‘Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?’

Anyone who watches the full horror of the 17-minute unedited interview conducted by ITV News’s Dan Hewitt with Hamida Ali last night will quickly realise why Croydon was so reluctant to put up the council leader to talk about the appalling conditions that its tenants were living under in a South Norwood block.

ITV News producers had approached Croydon Council last Friday with what they had discovered in the council flats on Regina Road – “the worst conditions I’ve ever seen”, according to the head of a homelessness charity. Five days later, Councillor Ali finally appeared for interview via the internet.

With the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, being asked questions about housing in Croydon during his national press conference yesterday, it was the council’s bungling and neglect of its residents that led the News At Ten bulletin, for a second night running. And this on the one-year anniversary of the start of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

Young mother Fransoy Hewitt being interviewed by ITV News’s Dan Hewitt in the report that broadcast on Monday

The Hamida Ali interview featured only briefly, as the television reporter provided an update on the plight of the two council tenants featured in the original news item aired 24 hours before, Fransoy Hewitt and Leroy McNally. Councillor Ali ought to be grateful that her part on the programme was so curtailed; the unedited interview has since been released, and shows someone flailing way out of their depth.

Ali’s previous brush with serious media  – her interview with Vanessa Feltz six months ago when she had just taken over the bankrupt borough as leader of the council – was rightly described as a car crash interview.

By comparison, the councillor’s encounter with ITV’s Hewitt was a full-on motorway pile-up.

There was a Donald Rumsfeld-like quality to Hamida Ali’s interview: she didn’t know what she didn’t know, and that’s completely unacceptable, but she’s determined to find out what she didn’t know, and that will be done immediately by an independently led inquiry. Tomorrow.

Hewitt crystalised the issues when he asked, “You’re the council leader. Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?”

Ali kept returning to a handful of key phrases, possibly as rehearsed, and perhaps intended to make her appear as righteously outraged by Croydon Council’s callous neglect as the next person.

Yet as the interview unwinds, so did Councillor Ali’s lines.

“You’re absolutely right.”

“It’s completely unacceptable.”

“That is one of the most fundamental questions…”.

“Why on Earth could this have happened?”

“I can’t answer that question tonight. That’s not acceptable.”

Hamida Ali: will she consider her position?

When Ali was asked whether she had visited the block of flats, her answer was telling. “I haven’t as yet. I am very keen to get to see for myself,” was the best she could offer.

Asked by the reporter if she had met with or spoken to Fransoy Hewitt, Ali was forced to admit that she had not. “You don’t need an inquiry to pick up a phone, councillor,” said the reporter, the disdain clear in his voice.

Ali did try to make clear that her council’s disastrous financial position had nothing to do with the terrible state of disrepair of its residential properties (as if that, in any way, makes things any better), since the housing revenue fund is ringfenced from other council spending.

And on one matter, Ali made a statement with which most people could agree. “It should not have taken your report to bring this to our attention for us to act. I don’t accept this situation.”

The reporter asked whether the council leader, or others in her council, had “considered their position”. Ali replied, “We will need to look at ourselves, and our contractors.”

Councillor Ali has never replied to Inside Croydon’s repeated requests for an interview.

Tomorrow, the council leader is due to appear before a parliamentary select committee to discuss the borough’s finances.

Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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28 Responses to ‘Why do you appear not to know the answer to anything?’

  1. CentralCroydon says:

    You would have thought that after the previous car crash interview she would have learnt by now when to stop digging an even bigger hole for herself.

  2. Isaiah Fapuro says:

    Ultimately, the council have been caught out. Everyone across the country now sees them for what they are; a network of systemic failures led by nothing but sheer incompetence from the top.

