A Labour councillor has accused Croydon officials of ‘playing us all for fools’ and says that the council ‘should be apologising to residents for this incompetence’ over the borough’s vanishing bus shelters
At least one Croydon councillor is, as Oscar-winner Peter Finch put it in the movie Network, “as mad as hell and I’m not going to take any more”.
Waddon ward’s Robert Canning’s patience snapped yesterday over the dumb insolence he has encountered from council officials, who have failed – or refused – to answer his councillor questions over issues brought to him by the residents he represents.
In this case, the final straw was the latest self-congratulatory press release issued from the council’s propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly which proclaimed the eventual arrival of so-called “Smart City” bus shelters as some kind of success.
More than 180 perfectly serviceable and functioning bus shelters were removed from the borough’s roadsides earlier this year, as the council entered into a 10-year deal with a company with little or no experience in providing bus shelters, or the advertising platforms that go with them, but which someone at Fisher’s Folly believes will generate “more than £6.75million” for the cash-strapped council’s coffers.
It is perhaps significant that the “smart” bus shelter project is not being commissioned through the council department responsible for the borough’s roads, but through “Croydon Digital Service”, the little bit of costly empire-building set up under Jo Negrini to replace the old IT department.
As the old JCDecaux-owned shelters were being removed in April and May, following the end of the company’s Croydon contract on March 31 this year, the council was claiming that replacements would be in place by “autumn 2021”. No one has ever offered any explanation why replacements were not available in time for the end of the previous supply contract, as might be expected of an efficient, well-managed public infrastructure project.
The only shelters still to be found in the whole borough of Croydon now are those owned and operated directly by Transport for London.
Residents, and councillors, have been asking council officials for months why they are being expected to stand in the wind and rain when waiting for a bus.
But yesterday’s council press release stated that the first of the new shelters won’t even begin to be “rolled out” until March 2022, a delay of a full year, and even then that is “subject to planning approval”. Again, the council has been unable to explain why planning approval is required for bus shelters to be placed on the sites formerly occupied by… bus shelters.
Canning, in common with several other councillors, has been seeking some kind of explanation of the bus shelter position from council officials for months.
In the end, Canning resorted to filing an official written question on the subject – something which under the council’s own rules ought to have received a response within 10 working days. Canning’s formal request for information was submitted on October 13.
Canning’s reaction to the way his enquiry has been treated reflects growing frustrations among many councillors, Labour as well as Conservatives, over the council officials’ failures to carry out even the most basic of tasks.
Croydon’s members’ questions web page indicates that no councillor written questions have been answered by officials since August 2 – nearly four months – another sign of the slow collapse of the cash-strapped council, as has been reported in this week’s Private Eye, with even the most basic of administrative tasks taking months to complete.
“I know that I am not the only councillor whose written questions are not being answered, Canning says.
Yesterday’s disingenuous press release prompted Canning to fire off an angry email to the council’s “media team”, with Inside Croydon (“Croydon’s premier source of news”, according to the councillor) copied in. Croydon Council’s “press” department has refused to answer questions from Inside Croydon, or even include this website on their circulation list, since 2011.
“This is how I am replying to Waddon residents who contacted me about delays to the bus shelter replacement programme,” Canning wrote, attaching a copy of an email he has sent in response to his ever-growing inbox of ward casework.
In his email, Canning drew the resident’s attention to the council’s too-pleased-with-itself press release, saying, “It looks like residents are expected to stand in the wet over the winter months, which is a truly appalling way to treat residents, including elderly and disabled residents.
“And they even have the audacity to spin this as a good news story, despite previously pledging the new shelters from October 2021.
“Croydon Council should be apologising to residents for this incompetence, not playing us all for fools.”
Canning, who has been a councillor since 2014, has decided not to seek re-election in 2022.
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