A report on the way in which Croydon Council is governed, already three months late, will now not be finished until the end of the year, and is costing four times its original budget.
The Croydon governance review – a Labour Party manifesto promise as recently as last year – was due to be completed by May and was budgeted to cost no more than £25,000.
But according to papers submitted ahead of Monday’s Town Hall full council meeting, the governance report won’t now be finished until December (and that’s at the earliest), but will now cost at least £100,000.
The less-than-independent panel, chaired by Dame Moira Gibb, a former chief exec of Camden Council, has been expanded to 11, including another two councillors, while external consultants have been called in to give the appearance that some work is actually being done.
The “interim report” runs to 20 pages, explaining why Dame Moira and her committee of five Labour and four Tory councillors, plus one hand-picked, non-independent member, are already three months overdue with a document which was meant to be completed in just seven months.
Monday’s full council meeting is the last formal gathering of all 70 of the borough’s elected councillors until October. Effectively, the Town Hall goes into its long summer shutdown next week.
In a bitter twist, hundreds of members of the public are expected to attend a rally on Monday night as part of a campaign for Croydon to adopt a system of governance under a directly elected mayor.
Yet council leader Tony Newman and his clique who hold all the powers that a mayor might be granted have already nobbled Dame Moira and her less-than-independent review panel from even considering a directly elected mayor.
The “review starts from the pretext that a Directly Elected Mayor is not favoured, as it was not an option outlined in the Labour Administration 2018 Election Manifesto” was the misleading piffle submitted when the review panel was established.
Newman also stuffed the panel with loyalists from the Labour benches, just to ensure that nothing too radical is ever likely to be recommended in the final report, when it eventually materialises.
The five Labour councillors on the less-than-independent panel are mostly figures who have prospered under Newman’s patronage, in which the council leader doles out jobs and generous “special responsibility allowances” packages that ensure an individual’s lap-dog-like loyalty.
The five on the panel are:
- Hamida Ali, a councillor for the same ward as Newman and his best mate, Paul Scott, who was fast-tracked to a cabinet job (annual allowances: £45,168);
- Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of the scrutiny committee who saw his allowances hiked by a handy six grand by Newman last year (£41,798);
- Clive Fraser, Newman’s Labour group chief whip (£26,317, to top up his local authority worker’s pension);
- Simon Hall, the Newman loyalist who oversees the borough finances (£45,168); and
- Joy Prince, the only out-and-out backbench councillor on the panel, who was last year asked to chair the council’s Labour group, a position which, unusually in Don Tony’s world, carries no additional cash (£11,463).
What was promised, in Labour’s 2018 council elections manifesto, as “… an independent review of the council’s governance structure” has since become (according to the report going before the council on Monday), “an independently led, cross-party governance review panel”.
Which, of course, is an entirely different thing altogether.
So what has the review panel been doing all this time?
The interim report submitted to Monday’s meeting would have us believe that the governance panel has actually been meeting fortnightly since last October.
Since when, they dragged in – no doubt at considerable expense – consultants from the Centre for Public Scrutiny, and they sent out a questionnaire. They also held a couple of “workshops”. Which is nice.
But that was six months ago.
According to the interim report, “Overall, 50 councillors attended the workshops, 60 current and former members completed the online survey and three members provided further individual feedback.” They fail to state who those three might have been.
The report does suggest a small rumbling of discontent from the council’s backbenchers, however.
Since the cabinet system of running council business was introduced nearly 20 years ago, replacing council committees, it has seen Town Hall power concentrated within just a handful of senior figures.
With Newman doling out cabinet and other positions to more than 20 Labour councillors, and opposition leader Tim Pollard having his own shadow cabinet of 10 councillors, it leaves more than half of the borough’s elected representatives effectively locked out of having a meaningful role in the decision-making process.
When the latest council cabinet meeting took place last week, fewer than 30 of the borough’s 70 councillors bothered to show up in the Town Hall chamber, so minimised is their role in the decison-making process.
The panel’s interim report states, “The excellent response rate to the survey… indicated a strong desire amongst members to engage with this topic. Whilst there were no significant problems raised through this exercise, members also did not find many aspects of governance to be positive, with only council meetings and the need for increased resident involvement in decision-making reflecting a strong view of what needed to be improved.
“There was a strong theme throughout the evidence gathering relating to the desire of backbenchers to contribute more and be more involved in local and strategic issues.
“Members regularly talked about the need for a change in culture and behaviours and that this was key to bringing about change.
“Formal changes to governance to allow for greater involvement and influence of backbenchers were called for by some and both a committee system and area panels were referenced as potential positive solutions.”
Which would suggest a move towards less concentration of power, something which Newman and his troika surely won’t like, or allow.
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