Labour council passes £5.7m cuts to benefits for vulnerable

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Town Hall leaders, most of whom presided over the council’s financial collapse, last night voted to take £116 per month from the borough’s poorest and most vulnerable. But the vote was not as straightforward as they expected. By STEVEN DOWNES

On the record: Labour councillor Andrew Pelling made sure his opposition to the cuts was minuted

Croydon Council’s Labour leadership last night voted to remove Council Tax Support worth as much as £29 per week from around 20,000 of the borough’s most vulnerable households – but it took the ceremonial Mayor to use his casting vote to push the unpopular measure through.

The benefit cuts are to save the cash-strapped council £5.7million per year, part of around £38million-worth of budget cuts proposed for the next financial year in an effort to balance the books after the Labour administration bankrupted the borough in 2020.

The vote taken on the benefit cuts was unusual in Town Hall chamber terms because one Labour councillor, Waddon ward’s Andrew Pelling, broke with his party whip and voted against the measure. It is believed that since 2018, and despite all the controversies over the council’s finances, this is only the second time that a Labour councillor has dared defy the party whip.

Pelling has been vociferous in his opposition to the measures, which he claims could still cost the council extra money through creating homelessness and other consequences of the poverty it will create, and he has said it is, in any case, unnecessary because the council can find the cash needed from other sources, such as the pension fund, where he chairs the committee.

The proposals have been strongly opposed by local voluntary help groups, food banks and trades unions, some of whom claim that the council consultation used to justify the measures was misleading, and possibly unlawful.

The episode around the vote illustrated the absurd pantomime that Croydon Council meetings have become, in this, the second decade of the 21st Century.

Because of covid safety precautions, only 19 of the borough’s 70 councillors were allowed to be present in the Town Hall chamber for the meeting. Although many councillors were following developments remotely – in the manner which had become familiar during the strictest lockdown arrangements – now, only those physically present in the Chamber are allowed to vote. It truly is the worst of all available options.

Chairing the meeting, in the fur and scarlet robe of the ceremonial mayor was Sherwan Chowdhury.

‘Difficult decisions’: the council’s deputy leader Stuart King

After a brief speech to introduce the motion for the revised Council Tax Support regime – “I know many members will be troubled by what we are about to do,” said Stuart King, the council deputy leader who has overseen the introduction of these cuts, warning of dire consequences for the failed council if “difficult decisions” were not taken and the cuts agreed – Chowdhury then called for a vote.

This was conducted, in the year 2022, by those councillors in the Chamber shouting “Yes” or “No”.

The “Yeses” were somewhat muffled.

When it came to the “Noes”, there was one very loud shout.

Mayor Chowdhury was quick to declare that, “The ‘Yeses’ have it.”

But John Jones, the council’s new Monitoring Officer, sitting beside the mayor, and another council official, pointed to the back of the room, where Pelling was drawing attention to himself.

Pelling demanded that his “No” vote should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

It was immediately apparent that Chowdhury’s assumption that a Labour motion had been carried was wrong. There were 11 Labour councillors in the room, including Chowdhury in the chair, and eight Conservative opposition councillors.

Pelling’s “No” had clearly meant that the vote was tied, and when Jones called for a show of hands to conduct a count, Chowdhury used his casting vote to settle the matter, 10-9.

‘The Yeses have it’: Sherwan Chowdhury, in his role as ceremonial Mayor, with the casting vote last night

The contrary vote was a matter of some small Croydon political irony: Pelling was only able to attend the meeting in person and cast his vote because another Labour councillor, Clive Fraser, agreed to give him his seat.

Fraser is the Labour group’s chief whip, whose job is supposedly to stop his colleague councillors from voting against the party line, rather than facilitating it.

The cuts have been described by disability charity and community groups as the kind of thing which “will impact horrendously on disabled people, single mothers with children and low-paid workers”.

Pelling, a former Conservative councillor, MP and London Assembly Member, has been a Labour councillor since 2014. Although reselected by Labour members in Waddon to stand as a candidate in May’s local elections, he is facing a party investigation with a re-interview expected later this week. He believes he is subject to a witch hunt because of his support for a directly elected mayor, and part of a vendetta against him being conducted by friends and supporters of Tony Newman, the discredited former council leader.

Last night’s whip-busting vote has stoked speculation on Katharine Street that Pelling is in fact planning to run as an independent for Croydon Mayor in May.

It won’t be the first time that he has sought election without the backing of a major party. In 2010, after losing the party whip while Conservative MP for Croydon Central, he ran a well-organised independent campaign but finished fourth, behind the three major parties, in the election that saw Gavin Barwell take up the seat at Westminster.

Today, Pelling tweeted, “I voted at council to stop the cuts to Council Tax benefits… Now is not the time to axe Council Tax Benefits. 20,000 non-pensioners (the law stops the council from hurting pensioners) receive this benefit in Croydon.

