McArdle will recognise failure when he arrives in Croydon

‘Even at the end, it didn’t recognise the reality of the circumstances it had created for itself: insolvency… the distrust of partner agencies; the despair of the local voluntary sector; the sense among staff that their professionalism, dedication and effort was being traduced and betrayed… and the ridicule of the local press’.
Tony McArdle, who tomorrow takes over as chair of the government-imposed Improvement Board in Croydon, has seen it all before.

Tony McArdle: the former CEO at Lincolnshire has spent two years fixing Northants’ failed council

When Tony McArdle sets about his work for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as chair of the Improvement Board it is imposing on Croydon, there may be things about how things are done on Fisher’s Folly, the council offices, that he recognises.

Because until last year, McArdle was the lead commissioner overseeing the management of Northamptonshire County Council, the only other local authority in England that has gone bust in the last 20 years.

A little more than a year ago, his task in Northants coming to an end,  McArdle wrote an article, What failure looks like.

From that often highly critical piece about some of his local government colleagues, it’s reasonable to assume that what he finds in Croydon, McArdle has already encountered in Northamptonshire.

That was also a MHCLG appointment, and McArdle spent his time in Northants steadying the rocky ship before sailing it into dry dock, salvaging what he could, before having the council cut up and scrapped.

Shifa Mustafa: at the epicentre of council disasters

Given some of the deflection and avoidance of issues evident at Monday’s night’s Croydon cabinet meeting, it might help Katherine Kerswell, the interim chief exec, Shifa Mustafridaysoff, the exec director of Place who appears to have been at the epicentre of so many of the council’s disasters, and the old-new council leader, Hamida Ali, to spend some time familiarising themselves with McArdle’s somewhat uncompromising approach.

When Northamptonshire went bust, McArdle wrote, “…it did so kicking and screaming, protesting at the unfairness of the system and lamenting the fact that, although it had done everything right, it had been cruelly abandoned”.

Sound familiar?

McArdle was writing in Public Finance, the publication of CIPFA, the organisation of local government accountants. “Eighteen months on and government intervention has been seen as successfully initiating a process of repair,” he wrote, adding that, “Northamptonshire [was] exposed as having… done very little right, and rather than being cruelly abandoned, given every chance – which it obstinately refused to take.”

Is there any other council where such sentiments might apply?

Hamida Ali: was cabinet member for four years

“Indeed, the council proved to be not the victim of some ghastly set of circumstances inflicted upon it, but rather the first local authority in the land to bring itself down through a series of catastrophic failings of its own.” Oh dear. What is awaiting for poor Hamida, who spent four years in the Tony Newman council cabinet?

“Even at the end, it didn’t recognise the reality of the circumstances it had created for itself: insolvency; diminished, often dangerous services; the distrust of partner agencies; the despair of the local voluntary sector; the sense among staff that their professionalism, dedication and effort was being traduced and betrayed; the total opposition of the county’s MPs and district councils; and the ridicule of the local press.

“Every council in the land falls out with some of these interests, some of the time,” McArdle wrote. “Here, however, was total desertion.

“For a council that had once charmed the sector with its visionary aspirations, the end, when it came, had aspects of the hallucinatory.”

When McArdle arrives, those who thought they were in charge in Croydon could be in for a rude awakening.

Read more: Whitehall picks McArdle to sort out council’s financial mess
Read more: Government to take charge of council
Read more: Jenrick orders urgent inquiry into ‘unacceptable’ council
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt

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6 Responses to McArdle will recognise failure when he arrives in Croydon

  1. Chris Flynn says:

    “before having the council cut up and scrapped.”

    After seeing this, I went and read that Northampton is to be divided into two councils, North and West. Could the same potentially happen at Croydon? It seems there’s a lot of north-south tension in the borough (with some central marginal wards holding all the sway), which seems to account for much DEMOC’s arguments for changing the structure. Would a Croydon North Council, and Croydon South Council be a possible outcome, and that might also solve some of these conflicts? (And could South potentially choose to be Surrey rather than a LBC?). I know very little about politics, but am curious about what could be! Stranger things have happened recently…

    • Nick Davies says:

      Ever since Coulsdon and Purley UDC was subsumed into LBC in the 1965 reorganisation there’s always been background noise from those who would rather a return to a Tory Surrey CC and thus freedom from what they see as the yoke that is Labour Croydon.

      All a bit Brexity really, especially as you’d be well turned 70 to remember pre-1965 times.

  2. Kevin Croucher says:

    That was a quite a thoughtful and well written piece by McCardle in his trade magazine, even if much of it is stating the bleedin’ obvious. I can’t imagine the likes of Newman or Negrini being able to string that many words together to make a coherent article.

  3. Lewis White says:

    I hope that Croydon does not get proposed for splitting in two or more parts.

