The council press office should be made ‘to defend’ Labour councillors, while council staff who talk to this website need to be hunted down according to one Newman loyalist who has warned colleagues that the leader’s job ‘is not open’.
KEN LEE reports
The council’s mountain of debt, huge budget overspend, hundreds of job losses and the £440,000 reward for failure paid to the exiting CEO all matter less than protecting Tony Newman and finding the source of leaks from inside Fisher’s Folly.
That’s according to veteran councillor Toni Letts, who towards the end of Wednesday night’s lengthy meeting with her Labour colleagues, made another impassioned plea in support on Croydon’s not-so-Great Leader.
Rather than condemnations of the bungled and expensive handling of Jo Negrini’s exit – which Inside Croydon reported almost two weeks before the council confirmed it – or raising reasonable questions about the failed property investment strategy, Letts has told the Town Hall Labour group that their priority should be to hunt down the sources of information about the disarray and disintegration of the council under the leadership of Newman and his appointee, “Negreedy”.
Using Croydon Labour’s Whatsapp group, Letts demanded a witchhunt against whistleblowers among council staff.
Apparently, according to Letts, there is no room for dissenting opinion, questions or more enlightened thinking on the problems that the borough’s Labour council has found itself in.
“We as a group must speak with one voice and challenge this Tory government,” she wrote in an open message a cuple of weeks ago, displaying loyalty to Newman at a time when the leader was refusing to meet or consult with the 41-strong Labour group over the controversial departure of the council CEO.
According to Letts, the Council Tax-funded Town Hall press office should be used to make a more politicised case for the shambles that the council has become.
“Get the press office to defend the work done by our staff, communities, volunteers and elected members,” she wrote.
And then somewhat menacingly, she added, “We also need to find the officer (who else would have the information) who leaks to ISC.”
By “ISC”, Letts meant Inside Croydon.
Referring to councillors as “members”, she confirmed what has been obvious for some time: more Labour councillors find out what is happening at the Town Hall through reading this website than they do through any collaborative or collegiate briefing from Newman and others in his cabal: “Members appeared not to have been told of Jo leaving the council,” Letts confirmed.
“Stay strong,” she added to Newman. Which was nice.
Letts has been a councillor in Croydon since 1986. She has been a keen recipient of front-bench council allowances for much of those 34 years.
After a brief, and often hilarious (not in a good way), recent spell as chair of the planning committee, Letts remains firmly onside with Newman and on the Town Hall gravy train.
Thanks to Newman’s patronage, she is the deputy cabinet member for economy and jobs, even though there are other, better-qualified and better-suited councillors in the Labour group.
Few others, though, can be as effusive in their support for Newman as is Letts.
Letts probably should not still be an elected councillor. Three or four years ago, she had told colleagues that she intended to stand down from representing Selhurst ward at the 2018 local elections. And to ease her on her way, Labour councillors agreed to her being appointed as Croydon’s Mayor in 2017 (which also carries extra allowances along with the chain of office), a ceremonial position she had already held before, some time back in the 20th century.
Imagine the surpise of Labour Party members and councillors, then, when there on the ballot paper in May 2018 was Letts’ name. Perhaps the lure of tens of thousands of pounds in special responsibility allowances to top up her pension was too much to resist?
Letts has continued to prove herself dependably loyal to her paymaster.
On Wednesday night, on one of the rare occasions when Letts managed to unmute herself during the Labour group’s virtual meeting, she provided atomic weapons-grade proof of why she is regarded as one of Newman’s most dependable loyalists.
In what one colleague described as a “bizarre” outburst, Letts told the meeting, “We need to pull together and support the leader and the team around him.
“I can see you all vying for his job. It is not open.”
So that’s them told.
According to those who were there, “It was a random outburst that offended many in the group. She was probably told by Tony to say it.”
Another said, “It was bizarre, because it just demonstrates what’s wrong with the leadership.
“They are less concerned about fixing the problems at the council, saving some of the hundreds of jobs that have been put at risk, or preserving the services the borough’s most vulnerable depend upon. No, their immediate concern is their own jobs, and the allowances that go with them.”
Letts is not alone in her attempts to divert attention from the manifold shortcomings of Newman, his cabinet of few talents and their crumbling administration.
According to Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance who is at the centre of the cashflow crisis, the reason for Croydon Council’s rapidly declining reputation is not its £1.5billion debt, the purchase of a bankrupt hotel, the failings of Brick by Brick, the collapse of the Westfield deal or the £440,000 pay-off to a CEO he lacked the wherewithal to sack.
Oh no. According to Hall, it is all the fault of Inside Croydon for reporting what has been going on in and around the Town Hall.
Clearly, Hall has not watched BBC London News or ITV London lately, or read the Financial Times, Property Week, the Evening Standard, Local Government Chronicle or Private Eye.
Perhaps he should.
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