You can imagine the notice in the small ads: “Going cheap: one mayoral limousine, low mileage, one not-so-careful owner, Croydon Council”.
After her Labour council managed to crash the borough’s budgets, this will come as the final ignominy for this year’s Mayor of Croydon, Maddie Henson.
For some councillors – like Henson, you suspect – the mayor’s ceremonial year, cutting ribbons on supermarkets in Thornton Heath or attending church fetes in Coulsdon, is regarded as the highlight of their civic careers. But Henson’s memories of her mayoral year have been blighted by coronavirus.
Her term wearing the Trumptonesque Town Hall robes was shortened, as the mayor-making ceremony had to be delayed because of covid-19. Most, if not all, of her planned charity fund-raising events had to be scrapped.
As well as being denied the full ceremony in the Town Hall chamber in front of her colleagues, family and friends, Henson has never been able to perform probably her most significant duty, that of chairing full council. Faced with the alternative of virtual meetings, she has shown herself to be calm, fair and (importantly) in complete command of the technology (which is not something that can be said of all her colleagues).
Now, for the final couple of months of her mayoralty, Henson will be expected to get to any official engagements by Shanks’s pony, after council officials decided to flog off the mayoral car.
More seriously, though unconfirmed, is the likely loss of the mayor’s driver’s job, one of more than 500 council posts being axed as a result of the council going broke.
According to official council responses to FoI requests, even five years ago, and despite the austerity cuts to the borough’s budgets, the council was still managing to spend at least £17,000 per annum on a mayoral vehicle (normally on a three-year lease arrangement).
Mayor Henson’s predecessors have luxuriated in the back of a £30,000 chauffeur-driven BMW 730 or, more recently, the more environmentally friendly Lexus 450h, a hybrid which usually carries a £50,000 price tag.
The sale of the mayor’s low-mileage car is the latest cost-cutting measure taken by Croydon’s bankrupt council.
Things could only get worse for Henson if she loses her place on the council altogether at the 2022 local elections, and that looks a possibility. Addiscombe East (what was previously Ashburton) is a two-member ward, where the Tories hold the other seat and which looks among the more vulnerable election battlegrounds for the discredited Labour administration.
For what it’s worth, the Town Hall Labour group this week confirmed Henson’s successor to be the (ceremonial) Mayor of Croydon for 2021 as Sherwan Chowdhury, the councillor for Norbury Park.
Chowdhury has been Henson’s deputy mayor, so the decision was routine.
But this week’s announcement by the Government that they are insisting that Croydon stages a referendum in May for a directly-elected mayor – one with executive powers, but none of the ermine and scarlet gown nonsense – could mean that Chowdhury gets to wear the chain of office for barely six months. Ceremonial mayors could be consigned to the dustbin of history if the borough has an elected mayor.
And Chowdhury could be the last Labour Mayor of Croydon for a very long time.
There are few current Labour councillors who are confident that their party will retain control of the Town Hall at the 2022 local elections, given the parlous state of the borough’s finances.
And all face many months of being reminded that 40 of Labour’s 41 councillors all voted against a motion of no-confidence in their erstwhile leaders, Tony Newman and finance chief Simon Hall, just weeks before both resigned in disgrace, and left behind others to pick up the pieces of a Section 114 notice.
Such is the lack of appetite among the Labour group for the time left in their discredited administration that they almost faced the embarrassment of having no candidates step forward to serve as the nominal deputy mayor for 2021-2022.
In the end, with virtually no alternative to pick from, Croydon’s Labour group managed to choose a councillor who only managed to get elected on to the council in 2018 after she was the sole woman candidate for selection in what was then a safe red ward.
For those Croydon residents who have never heard of her (and there will be many), union official Felicity Flynn owes her status as a Croydon councillor to Labour Party rules on gender balance. These insist on there being at least one woman candidate in two- or three-seat wards.
During the candidate selection process, when no other women members came forward to stand in New Addington North ward, Flynn’s name was put on the ballot paper by default.
Her elevation to the mayoral ermine, in civic terms at least, could be worth around 10 grand to Flynn over a 12-month period. With her position as deputy cabinet member for sport, arts and shit to be axed in April as part of the council cuts, Flynn’s allowances faced being reduced to the basic £11,463, down from the £21,595 she is being paid this year.
Now, as an entirely ceremonial figure, only having to deputise when Mayor Chowdhury is not available, Flynn is set to receive £21,206 from Croydon’s bankrupt council over 2021-2022. Cushty.
She might want to make the most of it.
New Addington North (which was previously called Fieldway), like Henson’s Addiscombe East, is regarded as vulnerable to Tory campaigning between now and May 2022. So Flynn could end up being a one-term councillor, and so be forced to make ends meet on her day job salary alone.
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