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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Living in the borough of Croydon means you are being governed by the most inept local authority in Greater London and arguably one of the worst in the UK.
Cllr Tony Newman has made one bad decision after another. One of these was promoting Jo Negreedy to council CEO. In this role she made one bad decision after another. Negreedy then brought her friends in; Colm Lacey, Shifa Mustafa, Heather Cheesbrough, who all then started making one bad decision after another. See a pattern emerging?
There were two ways to stop this from happening; one external to the council and one internal.
The external method, outside of local elections, is residents initiating change. Residents saw the writing on the wall and they collected the legally required number of signatures to have a vote for an elected Mayor in the Borough of Croydon.
The internal method is the Croydon Council Scrutiny Committee. This committee should have seen what’s going on and called it out loud and clear. Instead, they buried the heads in the sand while the chair of the committee, Sean Fitzsimons continued to reach out for his £42,000 purse from Tony Newman.
In the private sector Fitzsimons would be facing a disciplinary and worse. He has fundamentally failed to scrutinise the council and turned a blind eye whilst Croydon turns into one of the worst performing local authorities in the UK.
Fitzsimons should have been kicked out on his ass as soon as the extent Newman and Negreedy’s financial fuck-up was known.
And now Fitzsimons (devoid of shame) thinks he can manipulate Labour’s response to the legally binding requirement to have a vote for an elected Mayor in Croydon?
Ali and the young future Leaders of Croydon Labour such as Jamie Audsley need to wake up, understand the legal standing of the 21,000 votes and get rid of this wholly inept Chair of the Council’s Scrutiny committee.
Residents and Government are saying the same thing to Croydon Council : abide by the law, have a Mayoral election and clear the hangers-on who are lingering like a bad smell (eg Cllr Fitzsimons and Cllr Scott).
Will IC be taking an editorial position in the run up to the referendum, or remaining neutral?
We’ve always had an editorial position on this: the system won’t fix anything unless the candidates, for leaders of political groups or elected mayors, are of a far better calibre than the borough has had to put up with over the past 15 years or so.
The idea that the influence of a single individual might change the complexion of the borough for the better is delusional. A mayor will only be “accountable” once every four years (no change there then).
They will still have to follow the law as far as planning matters are concerned.
And they will still have to deal with a borough whose financial problems do stem from being historically underfunded (and as an outer London borough with inner London issues, long pre-dating Tory-led austerity), as well as a borough that really has no Plan B for the town centreabandoned by multi-national developers Westfield, and no money to implement it if they had.
I agree with every word of Sebastian’s post, as i’m sure every resident tax payer in Croydon does. Add Directors Shifa Mustapha and Mr Iles to the clear out list, and maybe we will start to get somewhere, and restore a little bit of faith in the Council. I see that Iles made a profit of £12.5 million from bleeding the Croydon motorists dry in the last year, is that money going to be put to use to sort out the shocking roads and footpaths in the borough, or is he going to top up the £21 million uplift he has already given Veolia for providing a shocking service to us, or worse still give it to brick by brick to waste?
Why does Croydon need an elected Mayor. More beurocracy
Just taking your first line, why indeed? There is no one person that can fix our immediate problems, and little evidence that it would be of any value at all.
As a relatively impartial observer, in as much as I don’t care who is in power as long as they can do the job well, it could be that bunging the least worst mayoral candidate in post could make things worse. Looking around the interweb, there seems little evidence that it’s a sensible thing to do.
Admitting complete ignorance of this process, when I see that these 21000 people have been assembled by 12 residents associations (is that right?) I’d quite like to know which ones. To say “from across the Borough” isn’t helpful. From past experience and what I see around me, plus our demographics and income level profile, it seems there might be a North/South divide on people’s priorities. I’ve no data, but I gather you suspect one half of the Borough has been affected worse by Covid than the other.
From reports, it seems that the North bit may be having greater problems from vaccination rates, has more trouble putting food on the table, and far less motivated to give a stuff about a mayor, whilst there’s every incentive for the other half to hijack democracy in order to put a finger in the eye of the party in power.
All of this may be perfectly fair and reasonable. But it doesn’t look good or feel right.
I realise that Mr Newman, Hitlers basterd grandson, who eats babies for breakfast, brought Covid into the UK, a man who is Trump’s closest advisor and is personally responsible for 99.9% of all of the residents problems past present and future etc. makes Pol Pot look like Mary Poppins, but the tone of some of the comments is unacceptable. It’s not helpful. If mistakes have been made, we should find out why and how, but to make this top priority is ignorantly stupid, as is the concept that there is a binary choice of cockup or conspiracy. That is simply not how things work. If people think it’s a conspiracy, it’s the world’s worse.