    The main disappointment during the interview for me however was that it wasn’t Negrini or Newman being grilled. They really made a lucky escape…

  3. What is shocking is the sheer lack of political nous in the top ranks of our Council leaders. Newman was also totally bereft of this quality….bullshit and bragaddocio were his stock in trade. Anyone with a scintilla of political nous and a will to survive would have put in to play the full force of charm. They would have admitted the shame that they experienced at being part of this, would personally instructed Council Officers to move people from the flats with apologies and maximum kindness and support ( many cameras in place at the right time), would have instructed Council Officers to find the best possible accommodation for the displaced tenants (more cameras), would have instructed the Senior Officer to send one his people along every day to ensure that things were going properly and would have found out by now why officers behaved the way they did and why senior Council leaders were so woefully ill informed. Instead they turned it all into a contuing car crash: our sweet but incompetent Council leader squirming through an interview like a fish caught on a hook, still totally uninformed and lacking any apparent authority, ill prepared and hung out to dry and look totally unfit for purpose. The Council’s PR people are either similarly incompetent or were happy to present Ms Ali as the sacrificial goat whose demise might appease public opinion. In the event it was an omnishamble of quite magnificent proportions. Bring on an elected Mayor soon. It can’t get any worse than it is at the moment.

    • An elected mayor would be far less accountable than even this. Committees scrutinised by the full council, in public meetings, as was, are much more accountable.

      • That all depends on how the job is set up. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the Tower Hamlets dictatorial disaster. A Mayor plus committees scrutinised by the Council working together is perfectly feasible and happens elsewhere.

        • Arno, you didn’t mention Liverpool, where a DEM has worked soooo well…

          The problem with the DEMOC campaign is that it forced the council’s hand somewhat, so that when the referendum does take place, the only two available options will be Mayor or Strong Leader. A return to the committee system cannot be an option, and once the move to having a mayor passes (which we assume it will), it automatically rules out any other reform for another 10 years.

  4. AH says:

    This is institutional failure on monumental level, head should roll !!

  5. Maverick says:

    Oh dear! I know I should not laugh….but this interview has to be the worst car crash interview even seen, she does not have a clue what’s she doing…then again …think that goes for most of the directors, so she’s in good company.

  6. Ken Towl says:

    How long did it take her to admit she did feel ashamed to be leader of a council that has people living in these conditions? I felt deeply ashamed when I saw this just for being a Labour Party member. We need to do better than this, and there needs to be an enquiry to find out how this happened and to make sure it never happens again.

    • Marzia Nicodemi Ehikioya says:

      There is no need for an internal enquiry that will only cover up the many failures of the Repairs Team. I can share hundreds of emails I have written to the Council. There is no supervision of works that sometimes are not even carried out as stated in the answers I receive. Council tenants are treated with contempt. I now speak on behalf of many as they are “talked down” when they ask for help. It is infuriating and heads must roll.

  7. I have just watched the full interview. Hamida failed to convince me that she has the required leadership skills for her role at the Council. Not to have visited or spoken to the lady is symptomatic of her lack of leadership skills. She made multiple references to an independent investigation as to what has happened. My contribution is that there is a persistent water leak(s) in that block that needs fixing and the housing/contractors staff failed to act even after multiple phone calls and three visits. It may be that the other blocks have similar leaks, possibly associated with recently installed sprinklers. However there is a systems failure in Housing repairs response that could apply to other properties and not necessarily just tower blocks. This case is way beyond the common issues with condensation and damp/mould in poorly designed accommodation and I trust that is now obvious to her. Finally there is no chance of the affected flats being occupied for several months and the affected residents must be provided with replacement accommodation as a matter of priority. B&B/Premier Inn is not the answer.

    • Kevin Croucher says:

      You have to wonder what her colleagues in the Woodside ward did to persuade her to take on this role. She is clearly totally unsuited for the job and she must surely know this herself.

  8. Hans Mien says:

    Excuse me but does anyone else feel that she is full of shit!

  9. Hans Mien says:

    If you really drill down into the housing situation in Croydon and perhaps many other Councils I’m sure we will all ha e to pick our chins off the ground. It’s the government who have stripped Councils of any real scaleable funding and left them out to dry to try and sort and fix it themselves. That said the government will easily blame the Councils hands down. We all pay our taxes where’s the bloody money going or rather gone over the years?

    • Alan Malarkey says:

      The government didn’t waste over £100m on a bogus house building scheme BxB, nor insist on the council investing in hotels and shopping centres. The council have also imposed a mandatory licence scheme for private landlords to ensure housing standards, which is obviously nothing to do with standards and purely about income.

      The government has many faults but accountability for this should fall squarely with the authority and the director responsible for housing.

