There’s a democratic deficit in Croydon Council, with information about its contractors being withheld – or hidden. WALTER CRONXITE reports
Anyone who thought that maybe, just maybe, Croydon Council’s failure to publish promptly online the borough’s councillors’ declarations of interest might suggest that someone has something to hide… you might just be right.
As revealed by Inside Croydon earlier this week, councillors’ declarations of interest are vital information to allow for proper public scrutiny.
Councillors, including cabinet members such as Alison Butler who fail to declare their family connections with companies who are benefiting from council contracts, are in clear breach of the council’s Code of Conduct. It is possible that they are even commiting a criminal act.
The council’s register of interests is supposed to be readily available to the public, and until May this year it was published on the council website. Since the local elections, however, those declarations – although completed and submitted by the 2018 set of councillors almost three months ago – have been withheld from online publication, only available through an appointment in office hours with a senior council officer. The council says that they might all be available online by next Monday, without ever explaining why this has taken so long.
Now, Inside Croydon’s loyal reader has uncovered other serious shortcomings in the council’s online publication of contract details which make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to verify which companies are benefiting from Council Tax-funded contracts and deals which might have been overseen by their mates on the council.
Public contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds have been awarded to The Campaign Company, which employs Butler’s son, Jed Mohammed, and which is run by David Evans, the father of her daughter, connections which the Labour council’s deputy leader has failed to declare.
But try checking details of TCC and other current contractors on the council website.
It tells you that, “The London Borough of Croydon has joined the London Contracts Register. This allows you to view the contracts held by the borough as well as those held by most of the local authorities in the greater London area. You can access the register via the London Contracts Register website.”
Croydon Council’s website’s link to that contract register doesn’t work.
A bit of Googling finds that it is because, “The London Contracts Register, previously provided by London Councils, has now ended – as of 30 April 2018. Boroughs comply with transparency requirements via other platforms, either their own websites or others such as the London Tenders Portal or capitalEsourcing.”
By “transparency requirements”, what they mean is … the law.
Publishing these contract details is not an optional extra for Croydon Council. It is not a “nice to have”. They are obliged to publish details of council contracts by law.
So the search for details of council contracts takes you to the London Tenders Portal, where there’s a “Croydon” button.
Click that and… it takes you right back to Croydon Council’s website. It is all a little too Kafkaesque.
The other possible source of this legally required information, capitalEsourcing’s list of participating councils, does not include Croydon.
Only a lot more digging finds that Contracts Register does have information for Croydon Council – but only two contracts show up on it. If you change the organisation to, say, London Borough of Sutton, you get loads of returns.
That’s 163 lines of data for Sutton, just two for Croydon – as a participating borough.
What conclusions might we draw from this? “I could be crap at getting information out of their website,” our loyal reader suggests, “or Croydon has spent virtually no money on anything, or the data is missing from public view.”
Of course, there might be an entirely innocent explanation for all this, and Croydon Council is failing to fulfil its legal responsibilities over transparency and contractor details simply because… either their just crap at this sort of thing, or they’ve made redundant all the more experienced staff in the Chief Executive’s department who knew what to do.
Nevertheless, this absence of accountability comes when Tony Newman’s Labour-run council is throwing around money like a drunken sailor, buying up 300 private houses on the over-heated London property market (to make good some of the short-fall from its failing house-building programme), paying subsidies to Boozepark, and engaged in all sorts of deals alongside Brick by Brick, including those as yet unlisted consultancy contracts with The Campaign Company.
Is it transparent? Of course not.
At a time when Butler and council leader Tony Newman never tire of telling anyone who will listen that they are presiding over a £5billion “regeneration” of the borough, much of it involving public money, it is hugely important that information about who is getting handed these juicy contracts is out in the open, and subject to proper scrutiny.
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