CROYDON IN CRISIS: Pressure is mounting on the council’s leadership for a firm response to the highly critical housing report published yesterday.
By STEVEN DOWNES
There have been renewed calls for the resignation of Hamida Ali as leader of Croydon Council, following the hugely critical independent investigators’ report into the shocking living conditions inflicted on council tenants in South Norwood.
Ali managed to deliver another car crash broadcast interview on ITV’s News At Ten last night, in which Fransoy Hewitt, the Regina Road resident who featured in the original television news report in March, said after reading the consultants’ report, “You can’t just treat people like that and do that to another human being and expect to get away with it.”
Hewitt, though, fears that no one at the council would lose their jobs or elected positions despite the national scandal. “Who’s going to hold them accountable?” she said.
It has emerged overnight that even in publishing the consultants’ findings, senior council staff bungled yet again, with the report and a statement from Councillor Ali being sent to members of the Labour Party in Croydon before affected residents had been given the courtesy of a sight of it.
The increasingly angry Regina Road residents, who have formed their own support group, are now considering hiring lawyers to prepare a class action to seek compensation for the four years of neglect and dangerous living conditions inflicted upon them and their families, by their landlords at the council.
One of the residents who is referred to in the report told Inside Croydon, “At last the council are being shown up for the uncaring and incompetent people that they are.
“We should all get compensation for the dreadful conditions we’ve been forced to live in.”
Ali has only been leader of the Labour-controlled council since last October, being promoted into the position following the resignation of the discredited Tony Newman in the wake of other critical reports about mismanagement of Town Hall finances. The issues investigated in the latest report go back at least four years, covering the period when Newman’s deputy, Alison Butler, was in charge of housing. Butler remains a councillor.
Meanwhile, there have been growing concerns about Ali’s ability to cope with the multiple shortcomings of the council.
Ali’s statement yesterday failed to hit the right notes to satisfy critics of the council and of her handling of this latest crisis to hit her administration.
It is, say Ali’s critics, entirely inappropriate to begin a response to such a devastatingly critical report of the state of the borough’s housing with a platitude such as, “One of the most important ways that we can transform lives and bring communities together is good quality, affordable social housing, and it has been a source of pride to us in Croydon that we provide safe and secure homes for thousands of people.”
But that’s what Ali chose to do yesterday.
Ali went on to say that it was a “shock” to see the conditions that tenants of Regina Road were living in, and to hear how long complaints had gone unanswered.
“The report is not easy reading,” Ali wrote.
“The investigation uncovered problems not only with processes, but with the way people have been treated, and it is clear that these problems have been going on for many years. Residents have not been listened to, and they have not been treated with the respect and care that they deserve.”
Ali says that the council is to create an improvements board (yes, another one), “that will have resident representatives who will have access to information and sit round the table with the leadership of the council”.
But given the complete breakdown of trust between the tenants and their council landlord, Ali and the council executive in charge, Sarah Hayward, may struggle to find residents willing to take part in this exercise.
Indeed, there should already exist channels for residents to air concerns and complaints about their living conditions to the council: their councillors and even their MPs. But as yesterday’s report showed, council officials are not above lying to MPs or withholding important information from councillors.
The report authors highlighted the staff shortages at the council which contributed to the poor choice of actions by the housing department, with one tenancy officer per 1,000 tenants – twice the average caseload found at equivalent local authorities. Councillor Ali and the bankrupt council is unlikely to be able to change that position any time soon, as it continues through a process of making at least 500 frontline staff redundant.
So when Councillor Ali said yesterday, “We will not only inform, but we will listen and act”, it is difficult to work out what resources her cash-strapped council might have to enable it to act and implement the many urgent recommendations of the report.
“The report is published in full to make sure that residents’ voices are heard, and in the coming months we will carry on the conversation that we have begun to make sure that we repair not only the fabric of their homes, but our relationship,” Ali said.
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
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