WALTER CRONXITE, our man outside the Town Hall with a Yorkie bar and Mike Fisher’s discarded copy of the Racing Post, sees a clear message in the latest council cabinet reshuffle: mediocrity will be rewarded in Croydon
Tony Newman, Croydon’s council leader, has handed out promotions worth tens of thousands of pounds to a pair of Labour councillors who a couple of months ago were caught watching football in the council chamber during a Town Hall meeting.
In the latest display of crass misjudgement – or perhaps simple desperation – Newman has named Upper Norwood councillors John Wentworth and septuagenarian Pat Ryan as deputy cabinet members. The decision will be rubber-stamped at the council’s annual meeting on May 23.
Councillors are paid an extra £10,132 per year in special responsibility allowances, on top of the basic £11,239 paid to all councillors, when appointed cabinet deputies.
The deputy cabinet appointments were not revealed until yesterday evening, nearly two days after Newman – aided by his inner cabinet of “Mr and Mrs Scott” and Mark Watson – had finalised the 10 cabinet positions for 2016-2017.
Newman had been forced into the first substantial reshuffle since winning control of the council in 2014 after he chose to withdraw the party whip from Thornton Heath councillor, and deputy cabinet member for communities and justice, Matthew Kyeremeh over allegations against him arising from a lengthy divorce case, while cabinet member Toni Letts wanted to stand down from her regeneration role and he opted not to move Kathy Bee to another front bench role after two years in charge of roads and transport.
As we predicted correctly, Newman has used the opportunity to promote his fellow Woodside councillor Hamida Ali to the community and justice front bench role just two years after she was first elected on to the council, and to give Stuart King a step-up, taking over on transport and environment. Having been foiled in his attempt to become deputy leader, Watson gets a move to economy and jobs.
In other adjustments of cabinet briefs, “Mrs Scott”, Newman’s deputy leader Alison Butler, takes on the regeneration element previously the responsibility of Letts, together with her existing housing brief. Intriguingly, in a note distributed to Labour’s 39 councillors late yesterday, she names her husband, Paul Scott, as her deputy cabinet member for planning. Architect Scott is already the chair of the planning committee. No worries about an over-concentration of power on Croydon Council, then…
But it was in completing the jigsaw puzzle of the 10 deputy positions which appears to have caused Newman and his council clique the biggest headache, as they sought to hand out patronage for past favours and service, presumably while hoping to provide front bench back-up with people with a degree of competence.
In her emailed notice of the appointments, Butler wrote, “We have sought to strike a balance between offering opportunities to new colleagues and blending this with the experience others bring.”
With 15 men and only five women among Labour’s new cabinet and deputy cabinet members, Newman, Butler and Watson appear to have overlooked their own group’s standing orders.
The Labour group’s rule book, issued in 2014, required that “all appointments… shall ensure equality of opportunity and encourage under-represented”, and to “reflect the gender balance of the Labour Group as a whole”. Sixteen of the Labour group are women – or 41 per cent of their 39 councillors.
Only 25 per cent of Newman’s new cabinet and deputies are women.
There have been speedy promotions for the two newest councillors, David Wood (Selhurst) and Callton Young (West Thornton), both given deputy briefs after joining the council through by-elections, in Young’s case just a week ago.
But it was obvious even before the belated announcement of Newman’s front bench on Wednesday that the leader was struggling with the composition of his back-up team.
“It is clear that Tony is struggling to put together a competent team of deputies, hence the delay as deputies are usually announced alongside their cabinet members,” a usually reliable Town Hall source said in midweek.
“With Ali and King promoted and the vacancy created by Matthew’s sacking, there are three posts to fill. Quite a few councillors who are regarded as ‘competent’ are deemed to be on the naughty step and hence they were not being considered – which really doesn’t leave many with the ability or experience to step up and be a deputy. It doesn’t bode well if any of Tony’s cabinet fall under a bus.”
Which explains Newman’s desperation in the recall of veteran Ryan, installed to a council deputy cabinet post on transport more than a decade after he qualified for his pensioner’s bus pass.
Ryan lost the chief whip sinecure a year ago as Newman tried to bring in some new blood. With Stuart King, the lead on transport and roads, having a full-time career and young family, his deputy may find himself busier at council meetings than perhaps Newman bargained for.
Wentworth previously had the quiet task of chairing the council pensions committee, and has just completed a busy year as the captain at Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club – Denis Thatcher’s favourite.
The retired headteacher has worked as Lambeth South MP Steve Reed OBE’s election agent, so his appointment as deputy to Simon Hall on finance puts Croydon’s Blairite clique at the heart of the action for the two years until the next local elections.
But the choice of Ryan and Wentworth, just a few months after between them they caused widespread anger when they were caught watching football in the council chamber and then issued non-apology apologies, will reflect badly on Newman’s judgement and is sure to be used by the opposition Tories as a political weapon over the coming 24 months.
“Did he really not have any other options?” asked our source. “Maybe he thinks that because they are both councillors in Upper Norwood, they have no chance of losing to the Tories there. But football-watching councillors is something people across the borough have heard about. He didn’t sanction them then. Now they are getting a pay rise.”
The cabinet appointments, as distributed by Alison Butler, are as follows:
Communities, Safety & Justice – Hamida Ali – David Wood
Homes, Regeneration & Planning – Alison Butler – Homes & Regeneration – Manju Shahul-Hameed; Planning – Paul Scott
Clean, Green, Croydon – Stuart Collins – Robert Canning
Children, Young People and Learning – Alisa Flemming – Shafi Khan
Culture, Leisure and Sport – Timothy Godfrey – Stephen Mann
Finance and Treasury – Simon Hall – John Wentworth
Transport and Environment – Stuart King – Pat Ryan
Economy and Jobs – Mark Watson Jamie Audsley
Families, Health and Social Care – Louisa Woodley – Callton Young
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