a salary as one of Tory MP Gavin Barwell’s Westminster staff – said, “I agree that we would like to see a larger ‘slice of the cake’ for Croydon,” referring to the grant from central government disbursed by Barwell’s Conservative Party colleagues.
That’s about as controversial as it got.
This is not to make a case for constant rows in the chamber. But some debate, some pointed questions, some incisive thinking, might just help to bring issues into the open, perhaps ultimately even improve some projects.
There was some important stuff out there, we are sure. Not that our elected representatives were able to communicate it effectively to their audience, in the public gallery or on the webcast.
Apparently, our council is doing a lot of good work on domestic violence, though we were told little about what form that work takes. Our councillors are very concerned about the levels of obesity and amount of smoking that goes on in our borough. Someone may have mentioned the importance of “awareness” of the health issues, but I wasn’t paying full attention by that time.
Croydon’s schools according to Ofsted, we were told, were now better than neighbouring boroughs. No one questioned this claim – perhaps the Tories were struck dumb by its barefaced audacity.
And the Taberner House site redevelopment is a “fantastic” scheme now, promising 30 per cent “affordable” housing among its 418 flats, which could be worth around £130 million, the development to be funded through the son-of-CCURV, what the council likes to call the “RIF”: Croydon’s new “Revolving Investment Fund”.
There was not a single question about this important housing scheme from the Tories. Maybe they were just too embarrassed after the pig’s ear of a scheme which they had left behind, or the mountain of debt that they created for the borough through the secretive CCURV venture with John Laing.
The liveliest the meeting got was when a group of teenagers were given the floor to deliver mini-speeches about a work experience programme, called First Step, being run by the council, and which in principle sounds fascinating.
The general lack of slickness in the presentations by Croydon’s senior councillors – remember, according to Tony Newman and Tim Pollard, these are the best that they have got – was demonstrated just before they shut-down the webcast and emptied the public gallery, when Alison Butler came back to the microphone to deliver a hurried afterthought, almost an hour after she had spoken, to thank the council staff who had worked on her Taberner House report.
There was more than a suspicion that the council CEO, Nathan Elvery, had given the deputy leader a nudge to ensure that Jo Negrini’s name got minuted, to make sure the borough’s planning chief gets her share of the credit for this scheme.
Maybe the sense of torpor in the Town Hall is because of the warmth of the summer evenings, but there’s a growing suspicion that the lethargy at the council these days is being caused by the leadership style of Tim Pollard with the Conservative opposition. If being attacked by Geoffrey Howe used to be compared to being savaged by a dead sheep, then an assault by Pollard must come after the deceased sheep has had all its teeth removed.
Pollard made a single worthwhile intervention last night. In his usual manner, that of a small town chartered accountant, Pollard pointed out the fact that only 2,320 people had registered their views in the recent 20mph zone consultation, in an area of approximately 80,000 residents. “It’s not exactly an overwhelming majority, is it?”
Which was batted away by Newman, who claimed that the 52.5 per cent of respondents who had said they were in favour of residential roads having 20mph speed limits, “Is a very clear mandate.”
Can a local politician have ever before relied quite so heavily on the silent majority?
Or been allowed to do so so easily?
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