‘We are all victims’: time for a residents’ Council Tax strike

CROYDON COMMENTARY: One question which continues to be raised across social media platforms over the collapse of the council’s finances is, ‘When will someone be held to account?’ Reader STEPHEN BLYTHMAN has an idea to turn outrage into action

A borough-wide Council Tax strike might make some of those in power think about holding people to account for the council’s financial collapse

Am I alone in being outraged, not just at what has been happening in Croydon, but that no one is being held properly to account?

A lot of people say that they are cross about the council’s financial collapse, the job cuts and the closed facilities and axed services. But most are apathetic to the idea of finding a solution. This is exactly what those clinging to their positions rely on.

Should we find a way to stage a non-party-political petition, to the government, the council and the police, to make certain that the matter is properly investigated and that if necessary, legal action can be taken, perhaps even criminal prosecutions?

Because if this sort of action is not taken in an absolutely serious way, then we residents of Croydon, who have been treated with contempt, and swindled in various ways, could stage a Council Tax strike.

Most members of the council, be they elected councillors or employees, belong to professional bodies where correct conduct is not just expected but is a requirement and an obligation. Where their position within the council and their professions are linked, should they not be brought before those bodies with a request for an investigation of their suitability to continue as members of those organisations?

 

Once this has been achieved, perhaps we could demand that salaries for council directors are capped at a nevertheless generous £150,000 per year, and that the people selected to head departments are presented to the full council and have their appointments approved by that body. Failure to succeed in a position, and their subsequent removal, should not be rewarded.

Jo Negrini: how did she get a £440,000 pay-off?

We also have a right and a need to know whether there was some kind of legal obligation on the council to make the £440,000 pay-off to the former chief executive, Jo Negrini. If that payment was made because the council was legally required to do so, then the contracts given out by the council need to be reviewed and revised to ensure that that never happens again.

But if there was no legal requirement, then why was this vast sum paid out? Who sanctioned it, and why? And who is going to repay it to the Council Tax-payers of Croydon?

Many hundreds of millions of pounds of Croydon residents’ money has been wasted  on property purchases. No one goes into such transactions without taking full professional advice, and those professional advisors should be well aware of what was happening in the market at the time of such deals. Was the advice the council received over the purchase of the Croydon Park Hotel wrong? Or was it ignored?

I certainly recall expressing my concerns at the time. So why did our councillors vote the deal through?

If the professional advice was patently wrong, can the council not sue? If the council went against advice, then surely those who pushed that through should be subject to investigation – and the path of the money traced. Nothing is done without a reason.

We pay very high Council Tax. I live in “comfortable” Shirley, where we get very little for our money, and now risk losing our library. I understand that our Council Tax helps other, less-fortunate parts of the borough. However, Croydon Council has royally screwed all residents of Croydon, be they Council Tax-payers or those who the council assists.

We are all victims.

The council has accumulated a mountain of debt – £1.5billion.

What do we have to show for it? A town centre that is run-down, derelict and spoiled, and which many of us now avoid because there is just no good reason to go there except through absolute necessity. Council services are being run down, essential staff being sacked while a lot of highly-paid managers appear to be laughing all the way to the bank.

After amassing £1.5bn debt, what has the borough got to show for it, apart from a deserted and run-down town centre?

Croydon has for too long been the butt of jokes, most of which now appear benign, perhaps even apt. Croydon has much that is good despite the council, we ought to be able to say we live in Croydon with pride, and not have to apologise.

Our councillors meanwhile appear frightened, sitting on their hands, acquiescent and submissive in following instructions. To be a councillor was a position one sought, not for an allowance, but to serve the community in which you live. If the present council had even a modicum of basic decency, moral sense and conscience, the councillors would resign now en bloc.

I think residents should start to organise now, not on political lines, but with common objectives.

We don’t need professional, career politicians just seeking a sinecure and a safe seat or ward. We need experienced and successful people from different fields who want to give something back to the community.

Read more: ‘One of the biggest casualties of council crisis is our trust’
Read more: Council Tax-payers pay for politicians’ game of cat-and-mouse
Read more: ‘Not good enough’ chair of scrutiny could yet stay in post
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council

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8 Responses to ‘We are all victims’: time for a residents’ Council Tax strike

  1. Ian Stewart says:

    I agree with the sentiment in this post, I do believe the Council leaders – past and present – should be held accountable for the shoddy way our Council has been run for the time of this administration. Far too many times I’ve heard the excuses of ‘it was the previous administration, it has been 10 years of Government austerity cuts, it’s been the cost of homeless child asylum seekers, it’s COVID-19‘ and numerous other excuses for, what is in essence, poor management of the finances of our borough.

