Political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on a strange reversal of previous open and transparent Town Hall policy, which is deliberately keeping cabinet members’ interests under cover
The Labour group which is running Croydon Council is becoming more secretive by the week.
Last Monday, Labour’s council leader Tony Newman refused to debate in the Town Hall chamber the increase in councillors’ allowances he was pushing through. Newman had a hidden agenda, and managed to keep the details of the councillors’ pay hike a secret until the day of the meeting – breaking rules on how council business is supposed to be conducted transparently and open to public scrutiny.
Newman was probably uncomfortable about having to justify the pay hike. He is splashing Council Tax-payers’ cash on “Tony’s Cronies”, as he increased the number of members of his cabinet, almost doubled the allowances of one of his favourites, Louisa Woodley, with a huge pay hike of £20,000, and ensured that his buddy, Paul Scott will be paid nearly £40,000 per year as he “job shares” a cabinet post.
Now, an Inside Croydon investigation has discovered that Newman’s Labour group has seen a reversal of previous policy over the legal requirement to publish details of councillors’ declarations of interests.
Until May, in line with legislation on local government transparency, and just like other London boroughs, Croydon published “members’ declarations” on the council website. But since the location elections more than two months ago, most of that information – councillors’ business interests, jobs and property ownerships – has been removed from the council website and not amended or updated with the 2018 intake of councillors.
What vested interests some councillors have is often crucial information to determining their suitability – or otherwise – to making key decisions on how they dispose of the council’s public assets.
And this information is supposed to be publicly available, by law.
Even Croydon’s own council website points out that under Section 30 of the 2011 Localism Act, it is a requirement for all councillors “to notify the council’s monitoring office of any disclosable pecuniary interest”.
But in Croydon in the 21st Century, that information is not currently published online.
Now, if any members of the public wanted to examine, say, how many houses are owned by Paul Scott and Alison Butler, the couple which make up two-thirds of Labours leadership troika, or what restaurants Tory tax-avoider Badsha Quadir has been working for lately, they have to make an appointment to visit the Town Hall or Fisher’s Folly to examine the register of interests.
Stephen Rowan, the council’s head of democratic services and scrutiny, was asked three times why these details have not been published online in a prompt and efficient manner.
Three times, council employee Rowan refused to answer the question.
According to a Katharine Street source, the councillor declarations had been discussed at Croydon Labour group meetings before the local election, when key members of the leadership had expressed a desire to make it as difficult as possible for the public to access information which the law says they have a right to view.
It’s not as if the council officials do not have the information. According to Rowan, “I can confirm that all councillors have completed their entries in the Council’s register of interests.”
Inside Croydon did a check of Newman’s cabinet, and whether their declarations of interests are up to date and available on the council website. Here’s our own Inside Croydon Register of whether Newman and his cabinet have their declarations online:
- Tony Newman (leader): No
- Alison Butler (deputy leader and housing and development): No
- Stuart Collins (deputy and street cleaning): No
- Hamida Ali (policing and communities) No
- Jane Avis: (families, health and social care): No
- Alisa Flemming (children and education): No
- Simon Hall (finance): No
- Stuart King (environment and transport): No
- Oliver Lewis (culcha, sport and stuff): No
- Paul Scott (regeneration and chair of planning committee): No
- Manju Shahul-Hameed (economy): No
Not a single member of Newman’s cabinet’s declarations of interest are available online.
We checked a few more Labour councillors, such as Woodley now that she is no longer a cabinet member but still receives close to a cabinet member’s allowances for the onerous task of chairing four health and well-being committee meetings per year. Her declarations are not published online.
Nor are the declarations of Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee. Which doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny itself, really.
None of Tim Pollard’s shadow cabinet of Conservative councillors have their declarations published on the council website, either.
Which means that it is impossible to check readily whether those councillors thought to be working in politically restricted roles in Downing Street – such as Jason Cummings or Mario Creatura – are operating within the strict bounds of the Civil Service code when they are at the Town Hall.
It also makes it less convenient to check on what have been the latest Palace games Steve O’Connell has managed to ponce free tickets.
Simon Hoar was recently re-elected to the council and immediately promoted into the shadow cabinet. But without his declarations being published online, it is impossible to get a ready check on which firm of lobbyists Hoar is working for this week…
There are one or two councillors whose declarations do appear on the website, which shows that there really is no reason why this important information for all 70 of our well-paid councillors is not available online, now.
Certainly, no one at Croydon Council is prepared to offer an explanation.
All that they will say is that they expect the declarations to be published on the council website from the week beginning July 30 – or three months since the new council was formed.
Until then, the council is doing the bare minimum required by the law, and making the register available to the public at the Town Hall, by appointment only. Few Council Tax-payers are likely to want to take time out of work to take up the council on this less-than-helpful offer.
But can you imagine the inconvenience and additional work it might create for the council officials if Inside Croydon’s loyal readers all exercised their legal rights and asked for an appointment to check the register of members’ interests before the end of this month?
Because you can do that by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and letting them know when it would be convenient for you to do just that…
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