WALTER CRONXITE on the Town Hall Labour group’s second ‘secret’ meeting of the week and flailing efforts to ban councillors from speaking to this website
Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon Labour, has this week demonstrated his determination to defend the indefensible.
At a behind-closed-doors meeting of Labour’s elected councillors on Wednesday night, Newman put forward a move that demanded that members of the group should sign a document undertaking not to have contact with Inside Croydon.
Newman took charge of the council in 2014 on a manifesto which promised to be “ambitious”, but which he quickly converted to a practice of “continuity” over senior appointments and policies at the Town Hall.
On Wednesday, Newman was responding to the exclusive report on this website which had revealed the discussions at the previous “secret” meeting held at the Town Hall on Monday. There, the council chief executive, Jo Negrini, had tried to stem calls for dismissals over the crisis in the council’s children services department.
Negrini and Newman had sought to keep the prying eyes of the public and the press out of the meeting, which was supposed to report the progress – or lack of it – in the children’s services department since the highly critical Ofsted report last month.
Instead of being held as an emergency council meeting, it was deemed to be a “training workshop”.
That meant that as well as being held in secret, there would be no official minutes to be published of any discussion, nor any binding decisions reached.
Newman failed to attend Monday’s meeting. Instead, he was meeting Government ministers at Westminster to discuss the position over Westfield’s own centre development.
But this, and the secret council meeting, were both reported by Inside Croydon.
At the Labour group meeting, Newman seemed to be angry that the deeply embarrassing remarks of the £185,000 chief executive – “It’s a sign of a failing council that seeks heads to roll”, Negrini had said on Monday – found a far wider audience than the 50 or so Tory and Labour councillors who attended this bogus “training” session.
So following Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, at a session with Newman’s Labour councillors, the leader stood alongside Carole Bonner as she read from a sheet of paper with a prepared statement.
Bonner is a backbench councillor who represents Fieldway ward.
“She gave a Bafta-winning performance,” one eye-witness said.
Another attendee at the meeting said, “Carole was close to tears. She was clearly very emotional as she read from the sheet.
“She said that she’s very upset with Inside Croydon and the editor, Steven Downes, and that councillors will be given a form to sign to declare that they will not have anything to do with the website.
“Tony was stood next to her throughout.”
It is not the first time that the leadership of Labour’s group at council has sought to gag councillors from airing their serious concerns on matters of genuine public interest.
At a previous group meeting, Paul Scott, Newman’s ward colleague who is regarded as the Labour group “enforcer”, angrily demanded that anyone who talks to Inside Croydon should stand up and declare themselves.
“That was about as successful as you might imagine it would be,” someone who was present at that meeting said.
Another source suggests that Negrini was badly unsettled that her blatant plea that she should not be sacked had made it to the public domain.
One senior Labour councillor said today, “A lot of us a really angry at how bad the council is being run, and not just in children’s services. And a growing number believe that council staff like Jo and Barbara Peacock can’t expect to keep their jobs over this.”
As far as the suggestion that councillors could be compelled to sign some form or document, Inside Croydon has consulted our legal advisers, and Ebenezer Grabbit, of the respected London firm of solicitors, Sue, Grabbit & Runne, suggests that any document signed by Labour councillors is unlikely to be enforceable. “There is an old English legal principle of freedom of speech, old chap,” Grabbit said.
“You do wonder about quite what ridiculous thing Newman might do next,” a Croydon Labour source said.
“We now have a Labour leader, in the midst of the worst crisis faced by the council for many years after the terrible Ofsted report, trying to defend his council executive appointees, the senior council staff who have got us into this mess.
“And you have a Labour leader who was elected with a manifesto promise of the most open and transparent council Croydon has ever seen, now staging secret meetings and trying to gag his own councillors and stop them speaking to the press.
“We all felt very sorry for Carole. She should never have been put in that situation.
“But it’s typical of the way Tony works. It’s re-selection time, and their unspoken threat is that if we don’t kow down, he will make selection difficult for us. For him, it’s all about patronage.”
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