By STEVEN DOWNES
The council took the unusual step last night of inviting one of the people it is supposed to serve, a resident, a council tenant, to speak at its Town Hall cabinet meeting.
What Fransoy Hewitt said, her voice cracking with emotion, could change Croydon Council for ever. It needs to.
She told councillors and senior council officials gathered in the Town Hall chamber that she and her neighbours had been “forced to live like animals”.
“Even animals don’t have to live like that,” she said. “It’s the 21st century.”
In an emotional few minutes, Hewitt told the council, “It’s disgusting!
“For god’s sake, everybody go home, and look in the mirror. Don’t look down on us.”
And for a final flourish, Hewitt said, “Talk is cheap. You don’t give a shit.”
Hewitt is the young mum who featured in the ITV News report from council flats in South Norwood which caused a national scandal because of the appalling conditions of damp and mould that she and other council tenants in residential blocks on Regina Road were forced to endure.
An urgent investigation into the Regina Road flats condemned the council and their repair contractors’ poor management and the contemptuous attitudes shown towards tenants, including Hewitt. The report found that complaints from the tenants about the squalid conditions had been ignored for four years.
As if to show that nothing has really changed, Hewitt revealed last night that, although promptly moved into another home once the Labour-controlled council’s corporate neglect had been exposed by the television investigation, the property still requires some repairs.
The council has told Hewitt she will have to wait until at least June before those repairs will be carried out.
Hewitt spoke truth to power last night.
She effectively challenged all the councillors to step up. She pretty much accused council leader Hamida Ali of lying over whether or not she has met with the affected residents.
After the heartfelt half-hour assault on the credibility of the council’s leadership, and of the housing department’s sometimes callous and sneering approach to their tenants, all recalled in front of the Town Hall’s own cameras, it is hard to see how Councillor Ali can continue in her position.
Last week, after having spent two months denying she had ever been contacted, Ali admitted that she had indeed received an email last November from tenants in Regina Road about their living conditions. Ali failed to take any action until the TV cameras arrived.
Of course, there were apologies issued, all too little and too late now. Cabinet members were in turn given an opportunity to say how dreadful the whole thing was.
One of Hewitt’s ward councillors, “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, tried to justify his part in the shambles by saying he had “knocked on doors”. According to residents of the tower blocks in Regina Road, Fraser had not come knocking before the television news report went out.
Fraser told of how he had been close to tears when he saw the conditions that some residents who he is supposed to represent were forced to live. To demonstrate how much he really cares, in his little, arse-covering speech, Fraser managed to get Fransoy Hewitt’s name wrong.
Earlier, Hewitt had been out on the Town Hall steps in pouring rain with other tenants, as the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group staged a demonstration – sure to be the first of many.
A handful of protestors were allowed into the public gallery for the cabinet meeting, from where they could barely contain their disdain for some of the pious nonsense being spouted by their representatives in the chamber below.
“They were genuinely shocked as they listened to all the fibs spewing forth from the councillors and council chiefs about consultations and the council’s intention to improve,” said one. After the first half-hour, some left “disgusted, and feeling angry and deflated”.
It was 45 minutes into the meeting before Hewitt was introduced. Given a rare chance as a resident to speak at a council meeting, she did not waste the opportunity.
The mother of two young sons said, “How could this even happen? I wrote to the council, I wrote to my MP. No one was able to catch on for months.”
Addressing the council leader with a question directly, she said, “You said you met with the residents. But no one is actually speaking to the tenants.”
She called it “frustrating” and “depressing”. More than once, Hewitt referred to the mental health issues that she and her neighbours had struggled with because of the poor conditions of their homes.
“There are many residents still waiting to speak to you. It’s all very nice having these meetings but no one is going to see the tenants.
“I am still having outstanding repairs, why am I moving to a brand new property and having outstanding repairs?
“I am constantly trying to reach out to people who don’t give a monkey’s about what’s going on in your life.
“None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council, you are all for yourselves, none of you want to step up and see what’s going on in their communities.
“It’s like you put them in homes and say ‘you might as well go take your own life. Because we don’t really give a shit, because we’ve done our job already, we’ve housed you, we’ve put a roof over your head.
“’We’ve put the files in the archives and that’s that’, and you move on to the next person and you do the same thing to the next person, and the next person, and the next person. It’s just ongoing and when does it stop?”
Patricia Hay-Justice was appointed as the cabinet member for homes in the same week that the ITV News report first went out. She told the meeting that since taking up the role, she has been a regular visitor to the flats on Regina Road, and she invited other councillors to join with her on site visits to that and other council-owned homes.
“I think there was a lack of love for another human being. it is unacceptable,” Hay-Justice said.
“If anybody had come to your flat they would not have been able to sleep at night knowing what happened.”
Read more: ‘Your staff make us feel less than human’
Read more: Ali accused of cover-up over findings on council flats scandal
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
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It is nice that one of the people directly affected had the opportunity to actually tell Ali and the rest of them to their faces what a lying bunch of useless idiots they are. At least then Ali couldn’t trot out her usual lies and platitudes without challenge.
This whole episode is another nail in the coffin of what has got to be one of the most ineffective, wasteful and incompetent councils in the country. The problem is that they all have their heads so far up their own arses they think that setting up consultations and residents groups are going to miraculously resolve the issues. That applies to the Chief Executive and Executive Directors as well as the councillors. It is the same corporate blindness over proper financial management over several years that got Croydon into the deep hole full of shit that it is likely to remain in for years to come.
