CROYDON IN CRISIS: The Labour group that controls the Town Hall has placed itself on a collision course with the Conservative Government over moves for a directly-elected mayor, reports WALTER CRONXITE
Like two bald blokes fighting over a comb, the Town Hall’s politicos have been busy drafting motions ahead of Monday’s full council meeting, neither of which will do anything to fix the bankrupt borough’s finances nor make councillors appear any more accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.
Indeed, the ruling Labour group, after spending two years trying to block a residents’ campaign to change the way the council is run, now appears set to take on the Tory Government over the date chosen for the referendum on whether the borough should be run by an elected mayor.
The Labour motion to be “debated” (in the loosest definition of that word) at Monday’s meeting has not yet to be published on the council’s own website, as might be expected to happen ahead of the meeting, as if to deliberately underline the continuing lack of openness and transparency about so much council business.
Councillor Sean Fitzsimons, the £42,000 per year apologist for the Labour council, last night confirmed that there is a motion being put forward at Monday’s meeting, which is the first full council meeting of 2021.
But Fitzsimons refused to release the wording and, although he is the chair of the Town Hall committee which is supposed to scrutinise the actions of the council, he also refused to chastise his colleagues or officials for failing to publish the motion in a timely manner.
Inside Croydon has obtained the Labour group’s motion, which could be changed between now and Monday evening, but at present states:
This Council recognises that Croydon’s system for local governance must always reflect the need for strong democratic engagement and accountability.
This Council commits to consider a resolution, based on a detailed report to be presented to Council at an [Emergency Council Meeting], to hold a referendum on the council’s governance model in Autumn 2021, so that residents can decide the best model for Croydon. A directly elected mayoral model will be an option in this referendum, alongside the leader and cabinet model.
In the event that the residents of Croydon vote for a change from the council’s current governance model the resulting election can take place at the next local elections scheduled for May 2022.
Yet earlier this week, Luke Hall, the Tory minister responsible for local government, wrote to council leader Hamida Ali instructing the council to stage the mayoral referendum on May 6, the same day as the London Assembly elections. If residents vote in favour of having a directly elected mayor, then an election for that office would have to be held within six months – bringing an early end to the current administration’s wretched term in office.
Inside Croydon understands that the Labour motion was drafted before the direction from the minister for a May referendum. We are also informed that the motion was not reconsidered in light of the letter from Hall.
The Labour motion does, at last, clear up the confusion which Ali and her councillors – including Fitzsimons – had created by suggesting that they might “consult” (ha!) with party members over what options might appear on the referendum ballot paper, with some kind of return to the committee system being put forward as a possibility.
The council never had any such latitude. The law insists that any such referendum should have just two options, the status quo (in this case, the “strong leader” model, where public-funded patronage is used by a handful of twerps to bankrupt the borough) and the suggested change (for Croydon, a directly elected mayor).
As one senior Croydon Labour figure told Inside Croydon, “It’s always been clear that any referendum has to be a binary, either-or choice. But that’s not what the discussions at Labour group meetings, or emails to party members suggested.
“They really did not know what the law requires. None of them had looked at the legislation properly.”
The motion represents a significant U-turn for Labour by even admitting that it will consider the petition which has triggered the referendum, which attracted 21,000 signatures from across the borough. Under previous council leader Tony Newman, there were those in the group of 41 Labour councillors who in private meetings argued that they could ignore the petition.
It might be considered disingenuous in the extreme, but that same Labour group may now try to use Monday’s motion debate to argue that Croydon’s opposition Conservatives are acting in an anti-democratic manner if they oppose the October referendum.
The Tories know that if they vote in favour of the motion, their support will be flaunted under the nose of Conservative minister Hall and his parliamentary colleague, Chris Philp, the Tory MP for Croydon South whose grubby fingerprints were all over Monday’s direction letter.
For their part, Jason Perry, the leader of Croydon Tories, confirmed that he had seen what he described as “an interesting motion from the Labour Party”.
The Labour motion, Perry said, “Would seem to directly contradict the direction given to Croydon this week by Government Minister Luke Hall.”
And meanwhile, the Tories have a motion of their own for Monday’s meeting which, in effect, calls on the council to scrap all the cost-cutting measures that they have put in place or are considering making in order to balance the borough’s budget – as they are required to do by the law, and by the very same Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government where Hall has his office.
Blithely ignoring the 70 per cent funding cuts which Tory-led governments have inflicted on Croydon over the last decade in the name of “austerity”, or the considerable costs incurred in the past 10 months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Perry and his Conservative chums want to spend Town Hall meeting time discussing this poorly-drafted motion:
This failing Council has bankrupted Croydon. To plug the £65million annual black hole in its finances they have proposed a devastating cuts package that hits the most vulnerable residents in Croydon the hardest.
These terrible cuts will decimate vital services that the poorest in our borough rely upon. It will also severely cut funding to essential voluntary organisations and charities that have done so much to help local people to get through the pandemic.
In order to protect the most vulnerable in Croydon, this Council will cancel the proposed service cuts, and maintain funding for our vital voluntary and charitable sector.
As a Katharine Street source said tonight: “Who knew? Croydon Conservatives do have a heart after all!
“The Tories know full well that all the cuts are being dictated by Whitehall and the Tory Government. Cancelling the cuts will simply wreck the council’s rescue package that they submitted to MHCLG.
“Both groups of councillors though might do well to step back and take a long hard look at themselves. There are 500 council staff losing their jobs, entire departments at the council are being axed, services for the borough’s vulnerable children and elderly under threat, and we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic…
“Yet these lot are playing games in the Town Hall chamber like they are members of some third-rate Sixth Form debating society.
“And they wonder why no one takes them seriously?”
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