CROYDON IN CRISIS: Croydon Labour’s new leader Hamida Ali is facing calls for a complete overhaul of her Town Hall cabinet, from the opposition but also from within her own party, as KEN LEE reports
Croydon Tories are demanding the sacking of Alison Butler and Paul Scott from the council cabinet of newly elected Labour leader Hamida Ali.
And ahead of tonight’s scheduled council cabinet meeting, they are also calling for the “travesty” of house-builders Brick by Brick to be shut down and sold off.
Jason Perry, the leader of the Conservatives at Croydon Town Hall, issued the demands in an open letter, published over the weekend as Ali was coming to terms with the task of taking over from Tony Newman at the cash-strapped council.
Perry is scathing in his criticism of married couple Butler and Scott, part of Newman’s inner circle for the past decade. He accuses Scott of having an “aggressive, hectoring approach”, and of treating the public attending planning meeetings with contempt.
Ali won’t be formally installed as the new leader of the council until a special meeting is held on Thursday.
Until then, technically, Butler is acting leader of the council. How much longer after that she can stay within the cabinet, where since 2014 she has been in charge of housing policy, and therefore the daily disaster that is Brick by Brick, remains to be seen.
Even Labour councillors are questioning how married couple Butler and Scott, two of the key figures behind Newman’s failed policies, can remain in post.
“There will be no announcements of cabinet changes until after Thursday,” a source said this morning, “and there were no hints given during the ‘awayday’ over the weekend.
“I do wonder if Butler plans to resign as soon as Hamida is officially appointed leader, given that she didn’t put herself forward for election as leader. If she does go, Butler will be out of the way ahead of publication of the independent review of Brick by Brick, which is likely to be damning and damaging.”
The independent review into the business and management of loss-making Brick by Brick, conducted by PwC and overseen by local authority troubleshooter Chris Buss, is expected to report next month.
Brick by Brick was set up by the council in 2015 to deliver affordable housing built on publicly-owned property, with Croydon lending £260million of public money to the company. But as Inside Croydon revealed last week, all council-appointed directors have now resigned from the BxB board, with the company missing their own annual revenue targets by £113million and having built 377 fewer homes than they predicted.
In his open letter to Ali, Perry writes, “Not only is Brick by Brick not operating effectively in terms of building affordable properties, but it is unacceptable for Croydon Council Tax-payers to bear this substantial funding risk in this way.
“When you add this to the thousands of objections to poorly designed schemes, and the continual concreting over of our precious green spaces, we feel the council has no choice but to wind up this wholly-owned development company and remove the lead member responsible for this travesty.
“We call on you to begin the process of shutting down Brick by Brick and to remove Councillor Alison Butler, who has presided over this mess, from her position as cabinet member for homes and Gateway Services.”
Perry’s attack then turned to Butler’s husband, Scott, Labour’s lead on planning matters, both on the planning committee and in Newman’s cabinet.
“Over the last six years, Labour members of the planning committee have ignored residents well-argued objections and pushed through applications against local and regional planning policies as well as local opinion.
“Residents that attend committee have often been treated with nothing more than contempt. This aggressive, hectoring approach is spearheaded and normalised by one Labour Councillor in particular.”
In his letter to Ali, Perry writes, “We call on you to restore faith in the planning committee by removing Councillor Paul Scott from his position as cabinet member for environment, transport and regeneration and from the planning committee.”
Curiously, Perry’s letter, co-signed by his deputies Jason Cummings and Lynne Hale, also goes on to seek a reversal of the policies of the Tory government, which is funding Low-Traffic Neighbourhood schemes, and to stage an election in Croydon which the Conservatives almost certainly would lose.
Perry wants Ali to reverse Newman’s decision to refuse to stage a referendum next May over whether the borough should have a democratically-elected mayor.
“Local residents have worked hard to gather over 20,000 signatures to demand a referendum on a directly-elected mayor of Croydon, yet Labour choose to ignore them,” Perry wrote.
“You have the power to call the referendum and in previous Labour manifestos you pledged to be ‘the most open and transparent council ever’.
“We call on you to immediately announce a timetable for holding the referendum on a directly-elected mayor for Croydon.” It is understood that the DEMOC campaign has been funded in part from Croydon Conservative coffers.
Ali was elected leader of the Labour group on Thursday by just 21 of her 40 councillor colleagues (assuming, of course, that she voted for herself). DEMOC’s campaign principle is that the borough’s leader should be voted in by a majority of Croydon’s electorate.
For her own part, Ali has so far refused to respond to requests for an interview from Inside Croydon.
In the hiatus until the Woodside councillor is formally installed as council leader on Thursday, there is nothing on the council website even to record the fact that Newman resigned a week ago – indeed, there’s a statement regarding new covid-19 regulations attributed to him as council leader that was published on Thursday, three days after the resignation.
But the local Labour Party did manage to issue a statement from the new leader.
“The next 18 months will bring enormous challenges – not least completing negotiations with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for a capitalisation direction and delivering our Croydon Renewal Plan,” Ali said.
“It is our duty and responsibility to bring stability to the council and do everything we can to keep Croydon in Croydon’s hands.”
Ali knows only too well that, unless MHCLG agrees to Croydon’s plan, including using £22million of capital funds to pay for the council’s bills in this financial year, then Croydon will have to issue a Section 114 notice and hand over control of the borough to government-appointed commissioners.
“As local people, only we can draw on our understanding and experience of the needs of our people and our town. Knowledge that government commissioners would be without – only to the cost of our communities,” Ali wrote.
“It is a long road ahead but together we can provide much-needed stability to our residents, staff and partners across Croydon. I bring over 20 years’ career experience of complex public sector organisations combined with the relationships I have built in the borough and beyond through my work as part of cabinet.
“I joined the Labour Party to tackle inequality and make a difference to the world around me. I am driven by a strong sense of duty to serve and a passion for the borough we all love. I am ready to work with you to provide the leadership the council needs, at a time when it needs it most.”
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