CROYDON COMMENTARY: With a little more than a month until the referendum over how we should choose future leaders of the council, MP CHRIS PHILP (pictured left) outlines why he’s supporting a change in the system
Croydon Council’s politics are broken.
If any evidence of that is needed, one has only to consider the litany of recent failures.
Croydon is the only London council to go bankrupt in more than 20 years, following disastrous failed loss-making commercial property speculation. Local services such as libraries, children’s centres, grass-cutting and swimming pools like Purley are closed or having their opening times slashed as a result.
The Westfield centre has been cancelled. The council treats its own tenants with contempt, allowing residents of Regina Road and other blocks to live in squalor and ignoring their pleas for help.
Fairfield Halls has cost more than £70million, more than double the original budget, for what turns out to be a cosmetic refurbishment. The council’s planning department grants consents like confetti, concreting over the borough and changing the character of long-established neighbourhoods while ignoring the heartfelt pleas of local people.
The most destructive developer in the borough, Brick by Brick, is 100 per cent owned by the council itself, and its losses helped tip the council into bankruptcy.
How could all this have been allowed to happen?
Residents across the borough – from north to south – have been pleading with the council on these issues for years. Pleading to protect green spaces. Pleading to keep swimming pools like Purley open. Pleading to get flats like Regina Road repaired and made fit for human habitation. Pleading for Brick by Brick’s destructive activities to be ended.
And yet these pleas were all ignored. You would have thought, in a democracy and with the council leadership wanting to be re-elected, they would listen.
But they don’t listen. In fact, they treat most of the borough with contempt. The key question is a simple one: Why?
I believe that the answer lies in the electoral system and the electoral geography of the borough.
There are 70 councillors in Croydon, representing 28 areas, or wards (each of which has one, two or, mostly, three councillors). Whichever party gets a majority of councillors chooses a “leader” with sweeping executive powers.
At the moment, Labour has 41 of the 70 councillors, and so the leader is chosen by a majority of the 41 Labour councillors – requiring potentially as few as 21 votes.
The election results in most of the 28 wards are a foregone conclusion, largely based on the borough’s north-south geography. There are only a handful of “marginal” wards where the result is in doubt. So the ruling group only has to pay attention to these seven or eight wards to hang onto power. That is why they ignore – or even treat with contempt – the majority of the borough, even areas that return Labour councillors such as South Norwood, and the residents in Regina Road.
In theory (although I hope not in practice), the same could be true if the boot were on the other political foot.
That is why we need change. Change to a system where whoever runs the council is forced to listen to every single resident across the whole borough to get elected – not just a handful in a few marginal wards. A Democratically Elected Executive Mayor would do this.
Instead of the leader being chosen behind closed doors in a secret meeting by as few as 21 councillors – many of whom are then promptly rewarded by the new “leader” with paid positions in their cabinet – the Executive Mayor would be elected by the public. Power to choose that person would be in the hands of Croydon’s 400,000 residents, not a small clique often acting out of self-interest.
When the previous leader of the council, Tony Newman, resigned in disgrace last October, Labour councillors just voted behind closed doors to replace him one of his protégés – someone who had themselves served in Newman’s cabinet and had some responsibility for the borough’s finances.
The Directly Elected Mayor would have important executive powers, rather like the Mayor of London.
They would be publicly visible and accountable. They would be chosen by the people, not by a clique. They would have to listen to every single voter across the borough to win. And they would not cost Council Tax-payers any more – they would simply replace the existing leader and exercise the same executive powers as the leader currently does.
There is a referendum on October 7 about making this change. Many people support it. The only people who don’t appear to support it are those in the same small clique who bankrupted the borough. Unsurprisingly, they don’t like the idea of proper accountability.
Let’s make a change on October 7 and make sure the people choose who runs the borough. Let’s vote in favour of a Democratically Elected Executive Mayor and make sure our pleas to those in power are never ignored again.
- Chris Philp has been the MP for Croydon South since 2015 and is now a junior minister at the Home Office in Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. He retained his parliamentary seat in 2019 with a majority of 12,339
Croydon Commentary is a platform for all our readers to offer their personal views about what matters to them in and around the borough. To submit an article for publication, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post your comment to an Inside Croydon article that has caught your attention
- Inside Croydon depends on regular subscriptions from our readers to enable us to continue to deliver exclusive, independent, headline-making journalism – the sort of scrutiny that Croydon Council would prefer did not exist. Please sign up today as a subscriber. Click here
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named the country’s rottenest borough in 2020 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine – the fourth successive year that Inside Croydon has been the source for such award-winning nominations
- Inside Croydon: 3million page views in 2020. Seen by 1.4million unique visitors