    • Billy James says:

      They should have ensured that the Council’s housing stock was up to standard before wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on Brick by Brick

    • miapawz says:

      it is not the government who have ignored the tenants of these blocks or lost £1.5 billion. other councils have managed ok. Other councils have not set up a ‘brick by brick’ or bought a random hotel have they? Other councils have focused on core business like social care, collecting rubbish, policing, tenants and filling in holes in the road. Ours has gone off the rails. repeatedly.

  10. Cllr Alison Butler has already been sacked as Cabinet Member for Housing because of BrickxBrick. And this was before these disgraceful housing conditions came to light in the press.

    Will she now do the honourable thing and like her best mates, Tony Newman and Simon Hall, resign as a Croydon councillor?

    Croydon and National Labour need to act on this. And when she goes, I hope she takes her husband, Cllr Paul Scott also – he’s the one who has single handed messed up planning in Croydon by opening the door to hundreds of greedy little developers.

  11. davidmogo says:

    She seems a nice person. So my saying that she is completely unfit for the role is actually a compliment.

    • Kevin Croucher says:

      I feel quite sorry for her. I can’t imagine what she must be going through tonight, knowing that she has to face the select committee tomorrow.

  12. Alan Malarkey says:

    Well, probably she isn’t as polished as some politicians and clearly this is a failure in the Council’s responsibilities but to her credit she doesn’t seek to defend the indefensible nor shirk the responsibility. We see lots of mercurial politicians these days resorting to various devices to spin out 3 minute journalistic confrontations but imho she responded reasonably for a lengthy pointed interview with a fairly forthright interviewer.

  13. Billy James says:

    Hamida Ali totally out of her depth but then again not surprising given I have witnessed her performances on many occasions on the Croydon employee webinars staff meetings….

    From my knowledge of building works within Croydon Council there seems to be absolutely no one ensuring contractors are undertaking the building works properly making sure that the quality of both materials and workmanship are in accordance with the design information the contract specifications & meeting basic recognized quality standards…..

    So you end up with this situation……

  14. Thomas Windsor says:

    Who votes for these idiots? Perhaps it is time to vote for people that we would trust to run a bath, rather than an idiot wearing a rosette colour we like.
    The people who voted for these idiots, really need to think next time before voting.

    • miapawz says:

      turnout in local elections is lamentably low, and people vote tribally. Usually for idiots like tony. And the conservative local lot were pretty poor below. I moved to the Cronx in 2007 so I didn’t see what they did. but I have lived out a long time under this labour council and they have been terrible. time to get rid.

  15. Give Hamida Ali a break.

    She’s inherited the shit show run by Tony Newman for nearly 7 years, along with his sidekick Alison Butler. He’s gone but she is still a councillor getting paid by us. She’s still listed on Croydon Labour webshite (sic) as “Deputy Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Homes and Gateway Services. Alison has responsibility for Croydon’s housing and planning policy as well as for regeneration and housing developments taking place in the Borough. Alison is committed to working with local residents…”

    Then there’s Shifa Mustafa, the “executive director of Place”, whose responsibilities included housing and Brick by Brick, as well as the Fairfield Halls refurbishment. She was suspended from duty in February. What’s the story with her now?

    What about the council’s Housing officers? How come they didn’t put a stop to this months ago?

    Why didn’t the Scrutiny committees pick up the problems?

    Can nobody in Croydon Council be trusted to do a good job and tell the whole truth and nothing but?

    And let’s not allow the contractors Axis Europe to wriggle off the hook. They are paid to do repairs and maintenance on the borough’s housing stock. How come they never fixed the leaks?

    Piling on and scapegoating Hamida Ali allows the guilty parties to hide while she gets the blame.

    • It was Hamida Ali who put herself forward to be council leader. It was Hamida Ali who was part of Tony Newman’s cabinet, alongside Alison Butler, for six years. It was Hamida Ali who was not available for interview when ITV came calling last Thursday. And it was Hamida Ali who by Tuesday this week had still not bothered to visit Regina Road nor even bother phoning the young mother featured in the ITV News report.
      That’s not scapegoating: that’s judging someone on their record and competency.

  16. Colin Cooper says:

    Ms Ali really needs to look up the meaning and implications of the word ‘SCAPEGOAT ‘ in order to fully appreciate the depth of the hole she has willingly thrown herself into for the 30 pieces of silver!

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