KEN LEE reports from the Town Hall, where the continued absence of a new councillor could prompt a local by-election
There is mounting concern among Croydon Tories that they may be forced to defend one of their council seats in an unwanted local by-election over the summer, just as the Conservative Party is in the middle of a potentially fraught leadership election, and without having made any real progress over Brexit.
Oni Oviri, the young businesswoman elected in Purley and Woodcote ward last May, has managed to turn up just three times out of 16 council meetings and committees to which she was expected to attend since December 2018.
Oviri’s absentee rate so far in 2019 stands at
with her having last attended a council meeting on January 28. She nonetheless still receives £11,463 per year in councillor allowances, the minimum paid to all 70 of the borough’s elected representatives.
Under Town Hall rules, any councillor who fails to attend council meetings for six months would usually forfeit their position as councillor. Oviri’s six-month deadline, therefore, is in July.
Sources on Katharine Street say that Oviri’s absences have been due to serious illness contracted during a trip overseas. As such, that may give cause for her colleagues to seek an extension period to allow her to recover her health. That, though, would need to be done with the agreement of Tony Newman, the leader of the council’s majority Labour group.
Yet even before her spell of ill-health, Oviri’s attendance at council meetings had been notably poor.
According to the official council register, over the course of her 12 months as a councillor, she has attended just three out of six meetings of the influential General Purposes and Audit Committee, the last occasion on October 10 last year; Oviri has missed all 22 Member Learning and Development sessions staged in the last year; and in 2018 when she might have sat on 14 sessions of the planning committee, she turned up just five times. Of 13 meetings of the planning sub-committee, Oviri attended just twice.
It’s not as if Oviri has used social media to make up for her physical absences: she has retweeted just one Croydon Tories message since January this year.
Inside Croydon contacted Cllr Oviri for her explanation for her piss-poor attendance record. She has not replied.
Tim Pollard, the leader of the opposition Conservative group on the council, signalled the growing concern about Oviri’s poor attendance record and on-going health issues earlier this month when the novice councillor was dropped from the deputy shadow cabinet position she had been so speedily promoted into last year.
Her absences mean that her colleagues in Purley and Woodcote ward, Simon Brew and curry house proprietor Badsha Quadir, have had to shoulder her share of residents’ casework, while substitutes have to be arranged regularly to take her place on council committees.
Such is the not-very-onerous workload of our councillors, there is just one full council meeting between now and October 7 – yes, one council meeting in almost five months. That next council meeting is due to be held on July 15.
If Oviri fails to turn up for that, then a local by-election could be triggered, which our mole outside the Croydon Tories’ HQ bunker in Purley tells us, “That’s the last thing we need at the moment.”
Based on last week’s European Parliament elections and the simmering resentment among the public at the Conservatives’ handling of Brexit, any such council by-election could see the Tories lose a council seat and – unless Labour suddenly discovers some campaign zeal in the south of the borough, or the LibDems have more to say that simply “bollocks” – Croydon Council might just get its first councillor for a party led by Nigel Farage.
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