Lambeth, where Steve Reed OBE was the leader of the “co-operative” council until he became an MP for Croydon North, is seeking help from the Tory government to shut down questions about how it spends public money.
Hyperlocal website Brixton Buzz is reporting that Lambeth’s Corporate Committee has tabled a proposal to put a halt to having its accounts examined, as has happened this year through a group of people calling themselves the People’s Audit.
The People’s Audit used recent government legislation to go through the council’s accounts line-by-line during a 30-day period this summer. “The report documented financial mismanagement taking place at Lambeth Council,” says Brixton Buzz.
What the People’s Audit found saw them raise 172 questions on a range of matters about how the council was spending its money, which contractors it was using, and how much it was paying to redevelop the council’s offices – all issues which may be familiar to Croydon residents.
Lambeth Council claims that it cost £12,176 to answer the queries.
So, using the grounds of cost, Labour-run Lambeth is now trying to shut down this brief opportunity to place its management of the borough under public scrutiny, and is considering lobbying Westminster to “review its approach”.
This follows Lambeth Council’s director of finance writing to the National Audit Office last month, also asking for a review.
Lambeth and its council has many connections and much influence over their Labour colleagues in Croydon. As well as Reed, there’s Jo Negrini, Croydon’s £185,000 per year chief executive, who worked on Brixton regeneration under Reed. She has recently appointed Julian Ellerby, Lambeth Council’s head of spin, to a similar role in Croydon’s Fisher’s Folly council offices.
In 2014, when Tony Newman became Croydon Council leader, his Labour manifesto promised “the most open and transparent” Town Hall in the borough’s history. But other promises, to investigate how the council offices managed to be £100million more expensive than similar buildings, have since been waved away by Newman as “unhelpful”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
And more recently, even routine Freedom of Information requests, asking for details of senior councillors’ diaries, of meetings held with Transport for London, and how many times Negrini has met with specified firms of architects, have been refused.
Other enquiries about how the council is spending £250million of public funding on its house-building programme are also been blocked, on the grounds that Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing developer, is a private company.
If anything, the findings of the People’s Audit in Lambeth demonstrates that there is need for greater transparency in local government.
They found that spending on Lambeth’s new town hall has gone from a £50million project to one now costing £104million. Sound familiar?
The People’s Audit also documented how Lambeth Council “invested” a grand total of £57,000 on its public libraries last year, compared to £13,065,000 spent on corporate office accommodation.
In Lambeth, £10.3million was spent on making people redundant. Yet at the same time, the number of managers in Lambeth earning £50,000-£150,000 increased by 88, at a cost of more than £5.5million per year.
The People’s Audit also found that although Lambeth Labour pledged to build 1,000 council homes by 2018, the number of council homes has actually decreased by 410 in the past year.
Inside Croydon understands that there are plans to conduct a People’s Audit in Croydon in 2018 – though this is unlikely to happen before the local elections in May. “The shredding machine on the sixth floor of Fisher’s Folly could be in for some industrial use,” one Katharine Street observer said.
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