Backbench councillors who have been marginalised for years under Tony Newman and his cronies are beginning to ask some awkward questions.
KEN LEE reports
Jamie Audsley, a councillor consigned to almost permanent backbench status under the rule of former leader Tony Newman, started a full-blown row within the council Labour group at the weekend after he sent an email to Sean Fitzsimons calling for his resignation as chair of the Town Hall scrutiny committee.
The work of the scrutiny committee, and its failures to adequately flag-up the council’s failings over its finances, Brick by Brick and the then leader’s misadventures in the property market, were roundly criticised by the Report in the Public Interest from auditors Grant Thornton last month. Sarah Ironmonger, from Grant Thornton, repeated most of those criticisms in a coldly surgical examination of Croydon’s bankrupt council at last week’s extraordinary council meeting.
With Croydon Tories baying for more sackings and resignations – with their leader Jason Perry calling for Newman and his clique of Simon Hall and Alison Butler to be kicked out of the Labour Party – Audsley weighed in late on Friday evening with his email to his 40 councillor colleagues in the group which has controlled the council since 2014.
Fitzsimons has been chair of scrutiny for six years, and had his council allowances almost doubled by Newman, to £42,000, in 2018.
Audsley wrote, “Thank you for your work and efforts to reflect upon the failings of scrutiny and overview in the wake of our borough’s financial and democratic crisis.
“Within both the forum of the Labour Group and at public meetings you’ve shown a desire to learn, improve and be open, which I have really valued, I’m sure others have too.
“Given the failure of scrutiny as reported by the Report in the Public Interest, I feel we need a new chair who can rebuild trust and credibility with residents, community leaders, and across the chamber. Our group and movement will be stronger if you stand down.”
Not everyone in the Labour group responded positively to Audsley’s advice.
Caragh Skipper, the unselected councillor for Fairfield ward and an arch-Newman toady, responded, “In my view, your behaviour is not in line with the extensive conversations our Labour group has had in the last few months about inclusive culture and the stress many of us have put on following due process.
“May I suggest you either follow the process in place if you believe this issue is worth pursuing or, if you are not willing to do that, cease this grandstanding.”
Skipper’s intervention left some colleagues unimpressed. “Given the dodgy circumstances in which Skipper was allowed to steal a council seat from another member of the party, she’s the last person who should be issuing lectures on following due process,” said one.
“But it’s good to know that the bad old habits of cover-ups and shutting down debate, which Newman was so expert at, continue even now.”
By the time of publication of this news report, Fitzsimons had failed to act on Audsley’s helpful suggestion.
Croydon Conservatives are expected to continue to emphasise how the new council cabinet, under Hamida Ali, includes many of those councillors who were in power under Tony Newman during the past four years or so, when the council increased its debts to £1.5billion while throwing public money at poorly run or badly misjudged projects such as Brick by Brick and the Croydon Park Hotel.
Five of the 10 in Ali’s new cabinet – Ali included – were loyal members of Newman’s cabinet for some or all of the period which brought about the council’s financial collapse and which now is subject to an investigation by officials from the Local Government Association.
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Council ignored five warnings on reserves
Read more: ‘An accountant could have foreseen this more than a year ago’
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council
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