‘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.
By STEVEN DOWNES
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.
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”.
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?
“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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