The clique of Progress councillors that control Croydon’s Labour-run Town Hall have really taken to this “post-truth” thing, to the point of issuing press releases, through the council’s propaganda department, which are fundamentally untrue.
The latest instance is over the sadly declining fortunes of Surrey Street Market.
Last week, the council promised a Christmas market in Surrey Street on Thursday evening, including mulled wine, roast chestnuts and carol singing. The full Bing Crosby.
The reality was desultory, with no chestnuts, no carols and most definitely no mulled wine, just half a dozen not-very-Christmassy “street food” stalls with very few customers and someone with a microphone doing some rap music to an audience of barely a dozen.
There was a bit of tinsel wrapped around a crowd barrier – though the barrier wasn’t really necessary, as there was no crowd.
But all this, according to Tony “Ho Ho Ho” Newman, is what passes for “Delivering for Croydon”, and “part of our £1 million investment to improve Surrey Street”.
Newman didn’t bother to show up in Surrey Street last Thursday himself. And no, he wasn’t there disguised as Father Christmas, either.
Because Councillor Newman had far more important things to attend – like the chance to appear on stage up the road at Boozepark with So Solid Crew, who had been booked presumably at huge expense by the council-subsidised bar and restaurant venue to turn on their Christmas lights.
“Tony’s getting a bit star struck,” was the view of one Town Hall colleague.
“Seriously, which genius at the council decided to put on a Surrey Street Christmas market head-to-head against another Boxpark stunt?” another, more annoyed, councillor said to Inside Croydon this week.
“The Advertiser ran a story last week about how local businesses have noticed that their trade is down since Boxpark opened thanks to a massive loan from the council. No shit Sherlock – you at Inside Croydon predicted as much a year ago. Maybe after running puffs for the place for a month, the Advertiser‘s only caught up with the downside now because Boxpark isn’t booking any adverts any longer.
“But to make matters worse, the council goes out of its way to provide a further example of the adverse impact on other businesses by staging this shambles of an event in Surrey Street on the same night. It was embarrassing.”
Perhaps Newman will decide to show his face in Surrey Street tomorrow night, when the council has another bash at trying to organise the proverbial piss-up just up the road from a former brewery.
The council-backed Surrey Street Christmas market again failed to involve the existing, long-standing fruit and veg traders who work the market, day-in, day-out, in all weathers. But then, the existing traders and shop-keepers were blocked from doing business in the council’s new Sunday market, so their exclusion from this latest poorly executed scheme should come as no surprise.
And nor should we be surprised that the council’s “scheme” to revive Surrey Street, as masterminded by one of Newman’s clique, Mark Watson, is falling flat on its arse.
From the 20 or so stalls when it the Sunday market had its shaky launch in September, the market has been whittled down to as few as nine lonely-looking stalls on one weekend this month. That’s unlikely to draw in the promised crowds of hipsters and artisan bread-eaters as Watson and his gentrifiers seem to want to do. In any case, its unlikely that they know the market is there, because Watson’s promise of improved signage for Surrey Street is – more than six months on – yet to materialise.
Even the council’s limp efforts to promote the Sunday market on its own website have managed to back-fire: a week ago we found a poll which asked the leading question “Will you be visiting Surrey Street Sundays to see what’s on offer leading up to Christmas?”.
The poll drew a meagre 17 responses, with 52 per cent of them – that is, an entire nine people – stating “No” (you have to worry about the 5 per cent who bothered to click on a button to say that they didn’t know, but hey…).
More costly for Council Tax-payers is that the council now wants to double the amount of public cash it is throwing at Surrey Street.
When Watson made his announcement of the revival plans for Surrey Street to a council meeting earlier this year, the amount of public money he intended to spend was £500,000. Now, according to boasts being made by Newman in emails sent to local Labour Party members, they’re to spend £1million, as they ratchet up the rhetoric about what is being done to salvage something for Surrey Street.
Watson has been saying that the money is to be spent on a “co-ordinated package of marketing”. That sounds like the council is about to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a mountainous pile of PR bullshit.
But no one seems willing to explain where all this extra money is to come from, nor what it is going to be spent on, as Croydon’s public street market is effectively pitched into commercial competition against the council-subsidised Boozepark.
Inside Croydon sought answers from Councillor Watson, who has in the past always been quick to send us notes and pictures whenever he’s wanted support for his latest charity jaunt or adventure.
We asked: Where is the additional cash coming from?
We asked Councillor Watson: By any standard, £1m of public money for marketing is a significant spend, whether “co-ordinated” or not. What form will this “co-ordinated package” take?
We also asked: Will the marketing contract be properly put out to tender, or will the council’s usual PRs benefit yet again?
We asked: Are you going to abandon the Sunday experiment, which excludes the market’s regular stall-holders?
Further, we wanted to know: How much do you estimate to have been spent on the Sunday market?
We asked Watson: Might the “co-ordinated package of marketing” include the signs to the Sunday market which were promised to the traders when they were encouraged to take pitches?
And mindful that Croydon Council has loaned £3million to Boozepark, and is spending more than £160,000 a year of Council Tax-payers’ money at the venue, without having first ensured that the company is a London Living Wage employer, we asked Watson: What work under the Good Employer scheme is being done with Boxpark and the various businesses that trade there?
One week later, and the supposedly publicly accountable councillor and cabinet member Watson has failed to answer a single question.
Merry Christmas, Surrey Street. Ho bloody ho.
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