The Croydon Communities Consortium holds its annual meeting on Thursday evening, just eight months since the council-funded body staged its previous AGM.
It is doing so after refusing to make audited accounts available ahead of the event, and with its chairwoman, Elizabeth Ash, who has put herself in charge of the elections, accused of changing the rules to try to block people from attending, or voting.
While CCC’s publicity had previously stated “everyone welcome” to the meeting, Ash’s attitude has been of ill-disguised hostility since it emerged on Friday that her position is to be challenged.
Three rival candidates – or “agitators”, as Ash calls any Croydon residents who dare to question her autocratic stance – have put themselves forward to stand for key posts in the organisation over worries about how a public organisation, funded by the local council, should have seen trades unions expressing concern about the manner in which CCC stages its meetings, and the borough’s police commander decide that his officers should not attend CCC meetings.
In 2013, CCC received a grant of £5,000 from the council, on condition that it should stage at least 20 public meetings in a year, and that it should be apolitical. In the 2014 calendar year CCC, with Ash now at its helm, struggled to stage a dozen public events, but managed to appoint to its committee at least two active members of UKIP, including one who was his party’s General Election candidate in Croydon Central.
CCC also handed the important responsibility for staging election hustings meetings to Peter Morgan, whose “disruptive conduct” has seen him recently kicked out of membership of the Tory Party and UKIP. Yes. And UKIP. Think on that.
In December 2014, after the end of the one-year term of the grant, Croydon Council sent a demand to CCC for the refund of unspent grant funds, as was revealed through a Freedom of Information request: “The Council has asked the Croydon Communities Consortium for the return of any unspent funds as at 22 December 2014.”
According to CCC’s own accounts, as approved at its AGM in November 2014, it had £3,937.69 of the council money left.
Ash, from Sanderstead, adopted a similar Ostrich position last year when her CCC colleague, Clive Locke, was discovered sending racist messages from an anonymous Twitter account – hardly the sort of conduct to be expected from a senior official from a publicly funded organisation.
Controversially, after nearly eight months, Ash and her cabal of chums have refused to comply with the council’s request to return the public money, trying to pretend it had never happened.
Even after Locke admitted that he was responsible for using social media to publish Islamophobic images and other messages supporting UKIP, Ash and her CCC committee opted to take no action to distance the organisation from Locke to salvage its reputation within the borough’s diverse communities.
No lessons appear to have been learned by that experience. Ash and her committee have gone ahead with staging their 2015 annual meeting in mid-July, despite knowing it is in the middle of Ramadan, when Croydon Muslims are observing a fast, and so find it difficult to attend public events.
A lack of properly audited accounts available ahead of the meeting also ought to be of concern to Croydon Council, and Council Tax-payers. Last year, CCC’s acccounts, although somewhat lacking in detail, were presented after a financial year which ended in March.It would be reasonable to expect CCC’s 2014-2015 financial year to have ended in March, and for the accounts for that 12-month period to have been signed off and independently verified in good time for this week’s meeting.
Yet when Ash was asked for the latest set of accounts ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, she refused. Ash said, “I cannot provide you with a copy of the accounts as we are still awaiting information from the council which may alter the detail, but accounts will be presented to all on the night.”
Ash, who is nominated for re-election as chairwoman, just happens to be overseeing the conduct of the elections herself. Despite this irregularity, she has refused to provide proof of the timing of when the nominations from all candidates were submitted.
Certainly, once she received the nominations of challengers, Ash sought to change some of the arrangements for the meeting, trying to insist that residents wishing to attend and vote now needed to register online by noon yesterday – a requirement which had not existed previously.
Mark Johnson, a current CCC committee member and a failed Conservative Party candidate in last year’s local elections, was reported to be lobbying his party colleagues over the weekend to attend tomorrow’s meeting. An astroturfing website formed by supporters of Tory MP Gavin Barwell has also carried supportive coverage of CCC, with a wildly inaccurate article which tries to deny that there has been anything amiss with CCC, denying that the council has requested the refund of the grant, and claiming that Ash has in some way suffered terrible personal attacks.Today, CCC closed its pre-event registration process, posting a “Sold Out” sign, perhaps to deter any other undesirables, or “agitators”, from daring to attend what Ash may have anticipated would have been her latest coronation.
The trio standing against Ash’s CCC nominees are charity worker Austen Cooper, who is seeking election as chair, Bushra Ahmed, an activist for compensation for those who lost their homes or businesses in the 2011 Croydon riots, and Glen Hart, a Thornton Heath-based union official.
Last year, Ash nominated Peter Staveley to be her deputy. Staveley is well-known as Croydon’s senior UKIP official. He stood as the UKIP candidate in Croydon Central at the General Election last May, and last year had been a candidate for his party in the local elections. So much for “apolitical”.
Notably, Staveley is not on the ballot for CCC in 2015.
However, Coulsdon resident Janet Stollery, who was an active UKIP member until recently, and her partner, Roger Clark, are both again seeking office within CCC. According to Staveley, Stollery resigned her UKIP membership to him … when they were both at a CCC meeting held earlier this year.
Today, Cooper told Inside Croydon, “I’m not expecting victory – I see it as an opportunity to ask pointed questions and hopefully the return of the money to the council with an explanation of what it’s all been spent on.”
The CCC “everyone welcome” annual meeting is being held on July 16 at St Michael’s and All Angels Church, Poplar Walk, West Croydon, due to start at 7.30pm.
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