CROYDON IN CRISIS: A leading figure among those who failed ‘to do their jobs responsibly, honestly and legally’ voted against calling in the police to investigate possible fraud in the £67.5m arts centre refurb.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The decision to call in Inspector Knacker over the late-running and never properly completed £67.5million Fairfield Halls refurb project could prove yet more controversial, because in the Town Hall Chamber on Thursday night and voting against a motion to report the matter to the police was the Labour councillor, Alison Butler.
Butler is among those accused by opposition Conservative councillors of failing “to do their jobs responsibly, honestly and legally”, and so allowing the costly fiasco to occur.
Butler is the former council deputy leader and cabinet member for housing who was among those identified in the auditors’ Report In The Public Interest as being responsible for bringing in Brick by Brick to oversee the refurbishment without the works ever being put out to competitive tender.
Following an announcement at Thursday night’s meeting by John Jones, the council’s most senior legal official, the matter is being referred to the police to consider whether there has been a multi-million-pound fraud with public money.
Butler is the only council figure identified in the auditors’ report who remains directly and publicly involved at Croydon Council.
Grant Thornton auditor Sarah Ironmonger and her team took 14 months to collate and publish their report, by which time a number of key figures had scarpered from Fisher’s Folly.
Those identified in the report also included former chief exec Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, discredited ex-council leader Tony Newman and Richard Simpson, the finance director who was involved in drafting the dodgy licensing arrangement that put Brick by Brick in charge without the legally required competitive tendering.
But they have all long since left their jobs or resigned as councillors.
Not Butler, though, who brazenly sat through the whole proceedings in the Town Hall Chamber on Thursday, alongside her husband, Councillor Paul Scott, who was even permitted to ask questions of the auditors.
Scott did so without ever attempting to declare the interest that was sitting next to him.
Scott’s weaselly question for lead auditor, Ironmonger, sought to shift the blame from his mate, Newman, and his wife, Butler, and on to Grant Thornton, as they had audited the council’s, and Brick by Brick’s, accounts over the years in question and had failed to discover what he and his mates on the council had been doing so much to cover-up.
But it was Scott’s failure to declare an interest – that he is married to, and owns houses with, one of those identified in the RIPI – could yet become subject to formal disciplinary action.
Scott, as the former chair of the council’s planning committee and sometime cabinet member for planning, was perhaps fortunate not to also warrant a mention in the Report In The Public Interest on the Fairfield Halls fiasco himself.
As Private Eye’s Rotten Borough’s column reported so astutely last week, the Labour councillor managed to go six years on the planning committee, five as chair, acting as the enabler-in-chief of the woeful Brick by Brick project without ever once declaring an interest, because he was given a “special dispensation” by… the council’s ethics committee. Twice, in 2014 and again in 2018.
Butler and Scott, together with others from Newman’s clique that crashed the council’s finances in 2020, such as Stuart “Stooge” Collins, have continued to draw down their councillor allowances and exert considerable influence behind the scenes in the local Labour Party and within the Town Hall Labour group meetings.
But Katharine Street sources from both sides of the Town Hall Chamber contacted by Inside Croydon over the weekend expressed their anger and disgust that Scott and Butler were allowed to pull off such a shameless stunt in public on Thursday.
More than one suggested that they were seriously considering filing a formal complaint to Jones as the council’s monitoring officer responsible for ensuring that the highest possible standards of conduct are maintained by employees and councillors alike.
Which would make a pleasant change.
- Members of the public are allowed to refer matters of concern, such as the non-declaration of an interest by a councillor, to the council’s monitoring officer. They can do so by emailing the chief executive Katherine.Kerswell@croydon.gov.uk
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
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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