BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz was withering in her criticism of an abject on-air performance by one of Croydon’s most senior councillors. Listening in to the car crash interview was WALTER CRONXITE
Answers provided by Alisa Flemming, the Croydon Council cabinet member responsible for schools, education and children’s services, are “confusing, euphemistic, unclear, vague”, and she hides behind “a fearful cloak of vocabulary”.
That’s not a description from anyone who has had to endure months of confusing, euphemistic, unclear and vague answers from Flemming at Croydon Town Hall meetings, where the Labour councillor has struggled to deal with the depths of the disaster within the council’s children’s services for which she has responsibility.
Croydon’s children’s services were declared “inadequate” last summer by Ofsted inspectors, who expressed real fears that some of the borough’s most vulnerable youngsters were at risk.
The “confusing, euphemistic, unclear, vague” description comes from Vanessa Feltz, the widely respected presenter of BBC Radio London’s flagship morning programme.
Flemming was a down-the-line interviewee on Feltz’s programme on Friday, being given an opportunity to respond to the latest claims about the failings of Croydon’s children’s services made by Tim Pollard, the leader of Croydon’s Conservative opposition.
By the end of the interview, Flemming was reduced to completely misrepresenting the conclusions of a government commissioner’s report into the short-comings of children’s services.
You can hear the interview in its full 14-minutes cringe-making glory here:
Peak piffle comes just about nine and a half minutes in.
It reaches such a nadir that Feltz feels she can take no more from the obfuscating Flemming.
“I’ve got to say, Councillor Flemming, if you play this back and listen to what you’ve just said, I think it would be impossible for you not to find almost every word that you’ve used in some respect confusing, euphemistic, unclear, vague…
“I mean you’re really not saying anything at all.
“You’re couching everything in such a fearful cloak of vocabulary that it’s impossible to understand what you’re trying to say.”
There’s silence at the other end of the line.
Flemming is the cabinet member, remember, who resorted to cheap personal insults to a disabled councillor earlier in the week, at a council meeting. There, Flemming refused to answer questions about her 28 per cent attendance record over a two-year period at committee meetings related to children’s services.
On Friday morning, on live radio, under the barrage of questions from Feltz, Flemming had been rendered silent.
The wireless abhors dead air, so Feltz filled the vacuum left by Flemming.
“It really is hard to work out what you’re getting at. Because you keep saying , ‘In this situation…’, but you never say what the situation is,” Feltz said.
“The situation was that Ofsted found that the children of Croydon for whom you were responsible were being failed, let down and even worse, were unsafe. That this was a parlous state of affairs. It wasn’t just a state you found yourself in.”
By this point, Flemming appeared to have picked herself up off the floor and got herself together enough to provide a response.
Flemming said, “The issue that I’m having, is that there is no disagreement and at the time of the Ofsted inspection and indeed afterwards, apologies were offered for the level of service that children in Croydon were receiving.
“There has never been any suggestion from our side that the service was where it needed to be. Indeed, what we have said, time and time again, is that we were aware, hence an improvement board had been set up prior to Ofsted’s errr…”
Feltz comes in to point out the obvious: if the service needed an improvement board, then Flemming and the council must have been aware before the Ofsted visit that children’s services required improving.
“If something’s adequate, it doesn’t require improvement, does it?” Feltz asked.
The presenter then put to Flemming the question which keeps recurring, and which Flemming and her boss, council leader Tony Newman, have refused to answer.
Feltz said, “Amid all this obfuscation, you’re still there… Some people are wondering why you and Councillor Newman should remain in your positions.”
Flemming responded, but without directly answering the question. “The important thing is for us to fix that situation. We have already put in £10million-worth of gross spend for the next year to continue with that work…”
By now, Feltz is getting close to the end of the time allocated for this item. Perhaps there was a producer whispering instructions into her head set, something about going to traffic and weather in 30 seconds.
As a result, Feltz missed Flemming making a big, fat lie.
Flemming said, “And the commissioner’s report has indicated that she believes we have the capacity to improve the service.”
There’s two possible constructions that can be put on this statement from the £43,000 per year cabinet member.
Either Flemming really does not understand what was contained in the December report from the government-imposed commissioner, Eleanor Brazil. Or, on live radio to the whole of London, Flemming was deliberately lying.
Newman and Flemming never allowed most of Croydon’s 68 councillors sight of the Brazil report. The first that most of Croydon’s councillors got to see the report was when Inside Croydon leaked it.
The report contains plenty that Newman and Flemming will have wanted to have kept hidden, perhaps to allow them to continue to claim, falsely, that they have the confidence of government ministers and the commissioner over the Croydon children’s services crisis.
The conclusion offered by Brazil in her report is clear enough.
“At this time,” Brazil wrote, “I believe the council should retain responsibility for managing children services and should be given time to drive the improvements forward. However, I do not consider that they have the necessary capacity and expertise within the service, to undertake this effectively and quickly without support.”
We’ve added the italics for emphasis.
Perhaps Tony Newman can read that bit to Alisa Flemming and explain to her what “I do not consider that they have the necessary capacity and expertise” means. When he does so, he might also explain to Flemming why there’s the need for a team of social workers imported from Camden scurrying around Croydon’s council offices, keeping a check on what is going on, as Brazil recommended.
Or perhaps Vanessa Feltz can invite Alisa Flemming back on to BBC Radio London to explain why she lied, live on air.
- BECOME AN INSIDE CROYDON SUPPORTER: For the cost of one over-priced coffee each month, you can support the local journalism that brings you Inside Croydon. Click here to sign-up as a donor
- Inside Croydon Events: for the most comprehensive community events listings, updated daily
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
- 1 MILLION PAGE VIEWS IN 2017 (January to September)
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS 2017: Inside Croydon was source for two award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org