    Geographically, Croydon is a “big” boroughs, with one clear central focus, Croydon itself, with a planetary arrangment of smaller centres around it, including Coulsdon, Purley, Sanderstad, Selsdon, New Addington, Norbury, Thornton Heath, Waddon, Upper Norwood, South Norwood, Addisicombe and others.

    Neighbouring Bromley, a similarly huge borough, but incorporating a far bigger area of countryside than Croydon, had three main centres, once boroughs in their own right, Beckenham & Penge, Bromley itself, and Orpington, plus their outliers. I am sure there are still people who would like to split back into three “island” parts.

    In neighbouring Surrey borough of Reigate and Banstead, there are two such “islands” (Banstead in the North, and Redhill and Reigate in the South. Its motto –“Never Wonne, ne never shall” apparently relates to Reigate Castle never having been won or captured. Whether that is true I know not… although it seems to have largely disappeared sometime in the last 500 years.

    Some other wags would say that the motto sounds like “Never one, nor never shall (be)”, reflecting the fact that upland Banstead is separated physically and in the minds of the majority of residents by the massif of Reigate Hill, and gap of many miles, and a height of several hundred feet, from lowland Reigate & Redhill down the bottom. Banstread chalk, R & R cheese. Ne’er the twain shall meet. Opps, I forgot Horley, more miles to the South. Logically, it could be grouped with giant Crawley in West Sussex, but the Surrey people of Horley would never agree to being Sussex Crawleyites.

    Whiltst there can be economies of scale, a factor in favour of bigger boroughs, on the other hand, “Small is ….(or can be)….. beautiful”. Small can also be a bit boring, and “parochial” maybe.

    Who knows. History counts for quite a lot, but connections and shared points of focus link people.

    It is a shame that Croydon is parted, rather than linked, by its centre. The “Polo mint” borough, for the past few decades, the borough with a big hole in the middle. The hole being lack of the thriving shopping and employment entre of the 50’s/60’s 70, and 80’s, and the empty office blocks.

    Now that more people are coming to live in the centre, it should become busier and thrive once more. I really hope so. This busier core should also pull in people from the district centres to shop again , post Covid, and visit cultural centres, like the Fairfield Halls, assuming they are not sold off and redeveloped for flats. I hope that Croydon’s centre is filled again with bustke and brightness.

    It would also be nice to be part of a much more environmentally green borough, where the air in the North and West is as fresh as in the leafy South and East, but sadly, the Incinerator and main roads in the former depost their pollution into the air breathed by the people of the area.

    Planning and Engineering seems not to have resulted in a significantly better urban landscape in the whole time I have known Croydon, some 50 years to date. Grey, treeless streets are dominated by cars parked on completely concreted-over front gardens and in the streets as well. There are some good new developments, and , in my opinion, some very good “Urban design” projects that have genuinely improved the look, and vitality , of local centres such as Addiscombe’s shopping area, and but still , so many drab areas with hardly a shred of greenery.

    One would have hoped by now that we would have a town centre to be proud off, and
    that every local centre would have received similar “Urban Landscape design” improvements to boost their attractiveness. A greener North and West of the borough, in particular, would be healthier to live in, as well as better looking.

    These improvements cost money, and that is the core matter.

    Local Government can be very good at delivering good projects, but funding is tiny, in relation to potential, and in general, getting smaller year on year. It needs staff to deliver them, properly trained and committed staff. Most local government people in my experience are committed. But they are getting fewer in number across the board

    Environment and Culture are not classed as “essential” services, which diminishes their status in terms of priority for funding, meaning that their funding is even more vulnerable.

    Look at the huge importance of Parks in the health and mental well-being in Covid lockdown. We need attractive, accessible and safe parks with good playgrounds and enough staff for safety and security. Parks in the UK are literally being run down , run into the ground, without enough funding, and with hardly any staff left.

    Let’s hope that those charged with running Croydon at Councillor and Senior Officer level in future have money to use for Parks and environmental projects, and use it wisely.

  4. krautview says:

    Very good comment by Lewis – how do you know so much? – and nearly as well written as Steven Downes’ piece itself which is an example of first-rate, incisive local journalism

    • Lewis White says:

      Thanks very much for your kind comments Krautview. I spent most of my working career in 3 London Boroughs designing and managing landscape projects in various contexts, and have seen huge changes in local Government over this time, so have some “insider insights” into its workings. Having lived both sides of the London / Surrey border for all this time, and been a daily commuter, whose natural habitat is the train, I have a foot-and mind–in the town, suburbs and countryside. I love the mix, and particularly the cultural mix we have in Croydon.

      As an addicted reader, and also as a contributor to Inside Croydon, it is good to see so many articles that open up topics that are of massive importance to Croydon (and indeed, Sutton) , plus articles from specialist contributors that expand the mind and understanding of a range of topics. Such quality just does not happen nowadays in the printed local press in most areas of the UK.

      The fact that readers can comment, and that there are a range of view points, is people empowerment. Much more so than the letters pages of days of yore.

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