One of Croydon’s football crazy Conservative councillors has been doling out council cash to a sports club that is based outside the borough.
Croydon Council has allocated £560,000 per year to what it calls its ward budget scheme.
Under the scheme, each of the borough’s 70 elected councillors is allocated £8,000, for them to distribute to good, local causes within their area. In the absence of proper funding directly from the council, under the ward budgets system councillors are able to make relatively modest grants for things such as the local church roof repair fund, to help pay for the Christmas lights on their ward’s high street, or for the scouts’ latest fund-raiser.
The full set of figures for what each councillor allocated in 2018 has just been published on the council’s website.
This reveals that Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell has managed to hand over £1,000 of Croydon Council Tax-payers’ money to Whyteleafe FC, the semi-professional Isthmian League side which plays at Church Road, outside the borough of Croydon and which is, as the club itself describes it, “set in the leafy hills of East Surrey”.
The council’s website fails to state what cause the money was to be used for by Whyteleafe, or how this might enhance the lives of residents in neighbouring Kenley.
This grant will also doubtless frustrate the hard-pressed fund-raisers of the two non-league sides who are based in the borough, Croydon FC and Croydon Athletic.
In the case of Croydon FC, who pay the council hundreds of pounds every home game for the hire of their Croydon Arena ground, the grant of council funding to Whyteleafe is likely to be regarded with deep suspicion.
Whyteleafe last year managed to recruit Croydon’s successful young manager, Harry Hudson, together with several of the club’s most talented players. Fans of struggling Croydon maintain that their coach and players may have been lured by offers of better resources and improved matchday fees from semi-pro Whyteleafe.
Whether a football club, per se, is a cause deserving of Croydon Council funding is, in any case, debatable.
O’Connell is well-known for his passion for football, being a season ticket-holder at Crystal Palace and a trustee of the Selhurst Park club’s charitable foundation. As well as being a Croydon councillor, O’Connell is also the Tory member for Croydon and Sutton at the London Assembly, so he really ought to be aware that Whyteleafe sits outside the Greater London area.
But O’Connell is not alone among Conservative councillors who have donated council funding to football clubs which sit outside their wards.
Mario Creatura has given £1,000 to Croydon FC, which is based in Woodside, far from his own Coulsdon Town ward. His Tory colleague, Stuart Millson, who is supposed to represent the residents of Selsdon Vale and Forestdale ward, also dug deep into public funds to find £390 for Croydon FC.
In this case, the council website manages to note that Millson’s money was for a “rebuild”. Croydon FC did carry out extensive, volunteer-led, refurbishments to their clubhouse last summer. How many of Millson’s residents in Selsdon Vale catch the tram on matchdays to see Croydon FC play is not known, but it is estimated that it could be counted on the fingers of the councillor’s foot.
Because of the paucity of supporting information provided by the council website – no dates are given for when the grants were made, nor much detail on what purpose the money is used for – it is impossible to assess properly the effectiveness of such money for the people of the donor councillors’ wards.
Certainly, there is no audit process conducted by the council to judge the overall benefit of the use of this public money for the people of Croydon. The possibilities for abuse appear plentiful.
Inside Croydon asked “Silent Steve” O’Connell if he realised that he has been using Croydon council funding for a football club based outside the borough. He had not managed to summon up a response by the time of publication.
The council states that, “Ward budgets are a dedicated and flexible resource that councillors can use to support specific local issues and priorities financially. The funds are intended to encourage resident-led activities that are independent and self-sustaining.”
Which, even under the most flexible of interpretations, does not seem to cover semi-pro football clubs based in the leafy hills of East Surrey.
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