CROYDON IN CRISIS: No shame, no accountability, no remorse – Tony Newman’s ‘inner circle’ at the council who helped bankrupt the borough to seek selection to stand again. By STEVEN DOWNES
Paul Scott and Alison Butler, two of the leading Town Hall figures who helped to bankrupt the borough, are understood to be seeking re-selection by Labour in order to stand in next May’s council elections.
And they are not alone.
Early indications suggest that most of “Newman’s numpties”, members of the unaccountable Labour leadership who were criticised publicly for their “corporate blindness” and bullying culture as the council finances careered out of control with debts of £1.5billion, have shown no shame at all about seeking another four years on taxpayer-funded allowances.
The report said that former leader Tony Newman’s “inner circle of a small number of cabinet members… have been very controlling in their management of the council and its finances.”
With Town Hall elections coming up in May 2022, all political parties are underging a recruitment process to find candidates to try to fill the 70 councillor vacancies that will arise. Despite the scandals uncovered in the borough over the past 18 months, Inside Croydon understands from sources across the borough’s three constituencies that many of the discredited former leader’s favourites having applied to be selected as candidates.
Of that “inner circle”, only Newman himself and former finance chief Simon Hall, who had their Labour memberships suspended, have resigned as councillors.
Others, while losing their front bench jobs and most of their generous allowances, have nonetheless retained a voice in the way that the Labour group, and the council, is run. There are strong suspicions that Newman retains some influence with his old mates.
The likes of married couple Butler and Scott, plus ex-deputy leader Stuart Collins, Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of non-scrutiny, and “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, who as chief whip saw himself as some kind of “enforcer” in the Town Hall Labour group, all remain as councillors, and apparently some of them see anything wrong in their seeking selection to stand for the council again.
Labour’s deadline for applications was last weekend, and multiple sources within the local Labour Party suggest that most sitting Labour councillors have decided to seek selection.
In Croydon North, Progress MP Steve Reed OBE has been taking a very close interest in proceedings, just as he did over the selection of his Westminster aide, Louis Carserides, for the South Norwood council by-election in May.
And the Blairite officials who control Labour’s London Region have also taken a hand in Croydon’s council candidate selection process.
“Now, it will be down to Labour members to save the party locally and the borough from the electoral catastrophe of endorsing Newman’s old team as suitable candidates in 2022,” one angry party activist said today.
All 41 of Labour’s sitting councillors were told that they must go through the full vetting process, including an interview panel, “to assess their suitability as a potential Labour candidate”, as Labour’s Local Campaign Forum put it.
The interview panels tend to be formed of senior figures from outside the borough, often hand-picked by London Region and therefore with a tendency to favour candidates from the right of the party.
The last time that selections were held to find 70 candidates was in 2017, at the height of “Peak Corbyn”, with many members of Momentum, enthused from having helped Sarah Jones win the marginal Croydon Central parliamentary seat from the Tories, keen to step forward as candidates themselves. But that situation has changed drastically in the last 18 months.
Since Jeremy Corbyn stood down as party leader in early 2020, Momentum in Croydon, which never developed a reputation for being a particularly well-organised body, has all but evaporated. Croydon’s three Constituency Labour Parties have lost a steady stream of members (one, Croydon South, has failed to organise any members’ meetings, virtual or otherwise, since February 2020). According to one source, “We’ve tried to get members on the left to stand as candidates, but few want to know.”
With Labour’s credibility in Croydon already at rock bottom because of council scandals, it is understood that overall there is a dearth of candidates prepared to stand for what looks likely to be at least four years as councillors in opposition, if they get elected at all.
And in the midst of all that, anyone successful in being selected as a Labour candidate will also have to stand on a platform alongside the unapologetic architects of the borough’s bankruptcy, including a handful of Newman loyalists.
Butler was Newman’s deputy leader, widely seen as the power behind the throne.
She was certainly the driving force behind housing company, Brick by Brick, whose failure to repay any of its £200million loans or make any profit was cited as a major cause of the council issuing a Section 114 notice, effective admitting it was bankrupt, last November. Yet even 12 months ago, Butler was still trying to push through another £30million of council borrowing in her efforts to shore up Brick by Brick.
As the cabinet member for housing, it was also Butler who oversaw the repairs contract for the council’s housing stock with Axis being renewed last year – more than three years after the problems in the residential blocks on Regina Road which caused a national scandal were identified, while dozens of families were forced to live in “slum-like” conditions.
And Butler was also responsible for the council’s landlord licensing scheme, which was unceremoniously dumped by central government because the council failed to develop a housing strategy to go with it.
Her husband, Scott, enjoyed six years, much of the time while the chair of the planning committeee, in which he never once had to declare an interest, despite his working as an architect for a London-based firm.
On Scott’s watch when chair of the committee, not a single scheme submitted for planning permission by Brick by Brick was ever turned down. And with cabinet responsiblities for planning across the borough, Scott managed to inflate Croydon’s housing targets to levels much higher than was required under the Mayor’s London Plan.
Butler has been a councillor for 18 of the last 19 years and represents Bensham Manor ward. Scott has been a councillor in Woodside since 2002, where his councillor colleagues were, until very recently, Newman and Hamida Ali, the new leader of the council.
Bensham Manor and Woodside wards are both Labour strongholds, where whoever is given the party’s endorsement as a candidate next May seems certain to be returned as councillors.
It is now for the Labour interview panel, and the party members in those wards, to determine whether those who carry such a toxic history during their time in charge of the borough deserve to be on a ballot paper ever again.
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: Newman and Hall are ‘administratively suspended’ by Labour
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council
Read more: New councillor Bonello quick to meet with discredited Newman
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