Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on how the borough’s Conservative opposition appears to be waking from its slumbers, as the council leader is accused of ‘reckless financial mismanagement’
Jason Perry, in his first significant act as leader of the Conservative opposition at the Town Hall, has demanded the immediate resignations of Labour leader Tony Newman and his cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall, as he has called for an emergency meeting of the council to debate the borough’s rapidly worsening financial crisis.
Given that the cash crunch facing the council has been known about at least since January this year, it would be a reasonable question to ask Croydon’s dozy Tories: what took you so long?
Despite the covid-19 crisis and the council’s financial problems, there has not been a meeting of the full council since July. Newman and the Labour-run administration have shown no appetite to discuss openly the council’s £1.5billion debt and the £62million additional spending incurred in the first weeks of the covid lockdown, nor the 400-plus council jobs that are being axed as a direct consequence.
The next full council meeting is not due to be held until October, as Newman tries to carry on as if everything is normal.
Yesterday, in a letter signed by Perry and four other Tory councillors, they called for an Extraordinary Council Meeting, writing, “Owing to the recent high-profile staff resignations, the imminent declaration of bankruptcy by Croydon Council and the eye-watering £1.5billion debt Labour has accrued, we feel it is vital that this meeting is called to hold the current administration to account for their disastrous policy decisions.
“Their choices have already had a hugely detrimental impact on everyone in our wonderful town – but in particular Croydon’s most vulnerable residents who rely most heavily on the council’s services.
“Therefore, as specified by the Croydon Council Constitution, we five councillors hereby submit a requisition to urgently call for an Extraordinary Council Meeting.
“The business to be transacted shall be a debate and a vote on the following motion: ‘This council has no confidence in Cllr Tony Newman and Cllr Simon Hall and calls for their immediate resignation’.”
But a Katharine Street source was dismissive of the Tories’ belated move.
“It’s pointless politics,” they said.
“The Tories don’t have the numbers for their motion to be passed.
“The only people able to get rid of Newman and Hall are the Labour group, and they are more concerned about their allowances.”
The (ceremonial) Mayor of Croydon, Maddie Henson, has seven days in which to call the extraordinary meeting. Any such meeting is likely to be held remotely.
Pressure continues to mount on Newman, as the council faces an anxious wait for a hoped-for bail-out from central government, and to discover what conditions might be attached.
This morning, neither Newman nor Hall had made any substantive comment on social media to the EGM call.
But past and present Croydon Tory MPs had aired their views about the crisis-hit council.
One-time Croydon councillor “Lord” Gavin Barwell, who lost the Croydon Central parliamentary seat in 2017, appears to be taking renewed interest in the borough’s affairs, yesterday saying that the Labour council had treated residents’ views “with utter contempt”.
And Chris Philp, the MP for Croydon South, writing on his website, called Newman an “unaccountable leader” who has “taken the council to the financial brink with reckless financial mismanagement”.
Philp’s broadside detailed the multiple shortcomings of Newman’s time in office.
“Besides setting up a loss-making and destructive property development subsidiary, he has spent £30million of public money on a hotel that then went bust, spent £53milllion of public money on a secondary shopping centre whose value has crashed, run the reserves down to a dangerously low level, run up by far the biggest debt of any London council – over £1.5billion – and failed to deliver the Westfield development in the town centre, which first got planning consent back in 2014.
“This was all long before coronavirus hit, and Croydon is the only London council to be on financial brink in this way,” Philp said.
Meanwhile, Croydon’s two Labour MPs, Sarah Jones and Steve Reed OBE, remain completely silent on the sorry state of the council that runs the borough that they represent.
Reed, of course, is the Blairite who is Labour’s shadow spokesman in the Commons on local government. One member of Reed’s parliamentary staff at Westminster is Louise Szpera, who just happens to be the partner of… Tony Newman.
It is not that Reed doesn’t make comments on failing councils. Reed found time on Thursday to tweet about a “scandal-hit” council leader who was “ousted in no-confidence vote after weeks of chaos”.
While that might well sound very much like Tony Newman, in fact Reed was writing about a “scandal-hit” Conservative council. So that’s alright then.
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