Labour councillor disputes cost savings over referendum

A senior Labour councillor has produced more red herrings than you will find in an EU fishing quota, as he has claimed that staging a referendum in May over the way the council is run won’t save a penny for cash-strapped Croydon.

Meanwhile, the borough’s only Tory MP has said that the decision to force the council to hold a referendum on May 6 means the end of the road for Labour’s Town Hall administration.

The crisis-hit Labour leadership at the Town Hall was clearly caught out by yesterday’s announcement by Luke Hall, the local government minister, that it should go ahead and hold a referendum over whether Croydon should have a directly-elected mayor. Tory minister Hall told Croydon that by staging the referendum at the same time as the London Assembly election, it would provide “cost savings… for your authority”.

Hall’s decision gives the council and its politicians, plus the campaign group that has lobbied to change the borough’s governance system, little more than three months before referendum day.

The call for a directly-elected mayor was a grassroots movement, backed by a dozen residents’ association, and direct challenge to the now-discredited council leadership of Tony Newman and his numpties, including planning chief Paul Scott.

Newman, now the former council leader, spent months trying to ignore the 21,000-signature petition collected by the DEMOC campaign to trigger such a referendum. Last week, Hamida Ali, who replaced her mentor and ward colleague as council leader, changed policy and had agreed to hold a referendum in the autumn.

Tony Newman: contempt for the south of Croydon

Local democracy laws insist that, if a borough-wide ballot votes in favour of having an elected mayor, then the local authority must elect someone to that office within six months of the referendum.

Ali and her Labour colleagues wanted an October referendum, with the mayor to be elected in May 2022, alongside the scheduled local elections.

Now, if Croydon follows the orders of Whitehall – covid restrictions permitting – it will hold the referendum in May and then potentially must vote for its first directly elected mayor six months later.

Both timetables therefore require a visit by the borough’s voters to the polling stations this autumn, with all the costs that might involve.

In arguing against even allowing the referendum to take place, Simon Hall, one of discredited Newman’s henchmen, claimed last year that any standalone ballot could cost Croydon £1million.

Less exaggerated estimates of the cost of staging a single-issue, borough-wide polling day put the costs at less than half that amount – but still money that the council can ill-afford after Hall and Newman helped to bankrupt it.

Whichever way you cut it, Croydon voters look like having three visits to the borough’s polling stations between now and May 2022.

There has been no formal response from the council or council leader to the letter from Luke Hall instructing them to stage the referendum on May 6.

But Sean Fitzsimons, the Addiscombe councillor who enjoyed six years on the allowances gravy train under Newman, today went to great lengths to criticise publicly the Government’s decision.

“It probably means additional expense of an October mayoral election,” Fitzsimons tweeted, apparently forgetting that he and his fellow Labour councillors just last week announced the additional expense of an October referendum.

Newman’s authoritarian approach presented DEMOC campaigners with an easy slogan

In a lengthy thread on Twitter, Fitzsimons predicted that the referendum would overwhelmingly vote in favour of ridding the borough of the “strong leader” model of civic governance, which he and Newman had done so much to bring into disrepute, and choose instead a directly elected mayor.

An October election for mayor could also bring to an early end the Labour administration that has been in charge of the Town Hall since 2014.

“The cost argument is a red herring,” Fitzsimons wrote.

“There will be additional costs to running a referendum in May, plus costs spent on validating the referendum. Council will then need to budget for a possible mayoral election in October 2021, plus elections for 70 councillors in May 2022.

“So the Government thinks it is a better use of Croydon Council resources to spend time on preparing for a referendum than deal with a pandemic, which has already killed over 650 Croydon residents, including 37 last week.”

Which, as Fitzsimons well knows, is a red herring of itself. As things stand, the council is duty-bound to prepare for the London Assembly elections on May 6 already.

“The Government knows full well that a successful referendum will trigger a mayoral election in the autumn, just six months before the council elections in May 2022, when all councillors are up for election. The council proposal was to synchronise a mayoral elections with councillor elections,” Fitzsimons wrote.

Sean Fitzsimons: has dropped his opposition to the referendum

After a year of covid lockdowns and restrictions, Fitzsimons and his mates in the leafleting cult formed by our local politicians are getting anxious that they have not got their usual fix from pushing thousands of glossy leaflets through residents’ letterboxes, where they usually sit unwanted and unread until dropped into the bin, destined for the incinerator.

“How are people to campaign in a referendum, either for or against, if door-knocking or street stalls are not allowed?” Fitzsimons asked.

This, too, was more than a tad disingenuous. Even as Fitzsimons was writing it last night, in party offices on Blackhorse Lane his council colleague Patsy Cummings and MP Sarah Jones were taking part in the latest Labour phone bank exercise to lobby residents for the re-election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London in May.