“My ward, Waddon, has the second-highest claim number in the borough at 1,300. With up to £125 a month lost to recipients, I had to oppose a decision inimical to Labour values and which will lose us money in higher care and temporary housing costs as people default on rent and get evicted or carers collapse.

“I hated the reference last night to ‘difficult decisions’ having to be made. The people put into difficulty are the needy.

There’s no alternative I’ve been told by a colleague. [But] the money can be found in being bolder with private sector contractors who can be fined for non-performance just modestly in relation to their turnover. Four funding flows just entirely ignored by council, but the needy pay instead.”

Read more: Cynical, hypocritical and devious: benefit cut to hit thousands
Read more: ‘We are all victims’: time for a residents’ Council Tax strike
Read more: Further £38.4m to be sliced from next year’s council budget

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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13 Responses to Labour council passes £5.7m cuts to benefits for vulnerable

  1. Anita Smith says:

    well done Andrew. You have more back bone than the rest of them put together.

  2. Nick Davies says:

    If the chair has a casting vote the usual convention is to use it to further debate, or if that is not possible, to maintain the status quo, the principle being that for a motion to pass it must be approved by a majority of the voting members.

    Did Chowdhury miss that bit of his mayoral training course?

  3. Ian Bridge says:

    How much would they have to raise council tax by to cover this money they are saving? Not much I imagine, which the majority could afford. £29 per week is a lot of money for some people

  4. Chris Flynn says:

    This could be really interesting. If Pelling stands, does he risk splitting the left, and letting Perry in? Croydon Labour haven’t got everything right recently, but Shawcross seems a remarkably credible candidate – if it was anyone else, Pelling would surely be a shoo-in.

    • Transferable voting, Chris. So that “splitting the vote” thing is not such an issue.

      • Chris Flynn says:

        Interesting, thanks! I like to think I’m informed, but there are a lot of basics about the mayor that I don’t know (e.g. is it a fixed time? 5 years? Can a mayor be removed?). Hopefully this will all become clear in the next ~12 weeks…

  5. Ian Ross says:

    This is a fraction of the wholesale squandering on nonsense such as Brick-by-Brick and the Fairfields Hall fiasco not to mention (which I do) the massive payoff to Jo Negrini for failure. I wonder how difficult those decisions were.

  6. Dave Ramchurn says:

    Vote for a candidate who is going to work for the Croydon interest, and not for interest of a political party or own interest.

  7. Peter Underwood says:

    The Conservatives are punishing Croydon by refusing to write off any of the Council’s debts – but they are happy to write off billions from their own cock ups in central Government
    Labour are then acting as the Government’s hitmen by pushing the cuts onto the poorest people in Croydon. Insultingly they call these ‘difficult decisions’ when the only decision was do we grow a spine and stand up for Croydon’s residents or do we just go along with what the Conservative Government is telling us to do.
    I applaud Andrew for voting against his party on this occasion, but bad management of Croydon finances has been going on for at least a decade. The Council chamber is full of Councillors who supported all of the bad decisions or who still voted for them even when they disagreed.
    This shows the evil of having a whip system, which is why we don’t have that in the Green Party so our elected members can vote with their conscience.

  8. Pete Jenkins says:

    Disgraceful. Yet the Council can pay the Bournemouth mob even more money relating to Fairfield.

  9. debdahvibez says:

    Making the poorest cover the shortfall is not only immoral but very likely, illegal because CT Benefits are paid to individuals as part of their legal entitlement to receive Benefits for purpose of maintaining a dignified standard of living as upheld via human rights, therefore, to redirect those funds for purpose of addressing the Council’s debt, is to diminish claimants human rights by placing burden of financial responsibility for that debt, on an already, financially vulnerable social minority who have least ability to pay it. The decision is tantamount to endorsing theft. If they can get away with this, what will be coming next?

  10. Michelle McGeary says:

    The council pay staff too much this is were it starts then the brick by brick and lack of logical thinking in why fix things that aren’t broken as in Fairfield halls . Organisation is so bad all staff need to be sacked and new intelligent organised understanding people . The housing repairs need re thinking for people in social housing what they do and what the council’s repair team do its a disgrace people are in council housing for a reason all them big repairs that the council repair don’t do cost like a whole fence all the way down from the top of a garden to the bottom quote from 1,800 pounds seriously this isn’t fair they are not qualified these residents to do things them selves . Organisations need to think the council don’t car about the residents at all . I’ve lived in New Addington all my life and all my family have I’ve seen so much going wrong I’ve worked in London and see lots in security services met Tony Blair in 1997 at the RFH I was there when Labour had their party and Tony Blair came in to power as PM I met many celebrities and I’ve been in many things like the Bill and Grange Hill. Addington Pincess 1994. Witness in a murder Trial . Croydon council needs to get a grip on all services not cut things . Organisation is a skill thinking of people I’ve done that all my life. I’m ahead in all bills but still who ever it is that is mayor they need the right people behind them working with them and knowing the people and what they need from tge elderly to the children

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