WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest egregious example of Town Hall patronage, and all done at your expense – including one of ‘Tony’s Cronies’ getting £6,000 per committee meeting
Despite managing to bring together 17 residents’ groups in opposition to his bombastic style of chairmanship of the planning committee, and with the council facing the risk of being dragged into the High Court over his potential conflicts of interest, Paul Scott is to be promoted to the Town Hall cabinet tomorrow night, when he will be given a job which will surely only prompt further outcry.
Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council and Scott’s big mate, has used his post-local election cabinet appointments as an opportunity for further patronage, doling out tens of thousands of pounds in “special responsibility allowances” to a handful of his most loyal councillors, while stretching, and possibly even breaking, the council’s constitution.
In an unusual, for him, outbreak of openness and transparency, Newman actually tweeted his list of cabinet appointments, though his choices of deputy cabinet members were kept under wraps until shortly before last week’s meeting of the Labour council group.
With a record 41 councillors elected earlier this month, Newman has struggled to keep everyone happy in his Labour group. But in focusing on pleasing his loyalists, Newman has managed to overlook how his appointments will be received by the 360,000 residents of the borough which the council is supposed to serve.
Croydon Council’s constitution allows for a cabinet of the leader plus nine councillors. Yet Newman’s finalised team of what he has described as “all the talents” numbers 11. Most of them are set to receive generous SRAs – special responsibility allowances – worth more than £43,000 per year of Council Tax-payers’ money.
And Newman – who as council leader is on £53,223 – has even managed to tweak the allowances budget so that one of his closest council colleagues, who he has dropped from the cabinet, will receive £6,000 per meeting every time she chairs the committee to which she has been appointed as a generous consolation prize.
Newman has created the council cabinet’s first “job share”, elevating his bestie and fellow Woodside councillor Scott into the cabinet.
Scott will take on part of the environment, transport and urban regeneration brief alongside West Thornton councillor Stuart King. The urban regeneration bit – that is, planning – is likely to be the fiefdom of Scott, who has declared his keenness to concrete over huge slabs of the borough.
Scott is a full-time director of a central London firm of architects, TP Bennett. He finished the previous council administration as a mere deputy cabinet member, shadowing the then housing and planning brief of his wife, Alison Butler, while he also chaired the planning committee.
As planning chair, Scott has pushed through dozens of controversial applications for schemes submitted by Brick by Brick, the council-owned housing developer that is overseen by… Butler. The manifold conflicts of interest contained within these positions have led, in large part, to the Judicial Review challenge brought against the council by residents in South Norwood.
Yet despite the promotion to cabinet member status for Scott, Newman has decided that he is to remain as chair of the planning committee, a decision which could prove to be hugely controversial.
No explanation has been offered for Scott’s promotion, or the need to create the job share.
King was previously in charge of environmental and transport matters. He, too, has full-time employment away from the council, working for the Dods Group, the event organisers and publishers – their titles include the Politics Home website and The Parliament Magazine and Total Politics. In the past year, King has been promoted to managing director. Time will tell whether sharing a cabinet role with Scott will ease, or increase, his Town Hall work burden.
All of the appointments are to be confirmed at tomorrow night’s council annual meeting and Trumptonesque Mayor-making in the Town Hall chamber. There will be sweet sherry in the Mayor’s Parlour afterwards, and it is all sure to be spiffing.
Newman and his two deputies, Butler and “Clean and Green” Stuart Collins, continue in their previous roles (though Butler now has overview of “Homes and Gateway Services” only), and Simon Hall remains in charge of the borough’s finances.
As Inside Croydon first revealed, Oliver Lewis gets a leg-up into the cabinet in charge of culture and stuff – potentially a more politically difficult brief in the coming year as the £30million Fairfield Halls regeneration drags on, and on.
And Momentum member Jane Avis is rewarded for her loyalty to Newman’s leadership during last year’s “Bashment Ban” licensing row by being handed the families, health and social care portfolio after being overlooked for the past four years.
Hamida Ali brings to three the total of Woodside councillors in the 11-strong cabinet, as she continues to be in charge of the policing and communities brief, and Manju Shahul-Hameed remains as cabinet member for economy and jobs, the post she took over in January from Mark Watson after he opted not to face the embarrassment of possible de-selection by Labour members in Addiscombe West.
The only real casualty of this slight reshuffle of Tony’s cronies is Louisa Woodley.
Woodley is a long-time close colleague of Newman’s. She previously held the families, health and social care portfolio cabinet role that has been handed to Avis. Now, she has been given the “special” job of chairing the health and well-being board, whose job it is to scrutinise Avis’s work.
Newman has ensured that he has provided a big, plump wedge of public money to cushion Woodley’s fall from the cabinet.
Last year, Newman had the council constitution altered to see the SRA for the health and well-being board chair doubled from £12,000. It means that, in total, Woodley will receive a total of £35,344 in council pay. With the health and well-being board meeting only four times in 12 months, in effect she is being paid at a rate of £6,000 per meeting. Cushty.
And as with his outward gesture of backing for under-fire Scott, Newman has been either stubborn or fiercely supportive of his cabinet team, as he has spurned an opportunity to bring in fresh thinking to the cabinet role overseeing schools and troubled children’s care. Instead he has stuck with Alisa Flemming, the councillor who presided over the scandalous failure of the borough’s Children’s Services department which sees it now in special measures, overseen by officers from Camden for at least the next two years.
Newman will struggle to shrug that off as anything other than a £43,339 per year reward for failure.
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