CROYDON COMMENTARY: The row between the Labour council and Tory government over the possible costs of staging a mayoral referendum has got loyal reader IAN KIERANS crunching some numbers
Perhaps we should take a somewhat more panoramic view of this sum.
Let’s compare the £1.5billion of debt racked up by the council and their long-held opposition to the purported £1million cost to have a mayoral referendum, something which going forward could act as a control.
That million pounds sounds cheap when compared to the £440,000 paid out with gagging orders to end a particular individual’s employment at the council.
But what other “costs” does the borough face as a result of the financial mismanagement of the past four or five years?
No Fairfield Halls? Might that mean no Borough of Culture, and so with it no increased economic output or social recreation? What is that cost to our borough?
It looks like we are heading down to just eight public libraries, or approximately one library per 47,000 people in the borough. Some libraries that survive the cull might end up being run by unpaid volunteers. What is the true cost of that for Croydon residents?
What about the money spent on rubbish contractors Veolia, who only last September – in the middle of the council’s financial collapse – had the value of their contract increased by £21million?
And what about Brick by Brick, also known as Debt by Debt?
Sadly, the list of the council’s failures keeps going on and on, all of them representing some costs to the residents of the borough, and including the failures of planning and planning enforcement, the scandal of the council’s children’s services and the unenforced landlord licensing scheme.
Nick Leeson got 78 months in prison for speculating and bankrupting Barings Bank. What fate awaits those responsible for speculating and bankrupting Croydon Council?
Assuming that no one, either elected councillors or employed in senior management, broke any law in what has occurred in Croydon, this might suggest that a priority for the government is some legislation which to rectifies this absence of any apparent sanction, or at least coming up with more robust, independent financial controls and measures.
But hey, that would impact on all political parties’ exploits, while the public interest is overlooked.
“How are people to campaign in a referendum, either for or against, if door-knocking or street stalls are not allowed?” Councillor Sean Fitzsimons asked earlier this month.
Yet was it not a senior member of the council cabinet who said that Croydon had made the decision to “go digital” to save money, and so the residents would just have to get used to it. A sort of like it or lump it approach to local governance.
Shouldn’t we say the same to our local politicians, after Councillor Fitzsimons and his council’s administration have managed to ignore those the wrong side of the “digital divide”, whether because of poverty, illness, age or disability?
The council has created a situation in this borough where those with a reasonable complaint for the Town Hall but without digital access and on low incomes now face the choice of dinner for the kids or spending the money on a recorded delivery letter. Indeed, if we wrote letters of complaint about all the failures this council have achieved, a person could be in serious debt from the postage alone.
Even Joseph Heller would be impressed, and could probably use Croydon as a sequel to his novel Catch 22.
The real question in all this is: would a directly-elected mayor have made any difference?
I suspect not. When the political idiocracy and (mal)administrators are in each others’ pockets, the Localism Act of 2011 is pretty much unfit for purpose. It will certainly not deliver any justice to the residents of this borough, let alone prevent the same happening in the future.
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