EXCLUSIVE: While others in the council’s leadership have left employment to better focus on the crises at the Town Hall, Hamida Ali has opted for a spot of unpaid leave from her role at the GLA. By STEVEN DOWNES
If someone suggested to Hamida Ali, on becoming leader of the council that she had helped to bankrupt, “don’t give up the day job”, it appears to be advice that the Woodside councillor has taken to heart.
Ali faces the demanding task of trying to steer the borough through the twin crises of covid-19 and a £66million budget overspend.
Yet she has remained an employee of the Greater London Assembly, too.
That’s according to Ali’s own declarations of interest, updated at the end of last month.
Ali was selected as the new leader of the Labour group of 41 councillors which controls the Town Hall on October 15, significantly before most of her colleagues had had the chance to see the “shocking” Report In The Public Interest from auditors Grant Thornton.
The report was heavily critical of the way in which the council cabinet under previous leader Tony Newman, and including Ali, had mismanaged the borough’s finances.
Councillors, even cabinet members on their “special responsibility allowances” which currently amount to £45,000 per year, are not compelled or expected to be full-time civic servants. Many continue to hold on to full-time jobs.
But in the past the Labour group is known to have strongly suggested to those seeking leadership positions that being employed elsewhere risks too much of a distraction from their council responsibilities.
The precariousness of local politics does mean that those in leadership positions – such as the now ex-leader Newman and his loyal deputy Alison Butler – effectively became unemployed when they lost their council positions in October.
Which is why some in the council – even on the red side of the borough’s political duopoly – have questioned Ali’s commitment to her Town Hall task by staying on the books at the GLA.
Ali’s declaration of interest on the council website states she is employed by the GLA as “Workforce Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager.”
Then, it adds in capital letters “PLEASE NOTE”, just to make sure you don’t miss it. The declaration reads: “Councillor Ali is currently on unpaid, full-time sabbatical from this employment”.
By contrast, Stuart King, Ali’s deputy leader, resigned from his job as a director of a publishing company shortly after his Croydon appointment.
At the time of her appointment as council leader, Ali issued public statements talking about being “committed” to fixing the council’s finances and being “determined to provide the leadership Croydon needs”.
By not resigning from her job, some suggest that this raises questions about her commitment to the role.
“It very much looks as if Hamida is trying to have the best of all worlds, and is keeping her options open in case it all goes tits up in the next few weeks,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon.
“There’s no question she has worked very hard since becoming leader. But would I have voted for her if I had known what was in the auditors’ report? I doubt it.
“She, like so many of her new-old cabinet, were all in the same behind-closed-door meetings when Newman, Alison Butler and Simon Hall were carving up the property deals or letting Brick by Brick off the hook over payments.
“This week, she’s gone to the government and asked for a £150million bail-out. If they refuse, it’s possible she won’t last much longer as leader and will want to go back to her day job.”
But another councillor argued that Ali has cut her ties with her former boss, Newman. “What went on in the leadership race shows there’s no love lost there,” they said, cryptically.
“Give her time. She was a solid cabinet performer and she is doing well now under the most difficult of circumstances. Stepping up to the leadership in such a clusterfuck is difficult.”
But when asked whether the “unpaid sabbatical” suggests a lack of commitment to her role with Croydon, the source would only say, “Hamida will have her reasons.”
Hamid Ali has failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s requests for an interview.
But if you want to hear how she performed on live radio last month, here’s a recording of her being interviewed on BBC Radio London:
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