“Will it be a social media referendum only? Poorer people will be excluded from the debate as restricted access to internet,” Fitzsimons claimed, oblivious in 2021 to that 19th-century invention, the telephone.

Having toed the Newman party line loyally (in return for £42,000 a year in allowances) in opposing the prospect of holding a referendum, Fitzsimons’ belated desire to involve the Croydon public in any kind of “debate” does represent a remarkable transformation.

Tory MP Chris Philp: pleased that his Tory Government has stitched up a Labour council

For their part, the DEMOC campaign staged an urgent Zoom meeting last night to consider the consequences of the Government decision. “No more excuses for not listening to residents,” Gerry Meredith-Smith, the chair of DEMOC, told Inside Croydon today.

“The people of Croydon should choose who runs our Town Hall, not a small number of councillors. A directly-elected mayor will be accountable to residents will listen to residents and residents can vote them out if they don’t listen.

“Surely now the council will declare residents’ petition valid?”

And Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South and an enthusiastic supporter of anything that unsettled the council’s Labour administration, claimed that a May-October referendum and mayoral election “would be cheaper” than holding the referendum in October before elections in May 2022.

“I think the Newman-Ali show has finally run out of road,” Philp said.

“And rightly so, given what they have done.”


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2020 London elections, 2020 Mayor Referendum, 2022 council elections, Chris Philp MP, Croydon Council, Croydon South, Hamida Ali, Jerry Fitzpatrick, Sarah Jones MP, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Labour councillor disputes cost savings over referendum

  1. Putting all that power in the hands of one person? Haven’t we learned that lesson aready, the hard way? We could start to make fairer representation with PR elections, but properly bi [or even better PR]-partisan committees should really be the way to go, and ”allowances” for what should be an altruistic public service should be limited to reasonable receipted expenses, just like the rest of us, with payment at the London living wage for time out of the working week spent verifiably on council business.

  2. Ruth Hubbard says:

    Sheffield community campaigner here from It’s Our City! – we submitted the largest ever petition in England for a change of governance, in August 2019. The referendum Sheffield communities won was postponed by COVID just seven weeks before the vote in May 2020…. However, our referendum (now May 2021) will be to get rid of the hated, undemocratic, ridiculous strong leader system (leader and cabinet) and move to a modern committee system. This is more democratic and at least ensures that all the (Cllr) representatives elected by Sheffielders will have a say in decision-making (instead of rule by the few) – everyone must be represented, otherwise local democracy is meaningless. Under modern committee governance decision-making power is held by full council/all elected councillors.

    We have been very surprised by Croydon residents petitioning for a referendum for change to a directly elected mayor. Whatever else, this is executive led (top down) decision making governance – just like a leader and cabinet system….Decision-making power is ultimately held at the top/by one. .. We do understand the desire for citizens to exercise their community rights under the Localism Act (change will be down to communities, as so often) and to strike a blow across the bows of what looks like a truly awful council. But very surprised about the apparent belief that a mayoral system.is the answer – it’s still an executive power system/rule by the few – not about power-sharing.

    Solidarity from Sheffield anyway, we have been keeping a watch on Croydon and your ruling council group / cabinet (at least under Newman) has seemed at least as bad as Sheffield’s current administration! (Our “strong leader” also recently resigned, though not linked to financial collapse).

    Stay as safe as possible Croydon…..

    • Thank you Ruth for your informed and reasonable comment. I agree wholeheartedly that a mayor is going even further down the wrong road to autocracy, and a committee system has been proved to be far better. The proposal for a mayor was intiated by the overwhelmingly tory south of the borough and promoted by the tory MP there. Perhaps we should raise an alternative petition, though it is likely too late to stop this one especially on the back of disgust at the failures of the current labour administration, there’s nothing to stop another later change from a likely mayoral system to a modern committee format answerable to all councillors…

      • Ruth Hubbard says:

        Aah, that’s interesting Anthony.

        Well, people either believe citizens and communities should have some meaningful local representation I guess ie a bit of basic democracy. Or you don’t.

        We are in touch with more than 20 community/campaign groups round the country, I only know of one other that was even toying with the idea of a mayoral system vs leader amd cabinet…..

        So, you have a choice of a rock amd a hard place now. The governance result of the referendum citizens have campaigned for will have to, by law, remain in place for ten years I believe. Hmmmm.

        Check us out if you want http://www.itsoursheffield.co.uk

  3. Fitzsimons – this failed councillor is the individual in charge of scrutiny for the most disastrous local authority since the war.

    I think we can safely say that most of what Fitzsimons says falls into the category on unthinking bullshit.

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