KEN LEE reports on a very slow return to ‘normality’ over council business
The council has brought forward its 2021 annual meeting by a fortnight – so that the borough’s councillors can avoid having a potential covid super-spreader event at the Town Hall.
The council’s annual meeting is usually the Trumptonesque gathering when the new, ceremonial mayor is formally appointed and various baubles and certificates are handed out, like a prize day at a very minor public school, while appointments to the council cabinet and committees are confirmed.
Most of these details are already known, with the 2020-2021 deputy mayor, Sherwan Chowdhury, a councillor for Norbury Park, getting his turn with the dodgy furs and tri-corn hat for the forthcoming 12 months.
It means that Maddie Henson will stand down after her year as Mayor of Croydon, having never had a mayor-making meeting nor chairing over a “live” meeting in the council chamber. The first covid-19 lockdown postponed Croydon Council’s 2020 annual meeting and then saw all council business taken online.
But now, as part of the government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, local authorities in England are expected to return to meetings in person from May 6.
Croydon had originally scheduled its annual council meeting for May 17.
So they have brought it forward to May 4, for one last “virtual” hurrah, avoiding the need for the borough’s remaining councillors to gather together in the Town Hall chamber just yet.
Some councillors are still wary about how council business can be conducted in these post-lockdown days.
“The chamber is not large enough for any proper social distancing between all the attending councillors to take place,” said one cautious Katharine Street source.
“The plans for the return are to continue to exclude the public – they can follow proceedings via the webcast. But so much of the business of full council is pre-arranged and determined. Why do councillors who won’t be given an opportunity to speak at the meetings need to be in the chamber at all?”
With the public gallery empty, some councillors are asking why that area, or one of the Town Hall’s many large meeting rooms, cannot be utilised for some councillors to be “present” at the council meetings and cast their votes, without overcrowding the chamber.
The annual meeting date switch also highlights another glaring flaw in the state of the bankrupt council’s governance.
The last time that there was a meeting of the full council (albeit virtually) was on March 29.
There are no full council meetings planned for April, nor in June.
It is not expected that there will be any opportunity for any real business to be debated or questions asked amid the bogus pomp and ceremony of the annual meeting on May 4, either.
That means that the first time that councillors are scheduled to return in person to the Town Hall chamber for a full council meeting won’t be until July 5 – a gap of 14 weeks, or more than three months, between meetings.
“It’s not like there’s a financial crisis at the council, or that the borough is at the centre of a national housing scandal, or we’re trying to deal with a global pandemic, or any urgent business to consider after all,” the Katharine Street source said.
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