Leader claims move improves racial balance in council cabinet, while his three-strong leadership team remains all white. WALTER CRONXITE reports
Labour leader Tony Newman has sacked Jane Avis, his council cabinet member for health and social care, right in the middle of the greatest crisis ever faced by Croydon Council and the borough’s health and social care system.
Newman’s Labour group at the Town Hall holds the first part of its annual meeting tonight, and he released details of the council cabinet members for 2020 to 2021 barely 24 hours before the meeting.
Newman and his deputies, Stuart Collins and Alison Butler, are expected to be re-elected unopposed by the 41-strong councillor group tonight. But there will be no place in Newman’s cabinet for Avis.
Newman has replaced Avis in the £45,000 per year families, health and social care post by her deputy, Janet Campbell.
Campbell is a relative newcomer to the council, having been first elected as a West Thornton councillor in 2018. “Janet is good stuff,” according to a colleague who has worked with her.
It is not the first time that Newman has dropped Avis from the Croydon cabinet, though, and he appears to have done so now as an exercise in flexing some Blairite political muscle within the group. Avis has always been to the left of the Labour Party and is a Momentum member.
“Jane is a caring person but with the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, it’s great to get someone into the cabinet who is bright, competent and energised in the role,” a Katharine Street source said.
Others at the council, though, have questioned the timing of Newman wielding the axe to Avis, who was seen to be on top of her brief and doing much to help steer the council through the pandemic crisis as it hit the borough’s care homes and hospitals.
Sources at the Town Hall suggest that Avis, who has been an elected councillor since 1998, is unhappy about the demotion.
“Tony never really wanted Jane in his cabinet,” said one councillor who asked not to be identified.
“He didn’t appoint her in 2014 after she had shadowed the adult social care brief very successfully in opposition and knew more about the portfolio than any other Labour councillor.
“Jane was always vocal in her support for Jeremy Corbyn and my suspicion is that Tony only appointed her to his cabinet in 2018 to try to shore up his leadership by keeping the Momentum-supporting left quiet.
“Jane’s days in the cabinet were probably numbered as soon as Keir Starmer replaced Corbyn as party leader.
“It’s certainly a very strange time to make such a change in a key portfolio – at a time of a virus pandemic.”
Newman had delayed the announcement of the recipients of his allowances largesse until last night, and in an email to Labour councillors, he wrote, “Can we thank Jane for the passion, dedication, commitment and knowledge she has brought to her role and to the Labour group.
“Jane will continue to be an inspiration to us all and we are hugely grateful that she has agreed to support Janet as her deputy, meaning they will continue to work closely together as a team.”
Avis is the only change in the make-up of Newman’s cabinet members. “These have been difficult and unprecedented times with all of the cabinet required to take on new challenges and there is still a difficult year ahead,” Newman wrote.
“We received two other good additional cabinet applications, however in terms of the tremendous body of work done in this time of crisis and the ongoing challenges we face, at this time we do not wish to make any additional changes.”
Newman also tried to suggest that in some way his cabinet selections provide some diversity balance, reflecting the population of a borough where (according to a council report) by 2025, 56 per cent of its residents will be black or minority ethnic. “We will continue to work to ensure our cabinet and senior positions represent the true diversity of our borough, clearly there is more to do, but together we are continuing to make progress,” claimed Newman.
None of Newman, Butler and Collins, the three-person “leadership team”, are from BAME backgrounds. If they were to properly reflect the borough’s diversity, then two of the three positions ought to go to BAME councillors.
Newman as leader will continue to receive £56,657 per year in special responsibility allowances, with his deputies on more than £48,000 each.
The council cabinet for 2020-2021 (where most cabinet members receive £45,168 annually, compared to their deputies £22,027) is:
Children, Young People and Learning – Alisa Flemming
Clean Green Croydon – Stuart Collins
Culture, Leisure and Sport – Oliver Lewis
Economy and Jobs – Manju Shahul-Hameed
Environment, Transport and Regeneration (jobshare) – Stuart King (Environment and transport); Paul Scott (Planning and Regeneration)
Families, Health and Social Care – Janet Campbell
Finance and Resources – Simon Hall
Homes and Gateway Services – Alison Butler
Safer Croydon and Communities – Hamida Ali
Louisa Woodley continues to trouser a cabinet-sized wedge as the chair of the health and well-being board, while the ever-thirsty Clive Fraser also gets £26,317 to top up his local authority pension in the non-job of chief whip.
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