CROYDON IN CRISIS: The former leader of the council appears to continue his interest, and possibly influence, over Labour councillors.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES. Photo: DANNIE LIEBOVITZ
Less than 72 hours after being elected as a ward councillor for Woodside ward, in a by-election called following the resignation of Tony Newman, and Mike Bonello was observed having a cosy couple of drinks with the former Labour leader who did much to bankrupt the borough.
Eye-witnesses say that Bonello and Newman were at the Portland Arms for about an hour.
Words were exchanged, not altogether friendly, between Newman and other pub-goers.
When recognised, Newman and Bonello tried to go inside, but were swiftly ordered back outside to comply with covid restrictions.
Newman resigned in March after 27 years on Croydon Council, 15 of them as the autocratic leader of the Labour group. From 2014 until October last year, Newman had been leader of the council.
He stood down as leader shortly before auditors issued a Report In The Public Interest which was highly critical of the poor financial management of the council, its dwindling levels of reserves and the casino economics which Newman’s administration employed.
Newman was found to have authorised £100million-worth of council borrowing, towards the purchase of the Croydon Park Hotel and other commercial properties, without going through the proper Town Hall processes.
Then, in February, another report, this time commissioned by the government, identified Newman and “… an inner circle of a small number of cabinet members who have been very controlling in their management of the council and its finances”.
That rapid review also reported, “We heard many accounts of officers being asked to re-word cabinet reports to present the most favourable picture. It is evident that the tone of many financial reports to cabinet do not accurately reflect the seriousness of the council’s financial position.”
Within a week, Newman and Simon Hall, his cabinet member for finance, were both placed on administrative suspension by the Labour Party. That process is understood to be as yet unresolved.
As a result, Newman (and Hall) are banned from official Labour Party meetings and events.
Thus, last night’s meeting with Bonello has the potential to be hugely embarrassing, and damaging, to Hamida Ali, Newman’s successor as council leader.
Ali has done her utmost over the past eight months to distance herself and the council from Newman and his disastrous period in charge at the Town Hall. So for one of her newest councillors to be seen meeting with the persona non grata so soon after election day, after Bonello had spent the election campaign promising change, risks undermining any trust residents may have placed in him.
Bonello was elected with the votes of only 2,375, in a ward with 12,000 electors. There was a swing of votes from Labour to the Tories of 11.3 per cent – seen largely as a reaction to the crisis created at the council by Newman and his clique.
“Of course, Mike is entitled to meet whoever he likes,” a Katharine Street source said today.
“But meeting Newman will be seen as a massive error of judgement. Hamida will feel badly let down by this. Is he really so naive? It just looks so bad.
“Who now will believe that Newman and his closest allies on the council – Paul Scott and Alison Butler – don’t still have an on-going influence?
“I’m sure that Mike will try to make out that he was conducting some kind of ward business handover. Yeah, down the pub… Everyone knows that casework was never high on Tony’s list of things to do. In any case, if Mike really does need some introduction, he’s got his Woodside ward colleagues to rely on.”
The other councillors for Woodside ward are Hamida Ali and Paul Scott.
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