Council governance is poor due to lack of competent cultures

REFERENDUM COUNTDOWN: Yesterday, we reported MP Steve Reed’s Labour Conference speech, where he made a strong case of devolving power – just not in his own constituency, where he has been arguing against a directly-elected mayor over the past few months.
Here, LEILA BEN-HASSEL (pictured), a Labour councillor, makes the case for voting against change in the Oct 7 referendum

Weren’t the people who signed the petition calling for a referendum on the change to a directly elected mayor misled by south Croydon Tories? They were seen getting people to sign their DEMOC petition telling them to sign “to stop flatted developments”.

There are 385,000 people in Croydon – I would trust them if I knew most would even turn up for the referendum being held on October 7.

But this vote has been something the Tories have wanted since ex-MP Gavin Barwell talked about having a democratically elected mayor, as they know it’s their best chance to get back control of the council.

Stop making it sound that the Tories are doing this in the interest of the people of Croydon. You can hate Steve Reed or the Croydon Labour group all you want, but it is clouding the real reporting on the true Tory motives behind this vote.

Governance of the council has been poor, but regardless of the model in place, it still would have been poor, mostly down to the lack of competent corporate management and poor political and organisational culture.

The DEMOC campaign has captured the mood of many in the borough

The law restricts what is on next week’s referendum ballot – so people can only vote for what was the subject of the petition (an elected mayor) versus the existing system. And to say voting for the existing system is a vote for the status quo is misleading.

If the mayoral system is introduced, it cannot be changed for 10 years. Under the current system, we can implement the recommendations of our governance review, including the hybrid of cabinet and committees, or change to a full committee system.

Personally, I am fed up with personality politics, and an elected mayor brings more of that, rather than opening up power.

I will continue to advocate for collaborative forms of decision-making.

If the mayoral system passes, we would need to ensure that it is a mayor that sees it as an opportunity to drive a community-focused agenda, and I’m sure many would agree that that wouldn’t be the case under a Tory mayor.

At no point in your reporting do you reference the council’s governance review which was cross-party – Tory councillors, including their leader, approved it. So why not call out their hypocrisy to support something just six months ago, and then now say a mayor system is best..?

Overly focusing on the systems also distracts from other processes which are important aspects of local democracy – lowering the threshold of key decisions so more are made in public and not under delegated authority, the development of an Access to Information protocol – all these things I am pushing for. These matter, too, for good democracy.

Lastly, patronage… why don’t you think that a mayoral system would be just that – an open door for good old-fashioned patronage. Under a Tory mayor, it would be a good, old white man, boys’ club (have you not seen their candidate list of mostly men?).

I have advocated for election of cabinet by the Labour group, to move away from the old patronage system – we don’t want to go back to that because it was a real contributing factor to some of the failures in some of the bad decisions that were made.

Read more: Reed goes video ga-ga as Labour campaign gets desperate
Read more: Town Hall leadership hatched plan to break election budget
Read more: Reed group fined for slow declaration of £800,000 donations

  • Leila Ben-Hassel has been a Labour councillor for Norbury and Pollards Hill since March 2019. This is an edited version of a comment she has posted to the Inside Croydon Facebook page
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16 Responses to Council governance is poor due to lack of competent cultures

  1. First, councillor, thank you for having the wit and the courage to engage on this important issue.

    However, I wonder if it is the most appealling strategy to offer something to the electorate – a switch to a modified committee system – which the current Labour administration has been sitting on since 2018 and which, despite promises 12 months ago to bring forward, has still failed to deliver?

    Along with the many other failures of the current Town Hall administration, there is a serious issue of lack of trust. Do you really expect the Croydon public to trust any promise you might make to bring in committees if there is a status quo vote on Oct 7?

    Remember, it was the same cabal of councillors who first torpedoed a proposal for a return to the committee system, the same councillors who ignored the results of their own consultation on the referendum, and the same group of councillors who exhibited “corporate blindness” as they bankrupted the borough.

    So please pardon the people of Croydon – the 21,000 petitioners, Croydon South CLP, and the 10,000 readers (so far) of the Steve Reed article – if they have doubts about the judgement of Croydon’s Labour councillors on such matters.

    There is going to be a referendum, and Labour’s councillors have managed to line themselves up as being unapologetically against change. Just judging the politics of that, and it ain’t a good look. But then, this mob have been showering themselves in shit for a good few years now, as you are well aware.

    But for any Croydon councillor, especially a Labour councillor, to come forward as you have done and admit that “Governance of the council has been poor, but regardless of the model in place, it still would have been poor, mostly down to the lack of competent corporate management and poor political and organisational culture”, is a courageous and important admission to make about the failings at the local authority.

