CROYDON IN CRISIS: Government minister steps in to deal with the ‘dysfunctional governance’ at the council, ‘who have been entirely irresponsible with their spending and investments’.
By STEVEN DOWNES
The politics have started, with the Tory government now coming after Tony Newman and his numpties.
The local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, has issued instructions for a rapid non-statutory review into the running of Croydon Council.
Jenrick, hardly a paragon of virtue himself, is a minister in a blundering Conservative government. Croydon has been under a blundering Labour administration since 2014.
The review is clearly a piece of gesture politics, since most of the work required has already been done by the council’s auditors, and laid out in the Report in the Public Interest published last Friday. Until now, despite the crisis situation in Croydon, Jenrick has sat on his hands, watching events unfold.
“The auditors’ report was the death knell for Newman’s council,” a Katharine Street source said. “Now Jenrick’s coming in, like a hyena, to pick over the bones of what’s left.”
According to the official announcement this morning, “The review will focus on Croydon Council’s overall governance, culture and risk management following the council’s announcement that it would seek exceptional financial support from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.”
Jenrick’s announcement comes less than a week since the council’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, published the RIPI which made scathing criticisms of the way in which the council’s finances had been mismanaged over several years.
Croydon went into the covid-19 lockdown with only £10million in reserves. The council has overspent its budget by £70million because of covid, and is going through a process of axing more than 400 jobs. It is carrying debt of £1.5billion, including more than £500million accrued in the past three years, much of it used to pursue “investments” in commercial property and housing.
Since last month, there has been an exodus of leading figures at the council, with the council chief executive Jo Negrini being shown the door (accompanied with a comforting reward for failure of £440,000), and Tony Newman resigning as council leader. Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, has also resigned, while deputy leaders Alison Butler and Stuart Collins and planning supremo Paul Scott have all been sacked from the council cabinet.
Under the new, interim chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, the council has agreed the Whitehall review “to identify the issues the council is facing and make recommendations”.
Hamida Ali, who replaced Newman as the council leader, said this morning, “The council has already taken significant action as part of our Croydon Renewal Plan such as commissioning an independent review of our companies to ensure we are fully aware of all the issues we face.
“I very much welcome this rapid review and the team of experienced senior local government professionals who will be working with us.”
Jenrick has appointed Chris Wood, a former CEO at Newham Council, to conduct the review. Wood is also a member of the Grenfell Recovery Task Force.
Reports suggest that Jenrick’s MHCLG has “a number of serious concerns around the council’s governance and risk management”.
Jenrick said: “The situation at the London Borough of Croydon is deeply concerning and completely unacceptable – local people rightly deserve and expect better than this from their local council leaders.
“The Public Interest Report is damning about the dysfunctional governance within Croydon Council, who have been entirely irresponsible with their spending and investments. There are serious questions that local leaders to answer, and we are stepping in to get the situation under control.”
Read more: Leader apologises for six years of misrule
Read more: ‘Tony Newman always has been a coward’
Read more: Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
Read more: Newman won’t say sorry, even to colleagues
Read more: Council ignored five warnings on reserves
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