    Having a Council tax strike will not make the situation better, it’ll clearly make it worse at a time when we need the money to maintain core community services.
    Withholding a legally obliged requirement will not cause change in the Town Hall, indeed it could incur you further financial stress due to late-payment fees, court and bailiff costs.

    The only real way to change how our money and services are managed is at the ballot box.

    • If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it…

      You are right, to a degree, Ian.

      But consider this. If there was a boycott of Council Tax payments, in sufficient numbers, the council’s enforcement teams would be overwhelmed and unable to cope. The payments of Council Tax could be withheld for, say, just one month. Not long enough to incur a penalty or fine.

      But it would be long enough to put the squeeze on the council’s finances to force the hand of the leadership and execs.

      And then, what if there was a real alternative to the wretched duopoly that has failed the borough for decades at the ballot boxes in May 2022? Resident candidates, for residents. Now how might that play out in a borough where 21,000 signed a petition in a pandemic to express their desire for change?

  2. Maverick says:

    Totally agree with all you have written, however you will find it’s like peeing in the wind….have been saying for some time that there needs to be a major shake up within the council. As for the directors being or should be a member of a professional body ….maybe you should be saying that to Steve Iles… unless he’s a member of the “ Federation of pothole fillers “ The council is run more like the “ Freemasons “ although the Masons are more open and transparent than the council.

  3. Taigaspace says:

    Totally agree with everything in this article.
    Especially regarding capping salaries to individuals. All wages, expenses and “consultancy” fees should also be included in the suggested (very generous) £150,000 p.a. limit.
    The council have totally lost the idea that councils are elected bodies to do the will of the people. They seem to believe that the people are to do the will of the council.

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    Everyone involved should be held accountable and that is a given. At no stage should Croydon residents ever let up on getting to the bottom of what went on. A campaign for a politically independent inquiry (no appointees by Government ) with a panel of residents assisted by a QC a detective Inspector and a CPS lawyer with a few independently appointed forensic investigators. That way there will be no technical difficulties with prosecuting any wrongdoing if any. We should have a 3 month Amnesty for anyone coming forward so they can provide evidence and testimony of wrongdoing similar to South Africa’s truth and reconciliation and at the end of that anyone caught should be prosecuted.

    Everyone should pay the Council tax. A withholding of payment is not in anyone’s interest as it would force a non payment by the council of required service of social care etc. I would not wish to be the cause of people being made homeless even if its a slum they have as emergency accommodation or the mould riddled rooms some landlords rent out under the Councils Landlord Licencee scheme (happy to provide pictures on that any time Croydon Council wishes but expect no enforcement as usual)
    Similarly the front line staff are not accountable for the huge flaws in the systems they have to work with and should not be pilloried for others misdeeds – if anything whatever support we can give them day to day should be forthcoming. Honestly ask yourself would you like to work in the environment they have to?

    However you can ask to pay this over 12 months not ten and not in advance. We can challenge the service provision and refuse to accept poor provision or no provision. Lets inundate the website and actually report all the missed or damaged bins illegal cars parked rubbish fly tipped crimes committed etc. We can opt not to elect any Councillor who agrees a budget cut to services etc. In fact there are so many ways to have your voice heard (including Inside Croydon – thank you stephen) we should use them every time, at every instance, and in every way. Let Croydon Council and its Councillors understand in full the impact of their actions every single day with every instance of failure from a small pothole or missed bin to major faults. Challenge every act or decision and contact your Councillor both in print and digitally. When the Businesses and residents of Croydon stand together collectively I believe change can and will happen.

    I suspect though the apathy is endemic if not pandemic but hey anyone wanting to form a protest with have my support.

  5. Yvonne Boyd says:

    I feel that Councillors involved in the financial mismanagement should not be allowed to stand at the next election. But I don’t know how that is to be achieved. Do we lobby the Labour Party so that they cannot stand on their ticket?

    • miapawz says:

      Scott Butler Ali, and Tony Soprano should all be banned for life from standing for office. And I think local government salaries and allowances should not be so ‘rewarding’ – perhaps oversight should be better too? These current crazees have got away with it for too long. The previous lot were not perfect either I know (fisher folly) so some stronger oversight needs to be in place. Perhaps this elected mayor will help, perhaps not.

      Where did our £1.5 billion go? All we have is potholes and no westfield. We pay £250 a month in council tax.

  6. Terry Youngson says:

    I agree that not enough information has been provided on how the council ended up in this mess. Full disclosure of all deals. From the little I’ve read about brick by brick I find it hard to believe that something underhand possibly unlawful was involved. The council leaders have behaved disgracefully and again find it hard to believe that something untoward wasn’t happening there dating back to Fisher’s Folly days. There definitely need to be a day if reckoning and accountability for what has brought us to this position. We’re paying the price and the culprits are getting away s ot free – sorry with a large layout or another lucrative job.

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