    As we have stated all along, a directly elected mayor is just #ABitLessShit

    Most people reckon you’re one of the better ones, Leila. Please don’t let Newman’s numpties drag you down with them.

  2. Jad Adams says:

    Right, a directly elected mayor is not an extension of democracy, it’s a concentration of power. The people competing for the job will be the same old boys (yes, mainly boys) of the political scene who compete for power under any other system. Just saying ‘directly elected’ doesn’t suddenly create new, or better politicians. In Lewisham, for example, going directly elected just meant same old same old but more expensive and with more individual power vested in the top man.

    Moreover, going for that sort of change now prevents making a stab at real local democracy as it always used to be: the committee system which existed before the disastrous Local Government Act 2000. Under that system every ward councillor’s vote on a committe was equal. Now there aren’t any genuine votes: under the mayor/leader-and-cabinet system the top man makes a decision ‘advised’ by his cabinet. Then everyone complies in a payroll vote. Let’s go to an improved committee structure, as councils have been permitted to do since 2013.

    • Agree entirely, Jad. A committee system would be entirely preferable. But when you get your ballot paper next week, the committee system won’t be an available option.

      Newman and his numpties ignored a Labour members’ recommendation for a return to the committee system in 2018 (well, Newman rejected it, his numpties did as they were told). A promise made 12 months ago to bring back committees remains unfulfilled.

      What makes you believe that, by voting for no change next Thursday, the current Labour administration will do what it has refused or fail to do for nearly four years?

      • Chris Flynn says:

        “But when you get your ballot paper next week, the committee system won’t be an available option”

        Would a large number of ballot papers being spoilt send a message?

  3. I think I will have to spoil my ballot paper as there seems to no other way of saying “Neither of these”. Having worked for Croydon when councillors took a full and active part in decision making, I can’t face a return to a situation where they are voting fodder and nothing more. Neither do I want a system where an elected Mayor has all the powers of a ‘strong leader’ and more.

  4. If Cllr Tony Newman had not let Cllr Paul Scott to run amok through Croydon planning there would be no DEMOC or referendum on Thursday.

    • miapawz says:

      its not just the enormous elephant that is planning disasters and Brick x Brick. They bought a failed hotel, a failing shopping centre, they didn’t budget properly, #west-field fail, countless other things now coming out e.g. Regina Road negligence. And they pretended it wasn’t happening or it was someone else’s fault.

  5. It’s probably easier to vote out one failure (if such proves the case) every few years than Councillors whose acolytes stay around to create more mayhem.

  6. Sarah Bowell says:

    Leila states
    “Governance of the council has been poor, but regardless of the model in place, it still would have been poor, mostly down to the lack of competent corporate management and poor political and organisational culture.”
    The lack of competent corporate management should have been addressed by the strong leader model and certainly should not have resulted in allowing them to be in a position to receive the obscene amount of money they received when they resigned. Had the CEO been sacked this could have saved us £440k. Not only was this not addressed by the strong leader but went unchecked by all those surrounding him, a group of people we are being led to believe stops all the power being in the hands of one person. To add insult to injury, all but one of those people put party before people when they said they had confidence in him.
    No side is putting forward particularly good arguments for this referendum and few questions are being answered.

  7. Things have have got in such a desperate state a lot of people, including me, are willing to give the Mayor a chance. Having watched the debate, I sense the mayor will be less ‘political’.

  8. Sorry, just thought about the ‘competent corporate management’ statement – the ‘strong leader’ is NOT meant to manage anything… he or she leads. Tragically, Croydon didn’t seem to have any competent senior managers either.

  9. Anthony Miller says:

    No one’s really told us what powers the Mayor will have and how this will change how the rest of the Council works. I still struggle to see the point of this. How will it stop money being taken off the balance sheet and invested in pseudo private companies or the ideologically driven Nationalisation of failing hotels that then go bust anyway?

    • #ABitLessShit

      It’s the same. Just that the mayor isn’t appointed by a cabal of his mates who he has on the payroll. The mayor would be elected by a borough-wide vote. And then can appoint a cabal of their mates and put them on the payroll.

      • Anthony Miller says:

        The Mayor of London has very specific powers over policing, transport and other areas that he can exercise almost independently of the London Assembly set out in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Will the Croydon Mayor have any such powers? Or is he/she just doling out patronage?

  10. miapawz says:

    We can only hope it is a bit less shit. there is a wide amount of room for improvement.

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