EXCLUSIVE: Council leader votes for a ballot that could cost as much as £1m, as agreement is finally reached to listen to the wishes of 20,000 Croydon residents. By STEVEN DOWNES
The Labour group which controls Croydon Town Hall has agreed to stage a referendum over whether the borough should have a directly-elected mayor, to replace the current, and discredited, “strong leader” and cabinet system.
It is a massive U-turn by Croydon Labour under their old-new leader Hamida Ali.
Ali’s deeply unpopular predecessor, Tony Newman, refused to acknowledge the importance of a 20,000-signature petition that was submitted at the Town Hall in September and should have triggered the referendum.
But the latest move could come at huge cost to the council which was driven into bankruptcy under Newman, Ali and their colleagues. The Labour group has agreed to stage the referendum in October next year, and not alongside the London Assembly and London Mayor elections which are scheduled for May.
When scaremongering against the idea of a directly-elected mayor, Simon Hall, Newman’s cabinet member in charge of finance, suggested that such a standalone referendum might cost the council as much as £1million – money it clearly does not have thanks to the stewardship of… errr… Newman, Hall and Ali.
Less exaggerated estimates of the cost of holding a borough referendum separately from other elections puts the cost at closer to £350,000, which is what is known on Katharine Street as “about three-quarters of a Negrini”. But it is still money that might be better spent on frontline services.
The Labour group’s decision was reached apparently in an irony-free zone, coming within hours of the announcement that in Liverpool, their directly-elected Labour mayor Joe Anderson had just been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.
The reason for the choice of October over May is that Ali’s Labour group has received advice that if the borough-wide referendum does vote in favour of introducing a mayoral system, then a vote to appoint the mayor must be held within six months.
October 2021 would be close to the first anniversary of Croydon Council issuing its Section 114 notice and becoming the first borough in London this century to declare itself bankrupt.
“They want to avoid losing a mayoral election next October, which would lose them all their lovely allowances,” one source told Inside Croydon. “It has freaked them out.”
Croydon has 41 Labour councillors at present. Of those attending the Labour group meeting, 23, including old-new leader Ali, voted in favour of an October referendum date. Seven voted for the lower-cost option of staging it in May.
There was further discussion about consulting Labour members about what the options should be on the referendum ballot.
DEMOC, the campaign group for a democratically-elected mayor in Croydon, was widely seen as a reaction against Newman’s often divisive leadership of the borough and the unpopular planning and development decisions taken by husband and wife duo Alison Butler and Paul Scott.
DEMOC has had strong support from residents’ associations in the south of the borough and the local Tories, but it has also been backed from the beginning by the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party, much to Newman’s fury.
There are clearly growing rifts within the Labour group at the Town Hall, with some councillors openly expressing doubts over whether Ali is really distant enough from the previous regime to avoid electoral calamity when voters next visit the polling stations. Ali was a cabinet member under Newman for most of the last six years and she is a ward colleague in Woodside with the ex-leader and Scott.
Labour might have expected to do well in Croydon and Sutton in next May’s London Assembly elections, but for the financial disaster in Croydon and the choice of candidate to contest the seat: Patsy Cummings, Hall’s deputy cabinet member for finance throughout the period which brought the council to its knees.
Cummings has retained that position under Ali.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Labour councillors and party activists have been denied the opportunity to take part in their favourite past-time of delivering leaflets and taking selfies of one another. With the London elections postponed to next May, that is beginning to change, with a resumption of some campaigning.
That begins tonight with Croydon Labour staging a “fund-raiser” on behalf of Cummings’ Assembly election campaign.
With a lack of self-awareness that ought to be very worrying, the people who brought you budget-busting Brick by Brick, failed children’s services and serial Section 114 notices are staging a… wait for it… comedy night! Oh, how we laughed.
No rush if you haven’t booked your virtual tickets: by noon today, there were still 41 places available, priced at 10 quid each. Hilarious.
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