Just what is it that the leader of Croydon Council, Tony Newman, does for his £54,000, plus exes, in publicly funded “allowances” each year?
One thing seems clear: replying to emails from Croydon Council Tax-payers – the people who pay his wages – is so far towards the bottom of Newman’s to-do list that it never gets done at all.
Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader, Dave Scott, has been seeking answers from Councillor Newman on some issues for more than six months. But he has never received a reply to any of the questions put to Newman. Now given that, in his lofty position as leader, Newman has the relative luxury of being allocated professional council staff to look after his office, and enquiries directed to it, this might seem a little slack. For many people, such deliberate ignoring of correspondence might be regarded as plain rude.
Scott has been concerned about a variety of topics, from the pot-holed state of his home street in Purley, to the solemn undertaking given by Newman at a videoed council meeting that he would publish the consultants’ report on the £30 million refit of the Fairfield Halls. Oddly, Newman’s never got around to fulfilling that promise, either.
Last month, after seeing a press release in which Croydon was described by the council – apparently in all seriousness – as “the southern economic powerhouse”, Scott decided to write to Newman again, and this time he copied in the council cabinet member responsible for regeneration, Toni Letts (who is paid a mere £42,000 per year in allowances).
The press release, complete with grammatical error after a single word, stated: “Newly-published [sic] economic data underlines how Croydon has the second-fastest expanding local economy in the UK, with a 9.3 per cent growth rate putting the borough’s progress significantly ahead of many other areas.”
The council announcement went on to state: “Croydon’s economic expansion has been principally driven by the large number of property investment deals that have seen the centre of the town transformed into a reinvigorated hub for a wide range of commercial service industries.” So property speculation is behind the “growth”, then, rather than any real economic activity.
The council’s press team themselves represent a significant economic cluster, since despite all the cuts elsewhere in Fisher’s Folly, they still number six staff and operate off a budget of £600,000, in addition to various PR contracts dolled out to favoured firms. Presumably in an effort to justify their existence, the press team persuaded Letts to agree to have a meaningless quote attributed to her.
“Experts on entrepreneurialism have identified that the most successful places around the world are those that are vibrant, multi-cultural and accepting of differences, and that’s what enables them to attract talented business people,” we are supposed to believe that Letts said. “This perfectly describes Croydon’s burgeoning business community, and it’s fantastic that the council’s ambitions for continued economic growth are backed up by these figures.”
Local resident Scott’s finely honed bullshit detector went off with flashing lights and alarms at all this.
Which was when he wrote to Newman and Letts.
“Walking through Croydon, all I see are empty offices, betting shops etc and dirty streets. It does not give the impression of a Southern Powerhouse,” he wrote, adding the he was “not sure why you have to imitate the Government’s meaningless Northern Powerhouse tag”.
So Scott asked the council’s leadership to justify the propaganda claim. “Please tell me how many new business have arrived in the last 12 months, how many staff they employ and how many businesses have left for whatever reason.”
That was December 18. Given the Christmas break, Scott might have had better luck in getting a response had he submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. At least he would have got an acknowledgement, which would have been more than he’s had from Newman.
After New Year, Scott sent a reminder to the two well-paid councillors: “I don’t think my question is unreasonable and I would like some evidence that what is being said is actually true. When I go to Croydon, which is now infrequently as it is a dirty, depressing town, I see many closed shops, empty offices and little in the way of professional people. I see buildings going up, but not much business going into them.”
Toni Letts, to her credit, was in touch with Scott this week, to apologise for the delay, and offering to answer the substantive points.
From Newman, though, not a thing, not even an acknowledgement. Perhaps Newman’s just too busy getting his selfie taken alongside Francis Rossi or Simon Cowell?
Or maybe he just can’t justify the claim his council made that Croydon is the “southern economic powerhouse”.
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