WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, watched Monday night’s full council meeting so you didn’t have to
Croydon Council will spend £1million on staging, and contestng, a referendum over whether the borough should have a mayor directly elected by all Croydon’s voters, instead of the current system under which the council leader can be picked by as few as 21 councillors.
Speaking at Monday night’s Town Hall meeting to set council budget for 2020-2021, Simon Hall, the cabinet member in charge of finance, said the council would make sure that “all the appropriate communications” would be sent to voters.
The message from Labour cabinet member Hall (£45,000 in allowances per year) was clear: if Croydon residents want better democracy, we’ll make them pay for it.
Hall estimated that the total cost of a council publicity campaign might be £1million as he speculated that such costs would force him to consider making cuts to children’s services or closing libraries.
Those supporting the referendum have described Hall’s £1million cuts threat as “scaremongering” and “spite and blight”.
The huge spend – far in excess of the usual expense for running a borough-wide ballot – reflects a determination by the Labour-run council and its leader, Tony Newman, to defeat any referendum, which would likely oust Newman and his chums Alison Butler and Paul Scott from their Town Hall positions, and allowances.
Yet despite Newman and Croydon Labour’s official position being to oppose the idea of a directly elected mayor, some senior Labour figures in the council are already “on manoeuvres” to secure their party’s nomination as candidate for the new position.
On Monday, while Hall was seeking to shift responsibility for unbudgeted expenditure and council cuts on to the directly elected mayor campaign, his party’s members in Croydon South members were being told that Patsy Cummings will address them about “her fight for community, fairness and justice”.
Though presented as being about Cummings’ candidacy for election to the London Assembly, the meeting will inevitably help her to raise her profile among members ahead of any selection process for Labour’s candidate to stand for Croydon Mayor.
For it seems that the borough-wide referendum will happen, and sooner rather than later.
Organisers from the campaign, DEMOC, say that they now more than 11,000 signatures on the dotted line of their petition requiring a referendum on the issue.
Another packed public meeting took place last week, this time in Reedham, with residents’ associations, the chair of the DEMOC campaign Gerry Meredith-Smith and the Croydon South MP Chris Philp speaking.
The number of signatures required to force the council to stage a referendum on the issue has just increased, with 5per cent of electors now calculated as being 13,788, up from 13,219.
Responding to Hall’s claim that it might all cost the council £1million, Meredith-Smith said today, “This referendum has been coming down the line for a good length of time, and I would have expected a prudent and professional organisation to have budgeted for expenditure on a referendum.
“We have 12,000 signatures and are securing 1,000 hard copy signatures each week, so we will have the required number this month. We will continue to secure signatures after March.”
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