CROYDON IN CRISIS: The blundering £800 per day bureaucrat in charge of fixing the council’s ‘appalling’ housing has cancelled a scheduled meeting with residents. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES and MICHAEL NELSON
Residents of the tower blocks on Regina Road are beginning to question whether they will ever get to meet the council’s elusive £800-a-day executive director for housing.
“Dr” Alison Knight was hurriedly appointed earlier this year in a panicked response from the council chief executive after a national scandal was caused when the “appalling” state of the South Norwood council flats was exposed on national television.
Knight was hired, according to the council at the time, “to co-ordinate widespread improvements to how council residents are listened to and looked after” (our italics).
Yet after five months in post, highly paid trouble-shooter Knight has not managed to attend a single meeting with the residents at the centre of the housing scandal.
Knight failed to show up for last month’s mass meeting organised by residents, and now she has cancelled the next scheduled meeting, and in doing so she managed to cause offence to many as she mangled the name of the residents’ support group which was established to help sort out the housing problems which her council and their contractors have failed to address.
An independent report in May confirmed that Croydon tenants had not been listened to, even though many had been complaining to the council and its repairs contractors, Axis, for as much as four years about the leaks of water (and worse), mould and damp present in all three 1960s-built blocks. The horrific and often dangerous conditions were described by the housing ministry as “completely unacceptable”.
When, last month, council officials and councillors finally agreed to a meeting organised by the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group, Knight was a conspicuous absentee. It was said that she was “on annual leave”. Knight was appointed in May on a six-month contract.
Then, on Friday, residents were told that a promised follow-up meeting to be held on September 30, where Knight was again expected to attend, cannot now take place because of the council’s “purdah” period ahead of the mayoral referendum.
While purdah is properly imposed to avoid significant policy announcements in the weeks immediately before a public vote, and halts councillors using public resources to promote their own political positions, it ought not to affect council staff and the conduct of other council business. Regina Road tenants are very suspicious about purdah being used by council officials to avoid meeting with the residents they are supposed to serve.
“They knew the date of the mayoral referendum when we had our last meeting in August and they offered the September 30 date for a follow-up,” one resident said.
“It looks as if it was an empty gesture designed to appease residents.
“If purdah was a real issue, it should have been a real issue for them then.
“This just smacks of an excuse to dodge meeting with us yet again.”
The tireless efforts of the Regina Road Residents Support Group, which was formed in April, has to some extent made the task facing Knight somewhat easier, as the group has helped to bring together the residents’ complaints and coordinate their responses to the council’s attempts to remedy the dire situation.
Yet last week Knight managed to further alienate the residents, drafting a letter on September 24 that referred to meetings held in partnership with an organisation that doesn’t actually exist, which she called “the Regina Road Action Group”. She even devised an acronym for the non-existent organisation, saying that residents woould be “able to raise particular and personal cases through them”.
Some have interpreted Knight’s failure to mention the Regina Road Residents Support Group as a deliberate attempt at a sleight, to undermine the work being done by residents on behalf of residents.
Sources at Fisher’s Folly who have encountered Knight since she arrived in Croydon describe her as “nothing more than a local authority bureaucrat”. Another suggested that Knight “lacks empathy”. “I’m not sure she has the qualities needed for a crisis of this importance,” they said.
Last week, the council’s interim executive director for housing signed her letter to long-suffering Regina Road residents somewhat self-importantly as “Dr Alison Knight”, although she has no medical qualifications. Her qualification is not in any discipline relevant to her work. Knight’s doctorate is supposed to be in education, though this episode appears to show she is not a very good learner.
“The inability of Knight to correctly name the representative group of residents with whom they have met and continue to liaise frequently has left us asking whether the person appointed to listen to them after years of being ignored is even paying attention,” one resident told Inside Croydon.
The Residents’ Support Group alerted Knight’s office to the errors in her letter on Friday. They said that the letter should not be distributed, for the risk that the misinformation would cause confusion and uncertainty.
The RRRSG was told by a council official that this letter could not be withdrawn as it had been sent to the printers. Hundreds of copies of “Dr” Knight’s letter were hand-delivered on Saturday.
“We’ve had four years or more of being ignored by the council,” an angry resident said.
“It seems that Alison Knight fits in with that not listening culture at the council very well.”
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