WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, reports on the latest setback for the council leader, and a financial blow for one of his most loyal supporters
Tony Newman, the Labour leader at Croydon Town Hall, has been dealt another blow after being instructed to cancel a planned “virtual” group annual meeting he hoped to hold on Wednesday night.
Labour Party policy nationally is that, while the country is on lockdown during the covid-19 pandemic, trying to carry on as if it is “business as usual” really is not a great idea.
Newman wanted to press ahead with a virtual annual meeting, mostly in an effort to shore up his increasingly weakened position as council leader, ahead of the expected submission of a 14,000-signature petition calling for a borough-wide referendum on the question of whether the council should be run by a democratically-elected Mayor.
Newman is only in charge of the borough because of a secret vote staged at a secret meeting of Croydon’s 41 Labour councillors. With more than half of the borough’s Labour councillors being granted “special responsibility allowances”, decided on by Newman, he has so far been able to rely on their “loyalty”, bought and paid for with hundreds of thousands of pounds of Council Tax-payers’ money.
The order to postpone the group AGM came down, it is understood, after anonymous complaints were received at Labour Party HQ by disaffected Croydon councillors.
The immediate impact of the postponement is that Toni Letts, who stepped down so willingly as chair of the council planning committee when ordered to do so by Newman last month, will be about £1,000 a month out of pocket.
As planning chair, Letts received around £16,000 a year in “special responsibility allowance”, in addition to the £11,000 basic allowance paid to all councillors.
Although the position of planning committee chair is supposed to be agreed at the Labour group annual meeting and then confirmed at the council’s own AGM, Newman stepped in and appointed the ever-so-thirsty Chris Clark as his placeman on planning last month, so that he was in the chair for the clusterfuck that was the council’s first “virtual” planning meeting.
As a consolation prize for Letts, Newman announced that the veteran Selhurst councillor would be made chair of the licensing committee, even though she is not even a member of that committee. That position, too, is supposed to be democratically agreed within the Labour group before being confirmed at the council annual meeting.
Such niceties, though, don’t seem to bother Newman, and he wanted to manoeuvre Letts into that role to ensure she got an extra £10,000 or so per year in SRAs to soften the financial blow of losing the planning gig.
With the cancellation of the Labour group AGM – which was due to have been held over the course of two Wednesday evenings – Letts will now have to wait until the lockdown is over to get her hands on her little “loyalty bonus”.
The postponement will also mean that Newman’s latest favourite, Caragh Skipper, the unselected councillor for Fairfield ward, will also have to wait for her expected, fast-tracked promotion.
Sources inside the Labour group fully expect Skipper to be made deputy cabinet member for housing, working closely with Alison Butler – with a nice little wodge of public cash to secure her loyalty, naturally.
In the meantime, rather than working her fingers to the bone on behalf of her ward’s residents, Skipper is expected to buff up her nails.
Newman, meanwhile, appears to still be keen on pressing ahead with the Town Hall’s set-piece annual meeting, due to be held on June 1. In this case, Newman is likely to get his way: the Conservatives on the council are thought to have agreed to the staging of the Trumptonesque ceremonials virtually.
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