Ms Hewitt has in those words ‘None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council’ summed up what many are thinking and totally believe. It would be extremely difficult for Ms Ali senior executives including Ms Kerswell to ever state anything without them being questioned about this appalling treatment, not to mention all the other actions that have impacted on everyone in this borough to our detriment. Even the ones they have given contracts to, or favored in some way have and will forever have their reputations tarnished by the events that have occurred. Many most deservedly but some perhaps not so.
What Fransoy says is heartbreaking, all of it. Croydon Council staff and councillors are failing so badly in their jobs. Things have got to change, accountability seems to be non-existent. Maybe we need an independent watchdog/whistleblower organisation so that people can report malpractice in the public sector and it will be acted upon. The current system is not working.
It is utterly heartbreaking. The lack of empathy and compassion demonstrates the clear ineptitude of the previous administration (that includes everyone in Cabinet at the time of the Newman era – if you didn’t have the balls to speak out then, you don’t deserve the respect now of Croydon residents – look in the mirror and step down). I am appalled and disturbed by this; is this still happening? How many of our residents are facing this now? – this 2021 people – UNACCEPTABLE
Being a councillor used to be a real honour, standing up for people in your ward and fighting for their rights to decent housing and to be treated fairly. It used to be about doing right by Croydon, not just balancing the books and toeing the party line, trotting out platitudes thinking they’ve fooled us and gotten away with it again.
Most of the majority group on the council, regardless of rosette colour, will have a nice little bit of extra bunce as a Chair or Vice-Chair or Scrutiny or whatever, which takes their eye off their residents’ issues & problems. Safe to say most will also want to get well paid Assembly or Parliamentary posts, sorting out PPE contracts maybe or assured of a comfy consultancy on losing their seat to keep them in the style & comfort most of us just dream of. Some councillors are working hard on behalf of their residents and maintain a few ounces of humility and honour, but they are the minority and do not deserve to be lumped in with the power hungry careerists of both parties.
But we shouldn’t forget that much blame also lies with the past “leadership” of the Council too. Not just Newman, Butler, Scott and Hall but also Negrini and her hand-picked team those who ran the organisation – they all failed us but they failed Francoy, her kids and fellow Regina Road residents most.
Not fair to criticise Labour without mention of the Conservative councillors left us all in over a £billion in debt and think they’ve got away with their callous incompetence. Well maybe they have for now but don’t think for one minute they’ll be much different to the corrupt government we’ve voted in.
It is sad and unacceptable when tenants lose all trust in the council. New, real “Leadership” from elected representatives– The Leader of the Council, Cabinet and Councillors on every Committee, — and equally crucially, from Senior officers– is clearly the only thing that will turn a very bad situation to good.
Without clear, leadership–and management–not exercise of power–is needed if the middle and lower ranks of staff are to have a safe and supportive job structure in which to work.
Government both national and local seems, at top levels seems to have been in gravy train mode for too long. For example, UK Civil Servants who are also lobbyists? Cronyism in Labour and Conservative? Sounds like the USA in the 19th Century.
I am sure that there are many very good very effective council officers in all departments, but how many will move on and take their knowledge and skills elsewhere? They need to be valued and remunerated too.
So, one of Fransoy Hewitt’s local ward Councillors is Cllr Clive Fraser?
Is that a surprise to anybody?
Most people know him as the nodding dog on the Planning Committee who jumps to Cllr Paul Scott’s whip-hand.
Does Clive Fraser give a shit about anybody other than himself. Does Croydon Council need his smuggy vague uselessness, his lack of ambition and his
If you think I’m being harsh, watch him on Croydon’s planning committee…..,
“None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council”.
And why would they? It’s rotten from the top down.
Who, according to their autobiography on the Centre for London website, is (still)
– Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning of Croydon.
– Responsible for Croydon’s housing and planning policy (and)
– oversees regeneration developments by ensuring all Croydon residents benefit from investments coming to Croydon and all homes are of a decent living standard.
Who had that job for six years?
Whose responsibilities as Cabinet member included monitoring the performance of the repair contractor, Axis Europe, the company that couldn’t find and fix a serious water leak for over 4 years?
Who renewed Axis Europe’s contract?
Who is still a councillor despite the human misery and multi-million pound financial disasters inflicted on the borough?
Alison Butler, that’s who.
And is married to Croydon’s official ‘Design Champion’, Cllr Paul Scott.
If being a design champion means treating residents with disrespect, browbeating planning officers and sucking up to developers in the most nauseating manner, Cllr Paul Scott is World Champion.
He’ll not be missed.
People in Croydon need to think about the value of party politics in local government. Residents Associations have been a way forward in a number of Councils and I’d be interested in attempts to organise to stand against the established parties to effectively take over the Council in the interests of all the citizens. There’s less than a year to go until the 2022 elections… the time is now.
If you are really interested in hearing from others supporting your idea, it might be a positive move not to post comments anonymously. We will usually delete comments by anonymous posters.
I would support looking into this. Could it be any worse than the pitiful mess we are in now?
Unfortunately residents’ assocoiations have a bad habit of being Tories (and sometimes worse) in a santised wrapper. See for example:
I am interested in something like this. Contact me via email email@example.com