All change! But as WALTER CRONXITE reports, Croydon’s Labour group won’t be lobbying for any real reform of democracy in the borough, and instead will just shore-up their own self-interest
The Croydon Council elections in 2018 will be fought with new ward boundaries.But despite the latest council-wide redundancy drive now going on among council staff working at Fisher’s Folly, as was first reported by Inside Croydon, the opportunity provided by the boundary changes will not be used to reduce the number of councillors in Croydon’s top-heavy Town Hall and so make considerable savings on the £6million cost per four-year term of our 70 elected “representatives”.
The likely boundary changes, intended to re-balance the number of electors across each electoral ward in the borough, could ensure that the Conservatives are kept out of power at Croydon Town Hall for a very long time.
The last council elections, in 2014, were contested over 24 electorial wards, 22 of them returning three councillors and two – Fieldway and New Addington – with two councillors to represent them. Labour won 40 councillors’ seats at the Town Hall to the Tories’ 30 seats.
The boundary changes were discussed at a meeting attended by most of Croydon’s Labour councillors held last week. According to a report from that meeting, the Local Government Boundary Commission has agreed to review and change Croydon’s ward boundaries. The boundaries were last reset for the 2002 local elections.
The Commission will seek to correct imbalances in representation while also anticipating population changes expected in the future. The more densely populated wards in the centre and north of the borough currently have many more residents – and voters – than wards in the leafy suburbs of the south of the borough.The notes from last week’s meeting say that Labour councillors feel that their wards are around one-third larger than Tory wards in terms of the number of voters represented. For instance, compare Broad Green ward, with 12,943 electors, to Selsdon and Ballards, with just 9,540 voters. Broad Green is held by Labour, Selsdon and Ballards by the Conservatives. At present, both wards are represented by the same number of councillors, three.
If the Boundary Commission was to intervene to re-balance the ratio between voters and councillors across the borough, then they could create more wards, across smaller geographical areas, in the more densely populated north of Croydon, traditionally where Labour has the strongest support, while increasing the geographical size and number of voters in the wards in the south, perhaps by reducing the number of wards – and therefore council seats – in the Tory stronghold area.
Such a dilution of Tory wards could see six seats lost by the Conservatives. In 2014, two marginal wards, Ashburton and Waddon, determined who would control the council. But under the forthcoming boundary changes, the make-up of the council could see Labour holding as many as 46 seats to the Tories’ 24. Such changes would make a Tory comeback in Katharine Street very difficult indeed.
Labour’s Simon Hall has been lobbying the Local Government Boundary Commission over the electoral discrepancies created by planning rules which protect many parts of the south of the borough from development, while the north of the borough increasingly resembles an inner city area, with multi-occupancy homes and speculative developments of multi-storey blocks of flats.
None of the Boundary Commission solutions are anticipated to reduce the number of councillors in the borough – even though simply allowing less-populated wards two councillors, instead of three, might achieve a similar end fare more simply and cheaply. Nor will the changes offer the LibDems, Greens or UKIP, all frozen out of local power, much hope that they will alter the duopoly at the Town Hall enjoyed by the small cliques which comprise Croydon’s Labour and Conservative groups.The reaction of the Labour group meeting last week may exaggerate the current imbalances, though, and as Inside Croydon has previously suggested, the boundary changes may prove less favourable for Labour than their gaffe-prone leader, Tony Newman, would have them expect.
Two months ago, Inside Croydon predicted that the changes would be far more modest than Labour hope, leading to only an extra two seats for Labour and a notional loss of two seats for the Tories, a total gain for Labour of four seats.
This is because of the removal from the electoral roll of a greater number of voters in Labour-held seats because of the move this month to individual voter registration, a Conservative and Liberal Democrat “reform” designed to hurt the registration of Labour-leaning voters.
Inside Croydon understands that the Boundary Commission will look closely at just where the 32,870 extra homes will be built in the next 20 years, as predicted by Croydon’s new Strategic Housing Market Assessment. Such vast development could bring another 70,000 extra voters on to the electoral register, and simply overwhelm all partisan calculations over the present democratic imbalances.
Major developments in places like Cane Hill in Coulsdon and in Fairfield in central Croydon, both Conservative-held wards, may yet drive the Commission towards boundary changes that disappoint Labour’s wishful thinking.
Newman, the Labour group leader who is ever mindful of the need to quieten any grumblings of discontent among the 30 under-occupied councillors who are not part of his “top team” cabinet who make all the decisions, did assure the meeting that any boundary changes are unlikely to reduce Croydon’s bloated quota of councillors.
That looks like a lost opportunity for reform of Croydon’s top-heavy Town Hall, where the borough’s 70 councillors cost Council Tax-payers more than £1.5 million per year in pay (they call it “allowances”, with even the least-able or laziest of back-benchers trousering more than £11,000 per year on top of their day-job salaries) and national insurance costs.
Given the decisions taken recently by the Labour cabinet to axe hundreds of council jobs, most of which do provide some service to the people who pay for them, failure to re-balance the number of councillors in the cause of political advantage could be seen as the latest example of Newman’s poor judgement.
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