WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, reports on how Town Hall figures have finally got round to making their own ‘symbolic’ contribution to the borough’s financial crisis which they helped to create
Six months after the financial distress signals went up from Fisher’s Folly, Croydon’s 70 councillors will tomorrow night finally get around to passing a motion that will cut the bill for their allowances overall by around 20 per cent.
In total, £300,000 will be shaved from the annual £1.5million councillor allowances budget.
It’s a cut in line with the initial round of council job cuts which councillors voted through in the summer.
The proposal, which goes before the latest “emergency” council meeting tomorrow night, is for a cut in allowances four times bigger than what was proposed by the opposition Conservatives, in a piece of Tory grandstanding which forced the meeting to be called.
Outline proposals were passed at a cabinet meeting last month. These revised measures, with bigger cuts, have already been agreed by the borough’s political duopoly ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.
Whether the allowances cuts will be enough, or soon enough, to impress the mandarins at the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, only time will tell. The council was submitting its begging letter … sorry, “Renewal Plan” to MHCLG today, including a request to borrow £150million over the next two-and-a-half financial years to smooth out the budget bump of this year’s £66million short-fall.
So as far as allowances cuts are concerned, all that’s left for Croydon’s Labour and Tories is the shameless fight for which side takes the credit. The meeting is taking place just as the process is getting underway to axe a further 130 council jobs, on top of the 400 already put through as a consequence of the borough’s councillors collective incompetence.
The proposals will regularise some of the changes introduced when Hamida Ali, the old-new council leader, took charge of the Labour group which runs the council.
One of the two deputy leader posts which existed under her predecessor, Tony Newman, is permanently deleted (for a saving of £36,000), and six deputy cabinet jobs – which each came with a handy £10,000 on top of the basic allowance of £11,691.96 which is paid to all councillors – are to remain unfilled.
Ali is also cutting the cabinet from 10 posts receiving “special responsibility allowances”, to nine. Every little helps.
Some senior figures who enjoyed gilt-edged allowances under Newman, who was always generous with other people’s money, are in for a financial jolt.
Louisa Woodley, an old friend of Newman for whom the position of chair of the health and well-being board was created when she was bumped out of the Labour cabinet in 2018, will find herself back on basic allowances, as that position is to be deleted – losing her the extra £33,705 that had been in Newman’s gift.
Katharine Street sources suggest that this particular cut had been a long time in coming: in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic, with the borough facing the greatest health crisis this century, after chairing the health and well-being board meeting on January 22 this year, Woodley failed to call another meeting of the board again until October 21.
Also facing a wage cut is the chair of scrutiny, Sean Fitzsimons. Newman had put Fitzsimons on a near-cabinet level allowance totalling £41,798, and it was the scrutiny committee that has come in for special… well, err.. scrutiny over its failures to hold Newman’s spendthrift administration properly to account. Fitzsimons is getting a 10 grand pay cut.
There will also be cuts made to the special responsibility allowances paid to the Tory opposition shadow cabinet.
The motion going forward tomorrow night now reads:
“This council recognises the significant financial pressures Croydon Council is operating under.” No shit, Sherlocks.
“Its commitment to live within its means is at the core of the Croydon Renewal Plan, which outlines significant savings over future years as the council returns to financial stability.
“Included in the Croydon Renewal Plan is a commitment to ‘Scale back members’ special responsibility allowances’ and make savings of £103,000 in 2021-2022.
“However, the council consider as the overall financial envelope of the council is reduced, that it is appropriate that further savings are made in terms of special responsibility allowances (SRAs).
“It, therefore, resolves to amend the scheme of allowances to make approximately £300,000 savings on councillors’ allowances in the financial year starting on 1 April 2021.
“The 2021/22 scheme changes will include:
• Permanent deletion of second non-statutory deputy Leader post;
• Reduction of cabinet from 10 to nine (including leader and statutory deputy leader);
• Deletion of separate role of chair of the health and wellbeing board – with function absorbed into cabinet member role;
• Reduction of deputy cabinet member roles to four deputies;
• As part of the Governance Review in setting up of Cabinet Member Advisory Committee’s (CMACs), introducing new CMAC chairs at new limited SRA rate of £5,000;
• Reducing the SRA for the chair of scrutiny by £10,000;
• Applying a 20 per cent reduction on all SRAs that are not new or already reduced;
• Mirroring changes to SRAs in the shadow cabinet to that in the cabinet;
• Deferral of any inflation increase for 2021-2022 on the core basic councillor allowance in addition to SRAs.
That this is all a little late, and a perfect example of gesture politics, was shown in the badly-drafted press release which the Labour group distributed this morning which attributed a quote to Ali describing the cuts as “a symbolically important contribution”.
Of course, a saving of £300,000 per year amounts to nothing more than what Town Hall sources now call “three-quarters of a Negrini”.
“That’s the thing about good leadership,” a Katharine Street source said this morning.
“You’re supposed to do it from the front, and set an example, not in retrospect after so many of the people you are supposed to represent have lost their jobs or services.”
As he circulated the bad news to his councillor colleagues this morning, Clive Fraser, the Labour group’s chief whip, showed where his priorities lay. It’s all about playing politics.
“Substantially this is our Labour motion, reflecting the decisions of the group in how to address allowances,” he warned.
In the middle of the borough’s twin crises, financial and coronavirus, Fraser and his former boss, Newman, failed to call any meetings of the Labour group from July to October this year.
“The purpose of the motion now going forward as joint [emergency council meeting] motion is with the Tories buying into our position when it comes to the debate there should be less opportunity for negative political debate and inter-party point-scoring on councillor allowances.”
And that’s the really important thing, surely?
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