The Croydon Assembly has issued an overt challenge to the leadership of Tony Newman and the Blairite clique who dominate Croydon Council, calling on them to stop “just being managers of austerity”.
The Assembly, a coalition of Trades Unionists and figures from the left, will publish their own local election manifesto next Saturday, which calls for a return to a more accountable committee system of Town Hall management, while also being openly critical of the local Labour group’s flagship housing policy, implemented through the increasingly unpopular Brick by Brick private company.
Many Croydon Assembly members took encouragement from the popularity of the more radical approach demonstrated by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership at last summer’s General Election.
Next Saturday’s Croydon Assembly meeting will have a de facto endorsement from Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who is sending a recorded message to be played out to the attendees at Ruskin House at the start of a session which is to discuss the crisis in Croydon’s schools.In a statement issued to Inside Croydon, the Assembly say that they are “urging council candidates to take a far more radical stand on key issues of housing, social care, education, democracy, the environment and access to culture”.
Ted Knight is the chair of the Croydon Assembly. Knight led the rate-capping struggle against Thatcher when he was leader of the council in Lambeth in the 1980s. Today, he said: “The savage cuts in spending imposed on the council should have been the target for active campaigning by councillors.
“It is still not too late for councillors to abandon just being managers of austerity and instead mobilise the community to demand a stop to the destruction of its local services.”
The Assembly manifesto calls for Newman and his all-powerful cabinet to be stripped of their Town Hall powers, and to hand more of a say in how the council is run to the other 30-or-so Labour back bench councillors with the restoration of the committee system, intended to give all councillors and Croydon residents a louder voice in council decisions.
One Assembly member told Inside Croydon, “The cabinet system, where just 10 hand-picked loyalists are responsible for making all the major decisions at the Town Hall, was introduced in the Blair years.
“It is laughingly called ‘the Strong Leader model’. In Croydon, it is clearly ‘the Wrong Leader model’.
“Stoking all power and responsibility on the shoulders of cabinet members has been shown not to work in the best interests of the people of Croydon. It allows the leader to exercise too much power through patronage, doling out cabinet jobs like sweeties, and it gives rise to local government disasters such as Croydon’s children’s services crisis.
“The council’s paid officials have shown that they can pull the wool over the eyes of single cabinet members, handing them reports to endorse and deliver to council meetings which pass by unchecked and poorly scrutinised. Under the old-style committee system, busy and dedicated back-benchers would go through that detail with a fine-tooth comb and make sure council officers are properly accountable.”
Inside Croydon understands that, ahead of issuing its own manifesto for the local elections to be held on May 3, senior figures within the Croydon Labour group have also been lobbying for a return, in some form, to a committee system with greater powers of scrutiny. Newman, who receives £55,000 per year in “allowances” as council leader, is believed to oppose such measures.
Newman and Alison Butler, Labour’s deputy leader in charge of the borough’s housing policy, will also be stung by the Croydon Assembly manifesto’s unvarnished criticism of their used of £250million of public land, property and cash for their privatised home-building project, Brick by Brick.
Brick by Brick has so far built precisely… zero homes.
And its has been forced to admit that its pledge to deliver 50 per cent of homes for affordable rent or shared ownership cannot be fulfilled, and that the best it might deliver is around 380 “affordable” from its plans to build 1,000 homes, most of which will go for private sale or rent.
The Assembly manifesto demands “mandatory and binding ballots” on all developments affecting local communities. It is a policy similar to that recently announced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and backed by Corbyn.
The Assembly manifesto accuses Brick by Brick of “acting like the developers in imposing new schemes on estates while ignoring residents’ views”.
This follows the Croydon Trades Union Council recently condemning Brick by Brick plans to build on the patch of green open space next door to Ruskin House. The scheme is sure to be pushed through despite all opposition by Paul Scott, the planning committee chair, husband of Butler and key member of Newman’s Gang of Four.
The Assembly theme on February 24 is “Save our Schools – Stop Education Cuts”. It is sponsored by the local National Education Union branch and Croydon TUC.
The opening speaker is Professor Ken Jones, the well-known author on education.
Registration for the Croydon Assembly is from 11.30am and lunch is available at the venue. Tickets are free and available via eventbrite.co.uk.
For an exclusive preview of the Croydon Assembly 2018 manifesto, click here
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Councils have driving into disaster since the Local Government Act 2000 imposed the mayor/leader and cabinet system on all local authorities and did away with the committees that had served local government democracy since 1835. The cabinet system vastly increased costs by paying large sums to councillors (and very large sums to cabinet members) while doing nothing to increase efficiency. Councils became far less accountable to the public, though the cabinets found it much easier to make decisions which would privatise services and sell off assets – which was the objective of the LG Act 2000, after all. After New Labour had gone, Westminster was prepapared to listen to the voice of reason which counselled what a disaster this had been for local government and from 2013 councils were premitted to choose to return to a committee system. This is what Croydon needs.