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:
Read more: Council hands government begging letter asking for £150m
Read more: Jenrick orders urgent inquiry into ‘unacceptable’ council
Read more: Council ignored five warnings on reserves
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Gosh, this seems a little unfair. Being incompetent, or asleep on the job, at Croydon doesn’t seem to have any bearing on her ability to do equalities stuff at City Hall.
Will it make much difference? She is only there to implement whatever conditions Jenrick puts on the bailout, assuming that they get it.
The UK local government model was set up on the premise that councillors would either be in employment or retired. The former would ideally be people in active, engaged jobs that would reflect the skills they bring to the role as councillor. The latter would clearly bring a wealth of experience from an active working or family life. And these people would be paid expenses to reasonably recompense them for associated costs the role generated.
The local government model never anticipated the current bunch of unemployed councillors who use their expenses as their main source of income such as Tony Newman and many others.
The role doesn’t demand ‘full-time’ attendance and the risk of the gross ‘over-meddling’ we see with many councillors who should step back, wind their necks in, and allow officers to get on and do their jobs. And importantly, these councillors should try and get as much satisfaction and self-value from their day jobs, not seek this self-love and ‘wider-acceptance’ from their councillor role.
We need more focussed councillors in relevant employment where quality of input to the councillor role rather than length of time meddling in the role is the measure.
I therefore have no problem with Ali holding down a day-job, which brings lots of relevant experience, whilst doing her part-time vocational work as a councillor. Meanwhile, officers are empowered to run the council.
Sebastian Tillinger’s comment makes me wonder about the wisdom of “elected mayors”.
The scope for cronyism and micro-management of the officers must be even higher.
Liverpool. Yet again, in the news. This time, Joe Anderson, City Mayor
My preference is for a strong Committee system in local government.
Councillors need training too in all the areas they deal with. I wonder if councillors on Planning Committtee have ever received any training on urban design and architecture and planning ?
Croydon’s residents are suffering as they cannot pay their bills and being chased by Council Bailiffs for non payments of rate etc. The Council is now bankrupted and the leader got AN UNBELIEVABLE pay off before leaving Office and this was ON TOP OF HER HUGE SALARY. Why are we rewarding those that have failed us?. I believe they should be held accountable and some charges MUST be brought against them for their failure instead of rewarding them. A custodial sentence may put a stop to this type of ABUSE OF AUTHORITY!!!. Why is the rich being looked after whilst the poor are SUFFERING
The council leader did not get a pay-off. The £440,000 pay-off was given to Jo Negrini, who was the council chief executive.