DID WE HAVE NEWS FOR YOU: Croydon entered 2021 as a bankrupt borough, yet there was worse still to come. Inside Croydon has been there, reporting on every twist and turn of events around the cash-strapped council as it entered a second year of covid-19 pandemic. Here, we look back on the first three months of another testing year, with the help of a couple of video nasties…
The list of our most-read articles is not necessarily an accurate indicator of the most significant reports. Thus a story on January 6 this year may not have been seen by as many as some others, but it set the tone for what was to become the second year in lockdown.
Our report was based on an internal email sent by the council’s director of public health, Rachel Flowers, which explained that there were 244 people in Mayday Hospital receiving treatment for coronavirus.
Our report stated, “Writing on the day that London went into lockdown for the third time since last March, Flowers explained, ‘Our covid-19 incidence rate is now 964.5 cases per 100,000 – higher than the London average for the first time – and I am seeing around 600 new cases every day’.”
For the record, nearly 12 months on and according to the most recent figures available from the council, up to December 22, 2021, more than 1,400 new cases were being recorded each day. Over the course of the seven-day period to Dec 22, there were 8,003 positive tests registered, nearly double the previous week, a rate of 2,059 per 100,000 of population.
By December 21, 2021, there had been 1,101 deaths attributed to covid-19 in Croydon.
Of the other most-read articles from the first month of this year, on January 18 Inside Croydon reported exclusively of the Tory government’s plan to impose an “improvement board” to oversee the running of the cash-strapped council.
And under the heading “Inside Croydon gets results”, on January 11 we reported how the council had allowed their rubbish contractors, Veolia, to quietly suspend their collections of garden waste, a service for which residents had paid £65 per household.
This was just the latest of our long-running series of Binmageddon stories about the shortcomings of the council’s waste contract with Veolia.
Among the excuses offered for failings this time was the need to “re-prioritise” services due to staff absences through covid.
The council, having collected £1.2million upfront in fees for the non-existent service, even tried to claim it had no responsibility to provide refunds.
Apparently shamed by the adverse coverage, by January 15 the council was announcing that it was to resume its paid-for garden waste service.
Also in January, there was the latest scandal of “Croydon children given out of date bread in their food parcels“.
Inside Croydon’s exclusive reports on the collapse of the Labour administration at the local council saw us break the news that Tony Newman, the council leader who had crashed the Town Hall’s finances, was suspended by his own party.
On February 11, we reported, “An ‘administrative suspension’, as it is referred to by the press office at the Labour Party, has also been applied to Simon Hall, the councillor for New Addington and the cabinet member for finance under Newman’s leadership.
“At the time of his resignation as a cabinet member in October, Hall said that he was ‘proud’ of his achievements in the six years since 2014 when he had been in charge of the borough’s finances.”
Newman had been a councillor in Croydon since 1994 and leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall for 15 years until his resignation in October 2020.
To date, Newman and Hall remain suspended by the Labour Party, pending an investigation into their actions while in charge of the Town Hall.
A photostory published on this site on February 1, 2021, showed that coverage of the council’s financial collapse, and the part played in it by Blairites Newman and Hall’s flagship policy of lending £200million to a house-building company that failed to build many houses was indeed “cutting through”, as angry slogan-writers asked the very reasonable question, “Where is our money?”
The consequences of the failures of Brick by Brick led to a council cabinet decision in February to flog off 15 council-owned sites around the borough, in what is reckoned to be the biggest civic fire-sale ever seen in London.
And it was another report of financial incompetence that had Newman and Hall’s finger prints all over it.
As we reported on February 19, “The council has given the green light to flogging off the Croydon Park Hotel, potentially at another massive loss to the bankrupt borough’s coffers…
“The council’s 2018 purchase of the 4-star hotel at East Croydon has proved to be hugely controversial, not least because the council leadership authorised paying £5million above the asking price for the site’s freehold.
“The owners of the 210-room hotel had it on the market at £25million. Sources in the property business suggest it was being offered to potential buyers in early 2018 for £18million.
“In July 2018, Tony Newman, the then council leader, and Simon Hall, his finance chief, pushed through a decision at cabinet which saw the council buy the hotel for £35.7million (including VAT). Their commercial property policy under which this purchase was made would not be agreed by the full council until October 2018.
“[In October 2020], auditors Grant Thornton, in their Report In The Public Interest, stated, ‘The council’s approach to borrowing and investments has exposed the council and future generations of taxpayers to significant financial risk.
“’There has not been appropriate governance over the significant capital spending and the strategy to finance that spending’.”
The scandals over Croydon Council’s entanglement with the Croydon Park Hotel were not to end there, though.
As Inside Croydon exclusively revealed after the property was sold, for around £10million less than the council’s purchase price, the buyers picking up this multi-million-pound bargain at tax-payers’ expense just happen to be developers represented by the Terrapin Group.
That’s the PR firm that employs Stuart King, the Labour councillor and cabinet member responsible for… “assets management”.
At a council meeting in October, King described this massive discount for one of his employer’s clients as, “What I perceive to be a conflict of interest arising from my employment.” No shit, Sherlock.
King remains a councillor and deputy leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall.
There is covid, of course.
And there’s the council’s financial collapse, too.
But the Croydon news story of the year, by some distance, is surely the exposé by television producer Sarah O’Connell for ITV News of “the worst flats in Britain”, in council blocks at Regina Road, South Norwood: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Despite the condemnations and national scandal provoked by the News at Ten TV report, not a single politician at Croydon Council has resigned, or been sacked.
Indeed, Alison Butler, Tony Newman’s former council deputy and cabinet member responsible for Brick by Brick, for the pitifully pathetic delivery of new council homes, and for handing repairs contractors a renewed contract in 2020, to this day remains as a Labour councillor, collecting her council allowances, with never even a suggestion that she might, for example, have the party whip withdrawn.
The systemic problems in the flats in Regina Road pre-date the pandemic and the council’s financial collapse, yet a subsequent report found that despite council tenants reporting leaks, damp and other serious issues with their homes for four years, nothing had been done to fix the issues.
While the council and the ward councillors proved themselves to be negligent or incompetent, or both, through all this emerged the hard work of volunteer groups such as the South Norwood Community Kitchen, who did their best to help many of the worst-affected tenants.
From the scandal also emerged the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group, an organisation that council officials go to great lengths to try to ignore.
And brave individual residents such as Fransoy Hewitt, the young mum featured in the first ITV News reports, who dealt with her plight so stoically and would later shame the council leadership with a powerful presentation at a Town Hall meeting.
Compare Hewitt’s composure and dignity to the car-crash interview given to ITV News, belatedly, perhaps reluctantly, by the new council leader, Hamida Ali, in response to her council being caught out.
It is 17 minutes of embarrassment for “Apologetic” Ali, her council and the borough she is supposed to represent. It’s well worth another, end-of-year watch, especially in the context of what has happened since.
- Croydon in 2021: Where Eagles care – birdwatchers’ delight and play scheme organisers up for the fight
- Croydon 2021: Macarnage, Fairfield fiasco and dropped Bricks – planning issues and more shocking revelations over council’s out-of-control spending
- Croydon 2021: voter apathy, petrol queues and dodgy deals
- Here was the news: Inside Croydon’s most-read articles of 2021
- Inside Croydon’s Person of the Year 2021: Fransoy Hewitt
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- 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
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