WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest twist to the sackings of two Labour councillors over the borough’s licensing policy
Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon’s Labour-run council, may face a legal challenge to his decision to strip councillors Callton Young and Andrew Pelling of their cabinet and committee positions because they called for legal advice before making any decision on licensing policies.
There is a suggestion that members of Newman’s inner circle have been briefing against Young and Pelling since their sackings, claiming that they had failed to attend important pre-committee briefings ahead of the licensing meeting held on November 23.
Both councillors maintain that this is untrue, something which raises the possibility of a serious legal challenge with claims of malicious falsehood.
“Tony Newman has opened the council or himself up to justifiable litigation,” one Town Hall veteran warned today.
The council licensing committee, chaired by Jane Avis, is due to meet tonight to resume discussions on the revised licensing policies, which are intended to make it easier for the likes of multi-million-pound organisations such as Westfield, Hammerson and the council-backed Boozepark to get licences for the sale of alcohol and to stage live performances.
The licensing committee failed to approve the new policy at its last meeting, when Avis introduced into the discussion the matter of Young’s long-delayed, and as-yet unpublished council report on the night-time economy. Young’s report, first published by Inside Croydon this week, confirms that the local police had operated a “bashment ban” and discriminated against night clubs and bars which wanted to play or perform black and Asian music.
The ban has been described as a form of “cultural apartheid” – hardly a good look for a place seeking funding from the Mayor of London in a bid to be the capital’s “Borough of Culture”
The committee chair and the council clerk who manages the committee’s business had not ensured that there was a member of legal staff present to advise at the last meeting. Avis has since admitted that she is not “a legal expert”. Pelling proposed that a decision on the policy should be deferred until legal advice was obtained, a move supported by Young and carried democratically.
Neither Young nor Pelling will be on the licensing committee tonight – both have been removed by Newman.
As exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, Newman moved against the councillors a fortnight ago. He has also sacked Young from his position as deputy cabinet member for communities and Pelling as chair of the pensions committee.
Yesterday, Newman said the sackings were “as a result of voting with the Conservatives at a recent licensing policy meeting”. Newman has failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s request for an explanation for his actions.
Today, Adrian Dennis, a former senior Labour councillor and an expert on Town Hall procedures and the workings of the local Labour Party, said, “I am not sure whether I am more shocked or ashamed of the behaviour in the Labour Group now. A ‘whitewash’ does not come close to what is going on.
“Had they had legal advice (which in reality is always available in the council) they should have been advised that the dismissal of Councillor Young on such outrageous grounds, and possibly Councillor Pelling, was actually the only illegal action they should be worried about.
“Whether these loyal Labour councillors will actually take them to court (and probably win) is doubtful before an election. But Tony Newman has opened the council or himself up to justifiable litigation.”
Dennis was speaking without being aware of the behind-the-scenes briefings of senior Labour councillors against Young and Pelling.
According to one of Newman’s top team of cabinet and deputy cabinet members this week, they have been told by the leadership that the reason Young and Pelling lost their positions is “because they didn’t turn up to the pre-meet or policy development meetings and then followed actions which they hadn’t flagged up with the chair or cabinet member”.
But sources close the sacked councillors state that that is categorically untrue.
Both had been in attendance at the committee pre-meeting (where the majority group prepares the lines it may take over the agenda). “There’s a clear attempt by the Labour group’s leadership to damage these councillors’ reputation by spreading such disinformation,” a Town Hall source said. “It suggests that the councillors have been idle, or not up to the job. Some might suggest this is being done with a degree of malice.”
Another Labour group source said, “Policy development meetings do not adopt policy. All policies should go to the Labour group for adoption. But in reality, they don’t – that’s all carved up by Newman and his little clique.
“Both Callton and Andrew were at the licensing committee pre-meet. The issue of the bashment ban report was not raised there. It never came up until Jane Avis brought it up at the meeting itself.
“So Newman’s sacked these two for wanting to get proper legal advice on the borough’s licensing policy that is likely to be in place for a decade, and he’s portraying that as ‘voting with the Tories’. Are we supposed to take Newman seriously?”
In a statement issued to a small circulation newspaper based in Guildford, Pelling has said, “I proposed a deferral of the adoption of the new licensing policy for the town centre until a council solicitor was available to provide legal advice on matters that arose unexpectedly at the meeting.
“Legal advice allows us to make a properly informed decision and, in this case, makes the new licensing policy more secure against challenge at hearings if it is backed by good legal advice at its adoption.
“There was an unexpected allegation that a member of the committee might be at risk of proceeding to acting illegally at the meeting.
“It also emerged at the meeting that a scrutiny review had made a number of recommendations that might have been included in the revised policy.
“The committee was unable to discuss the findings of Councillor Young’s report on the night-time economy.
“The report has never been published by the council. That unpublished scrutiny report apparently includes considerations of some police bans on some clubs playing black and ethnic music.
“I wanted to receive legal advice on whether we were acting reasonably under law regarding reading or indeed not reading that unpublished report. Reassured at the meeting that the policy does not need to be applied until 2019 and thus that there was a lot of time to give approval to the policy under the best legal advice, my proposed deferral was passed democratically by a majority of the committee.”
Meanwhile, in other licensing matters, the committee meeting which had been scheduled to be held yesterday morning, potentially to look into police objections to a licence extension for Boozepark, was cancelled. The council has not offered any explanation for the cancellation, nor suggested a re-arranged date or agenda.
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