The borough’s elected councillors were advised not to attend the annual meeting of the Croydon Communities [sic] Consortium last month because of a possible legal dispute for the recovery of thousands of pounds of public money.The CCC has been dubbed the Croham Clux Clan by Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader because of the high proportion of current and former UKIP members who enjoy the company at its meetings.
CCC staged its annual meeting more than a month ago, but it has yet to publish its minutes, and its new secretary – who until recently was a paid-up member of UKIP – has failed to circulate to all attendees her version of the meeting.
On the night of the meeting, the CCC chairwoman, Elizabeth Ash, refused to allow the meeting to be recorded independently.
Now, Nathan Elvery, the chief executive of Croydon Council, has told Inside Croydon that he will publish all documentation relating to the disputed CCC grant once the public cash has been recovered from the organisation or its officers. Elvery has directly contradicted one of the public claims made at the CCC annual meeting by Ash, who said she has a two-year contract from the council. Ash has so far failed to make any such document public.
Despite various notices claiming that “all are welcome” to the CCC event, several residents have complained to Inside Croydon that they were refused admission to the annual meeting, even though the church hall venue in West Croydon was far from full. Others, some of whom arrived with their “tickets” printed on the back of paperwork carrying official UKIP letter heading, were welcomed into the meeting.
The business of the meeting was far from well-organised: Ash and some of her committee spent more than an hour reading from a script which was full of serious errors of fact and which largely comprised self-justification. They offered nothing by way of an account of what she and her committee had actually done in the previous year.
Efforts were made on the night by the CCC committee to compare their organisation to a charity, something which it is not. “The constitution we adopted was taken from the Charity Commission,” claimed Ash, who has a great facility for speaking A-grade bullshit (check the pro forma constitutions offered by the Charity Commission and compare it to the document Ash claims that CCC works to).
Charlotte Davies, the chair of the South Croydon Community Association, had told Inside Croydon on the day of the meeting that because of her concerns about the dysfunctional nature of CCC’s relationship with some of Croydon’s black and ethnic minority communities, she intended to suggest from the floor that the organisation should be wound up. “CCC is not fit for purpose,” Davies told Inside Croydon.At the meeting few hours later, Davies – who is the chair of governors of a Thornton Heath free school – stepped forward to help conduct the business of the meeting, a move which had all the appearance of something that had been pre-arranged.
Three candidates who dared to challenge Ash and her cabal for election were subjected to a star chamber questioning, with that notorious local agitator Peter Morgan – someone who even UKIP has expelled from its membership – given the floor as chief inquisitor.
That the CCC committee’s candidacies were fixed only after Ash had received other nominations was made clear when Stollery blurted out, with ill-disguised venom: “I’m only standing for secretary because I don’t like that man,” referring to the alternative candidate, the absent Glen Hart.
While Morgan grew more red-faced and accusatory in his questioning of two other candidates, Austen Cooper and Bushra Ahmed, Ash was allowed to prowl behind the challengers, all the time gurning her disapproval. Ash, Stollery and Mahbub Sadiq Bhatti (as vice-chair) were duly elected.
Ash forgot to hold any vote, even by show of hands as would normally be expected, to re-elect Roger Clark (Stollery’s partner) as treasurer or Mark Johnson as CCC’s sole committee member.
Earlier, Ash even attempted to skip an entire agenda item – the accounts – until she was reminded by those in the audience of her duty to report this. It then transpired that the accounts had not been independently audited, as might be expected of any body in receipt of public funds.
“We don’t need to audit them,” she misinformed the meeting with what seemed more than a touch of arrogance, and departing from her previous claims of conducting the body like a charity.
One month on from the CCC meeting and Ash and her committee are yet to publish their unaudited accounts. It is almost as if they have something to hide.
Inside Croydon is delighted to perform that public service here:
CCC received notification from Croydon Council in December 2014 that they would need to refund any unspent money from a £5,000 grant which was provided to the organisation in 2013. That grant was made on condition that CCC should be apolitical and that it should stage a set number of meetings per year. CCC struggled to fulfil the latter condition, and having appointed a UKIP election candidate Peter Staveley as its vice-chair in November 2014, there would not seem to be much of an argument about it failing on the former, either.
Ash did not offer any explanation for why she and her committee, over the course of nearly two years, have failed to raise any other significant funding, even though they had undertaken to do so as part of the original council grant application.
Ash used “agitation” as her excuse for her committee’s failure to conduct its business, though she was adamant that she would not be repaying the public money as demanded by the council because she had a letter which stated that the grant was for a two-year term.
It was suggested from the floor that if Ash really did have a document from the council stating that the grant was for a two-year term, then she could publish it and end all the uncertainty.
“I have the signed contract that says it’s a two-year contract,” Ash told the 60-or-so people in the room.
“Do you really think if the council wanted us to stage just five to eight meetings we’d be scrabbling around in places like this? We’d be staging our meetings at the Hilton,” Ash said. Somewhat revealingly.
Taken aback at this commonsense suggestion of openness and transparency, Ash indicated that this was not something she wanted to do. We can’t think why.
Certainly, Nathan Elvery, Croydon Council’s chief executive, is very clear that the CCC grant was only for a one-year period and that the money needs to be repaid.
Elvery contradicted Ash’s version of events when he told Inside Croydon: “The basis of the council’s funding to the CCC was for a one-year programme of work and this has been explained to Ms Ash on numerous occasions.”
Elvery also denied that the action had been taken, as Ash has tried to suggest, as some form of retribution against CCC because of the racist activity on Twitter of it former vice-chair, Clive Locke.
“While it appears Ms Ash is intent in her belief of some form detrimental consequences being imposed on CCC as a result of Mr Locke’s tweeting activity, this is a complete misinterpretation of the position. Some things are simply what they are ie that grant funding is only available for the one year.
“The basis of CCC’s funding from the council is the original application made in 2011… The amount the council is now seeking to be returned from the CCC is £2,223.”
The amount of refund being sought is based on CCC’s own financial figures which were provided in January this year. Far be it for us to suggest that CCC cannot be trusted with public money, but since their accounts have not been independently audited, and given that CCC presented a set of accounts last November that showed that more than £4,000 of the original grant remained, then this does raise questions as to how Ash and her committee have managed to spend nearly £2,000 in a just couple of months when they had little, if any, meeting activity.
“The council has made it clear that it will not continue in a protracted debate with the CCC,” Elvery said. “Until the CCC pays the outstanding invoice of £2,223 the council will not provide any support for the organisation, including the free use of council-owned buildings and any indirect support previously available.”
According to another senior Town Hall source, this is the basis of advice passed on to all Croydon’s Labour councillors, who gave the CCC annual meeting a wide berth last month. In fact, only one councillor, Purley ward Tory Simon Brew, bothered to turn up for the non-event. Brew addressed the meeting and expressed himself delighted to be there.
Elvery agrees with Inside Croydon that, if Ash really does have a document which shows that her organisation has a two-year grant term, then she ought to publish it. Because that’s what he intends to do, once the matter has been resolved with the refund of the public cash.
“I share the desire to enable our communities to have access to this agreement themselves,” Elvery said. “However given the current and on-going position with the CCC I will first need to ensure this does not compromise our ability to enforce the outstanding sums due to the council on behalf of our communities.
“Once I am satisfied of this point I will seek to publish the appropriate documentation.”
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