CROYDON IN CRISIS: The auditors’ Report In The Public Interest published this week reflects very badly on the way our council is run, says the Green Party’s mayoral candidate, PETER UNDERWOOD
Fairfield Halls should be one of the crown jewels of Croydon but it has turned into the perfect example of what’s gone wrong with our town. For years the Conservatives let everything fall into decline and disrepair and then Labour’s attempts to make things better have just been one disaster after another.
The Report In The Public Interest is truly shocking. Just like the national government giving billions of pounds to their mates in dodgy contracts, Croydon Council seemed to think they could ignore the rules and just do what they wanted with our money.
This shows a complete failure of councillors to do their job.
The Labour group in charge has failed to oversee this project properly. Either through incompetence or deliberately forcing through bad decisions, they have turned a run-of-the-mill renovation into a “shitshow”.
It is also a failure of the Conservative so-called opposition.
If you are not in power then your job as an elected politician is to scrutinise the work of those who are and hold them to account. The Conservatives are jumping up and own to point at Labour’s failure, but what were they doing when these contracts were being handed out? Just asking the occasional question about overspend which is simply not good enough.
Speaking as a former civil servant, trained in project management, I am also appalled by apparent failures of senior officials to do their jobs. Referring to the licensing arrangement with Brick by Brick the external auditors, Grant Thornton, said “It is our view that the licence was (at least in part) intended to circumvent procurement law and competitive tendering.”
This leads me to one of three conclusions: either senior officials didn’t know what they were doing, or they did know what they were doing and were choosing to circumvent the rules, or they were being forced to do this and chose not to blow the whistle on the dodgy practices they saw. None are acceptable.
If it can be shown that the law was broken then those responsible, elected councillor or senior official, should be held to account. But, to be honest that is the easy part.
Anyone can just point the finger of blame or hold their hands up and say I’m sorry it happened. The really difficult thing to do is to fix what we have and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Here are six ideas that I think will help that happen:
1, We need new and better councillors. It may be obvious that I’d say that but I genuinely think it’s true. There is an old saying that you get the politicians you deserve. If you think you deserve better then on May 5, you need to vote for better.
2, There needs to be a proper skills audit of senior staff at the council. We need to know what people are genuinely capable of doing, not just what they claim, and then we need to fill any gaps quickly.
3, We need to remove all questions about possible conflicts of interest. The people of Croydon need to have full confidence that everyone at the council is acting in their best interests and so if there are any doubts about the outside connections of staff or councillors then those people need to be removed from those posts.
4, We need to instill a culture of transparency at the council. The presumption must be that all contracts, accounts, and processes are in the public domain unless there are full and well-grounded justifications to stop this – and those justifications must be public.
5, The scrutiny committee in the council must be chaired by someone outside the ruling party. We can’t let leaders mark their own homework. This is how it works in parliament and I’ve never understood why this isn’t the same in councils.
6, In terms of the ongoing running and development of Fairfield Halls, we need a committee drawn from Croydon’s residents, artists, promoters and community organisations. This committee would not only provide feedback to the council on how the Halls are being run and what could be improved, but also select representatives to sit on the board of Fairfield Halls to ensure that Croydon voices are heard when decisions are made.
There is undoubtedly more we can do but I think these six measures would be a good start to getting us back on the right track.
And check out the Inside Croydon archive for some of our reports over the past three years which found serious failings with Brick by Brick and the Fairfield Halls refurbishment:
Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: Brick by Brick and the 18 documents officers want kept secret
Read more: Kakistocracy: Butler forced into £6m bail-out of Brick by Brick
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else
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