CROYDON IN CRISIS: The people running the borough, whether executive staff on sky-high salaries or elected councillors, have a well-earned reputation for failing to listen to the people they are supposed to serve. So why should residents expect any difference with the latest ‘consultation’?
By WALTER CONXITE, political editor
In possibly the most tin-eared announcement yet from the most tin-eared of councils (slogan: “Delivering Misery for Croydon”), the propaganda department this lunchtime issued its latest missive from the bunker in Fisher’s Folly, announcing the launch of a public consultation on the cuts that need to be made to try to balance its mismanaged budget.
If the old-new council leader Hamida Ali thought that the findings of the auditors’ Report In The Public Interest were “shocking”, or that the PwC consultants’ report into the multi-million-pound bungling at house-builders Brick by Brick was troubling, then she had better prepare herself for a cascade of shit to be poured over her head when residents unleash their growing anger at the way she and her colleagues have run the Town Hall.
With a £66million hole in this year’s council budget, what Ali and the £192,474 per year interim chief exec, Katherine Kerswell, will be hoping is that residents’ responses to their latest consultation will in some manner give them permission to make swingeing cuts to services, including to adult social care packages, reduced social worker staffing looking after vulnerable children, axing school buses for kids with SEND, or closing libraries and leisure centres.
Thing is, together with the “erasing” of more than 400 council posts and another 130 job cuts to come in the New Year, many of those cuts are already being implemented. The cuts are going to happen, whether residents like it or not.
“Croydon Council wants to hear from residents, staff and partners on plans to get its finances back on track and focus on providing the best essential services we can, while living within our means,” was the trite intro to today’s press office release.
It is a version the agreed mantra, the party line, which Ali has been at pains to repeat at every opportunity in the six weeks since she took over as leader of the Labour group which controls the Town Hall. Trouble is, even with repetition, the phrasing always lacks even a chimaera of sincerity.
The release drones on: “From today, the council is asking people for feedback on initial savings proposals it has set out for 2021-2024, to understand the impact they have on our communities and hear ideas about how it could do things differently. You can read an overview and give your views via this page on the council website.“
Even the council phone line, offered for those without access to the internet, provides an illustration of the kind of staffing cuts which have been underway for years at Fisher’s Folly, while exec directors have never been subject to any cut-backs or reductions.
The phones (number: 020 8604 7114, it is not even a freephone) are staffed for just six hours a day, on weekdays.
The web page and press release are both overflowing with trite euphemisms and avoidance. “The savings proposals are part of Croydon’s renewal plans, which outline how Croydon plans to tackle its financial challenges with a three year-improvement journey to become financially sustainable for the future…”.
“Collaborate”, “Connect”, Community”, “Communicate”, “Challenges” and “Journeys“. They can’t actually bring themselves to state that the council is broke, and that many of them are responsible for causing the mess.
The next sentence of the press release makes the mistake of admitting that the whole public consultation is utterly bogus. “Cabinet approved the renewal plans…”. It’s all already been agreed, with Whitehall mandarins watching to ensure that the cuts go deep enough, the pain is spread wide and far. It really doesn’t matter what the public think. As usual.
But to disguise their own powerlessness in the matter, councillors in Ali’s old-new cabinet “… gave the go-ahead to ask the public for feedback on the savings proposals on November 25. The cabinet reports are published here, including the savings proposals for 2021-2024 which are set out in full here.
“The survey closes on January 24, in time for feedback to inform the council’s budget proposals for 2021-2022. Some of the proposals are ready, some of them need more work and others, such as changes to libraries, require full public consultations early next year.”
The press release then carried more than 200 words of quotes attributed to Ali (now on annual allowances of £55,000), containing more of the mantra and more euphemistic language, including, “There will be some difficult decisions ahead.” No shit, Sherlock.
But since Councillor Ali has failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s repeated requests to be interviewed, we will not pass her propaganda’s quotes on to our large and ever-growing readership.
Instead, here’s another chance to listen to Ali being interviewed on the Vanessa Feltz radio show…
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