Council’s Ministry of Truth forced to pull housing press release

CROYDON IN CRISIS: On the first anniversary of the broadcast of the TV news report that shocked the nation, the council has been forced to pull a press release which tried to misrepresent the findings of the independent housing improvement panel that was established in the wake of the Regina Road scandal. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Back to reality: Fransoy Hewitt being interviewed by ITV News in her Croydon flat in March 2021. Some at the council are trying to pretend this never happened

The council’s propaganda department was yesterday forced to pull a bull-ish, and bullshit, press release that it issued on Tuesday, in which they tried to diminish recent criticisms of the lack of improvements to the housing conditions of their tenants.

Like an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”, Croydon Council’s version of reality tried to suggest that there had been much progress in made by the borough’s housing department in the past year, lots of doors had been knocked on and repairs carried out, and Monday night’s cabinet meeting had approved a shiny new “improvement plan”.

So all was hunky dory.

When of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Dozens of council tenants, including several families with small children, are still living in overcrowded flats in poor repair, including some in the blocks on Regina Road that featured in the shocking ITV News report from March 22, 2021. That report showed appalling conditions, with damp and mould, that led to those homes being described as “the worst in Britain”.

One year on from Croydon being exposed as slum landlords, more than 50 protestors had turned out at the Town Hall on Monday night to demonstrate against the council deciding to increase those tenants’ rents by 4.1per cent from April.

First draft: the council’s press office had to re-draft its version of housing reality

The council press release published on Tuesday morning showed clearly that there are senior officials who are determined to suggest that there’s not much wrong with the borough’s housing stock.

Our report on Tuesday described it as “self-serving” and a “snivelling, self-satisfied press release”.

Inside Croydon understands that within hours of its publication, council flunkies in the propaganda bunker of Fisher’s Folly were having to field serious complaints from the Housing Improvement Board.

According to Katharine Street sources, Martin Wheatley, the independent chair of that committee of tenants and social housing experts, is also understood to have had a serious discussion with the cash-strapped council’s cabinet member for homes, Patricia Hay-Justice, over the way that his committee’s work had been misrepresented by the council.

By yesterday afternoon – Croydon’s press officers are clearly not much cop at working to tight deadlines… – the statement on the council’s website had been significantly altered.

One paragraph from the original had been re-drafted, Wheatley now had his own comments added, and an important new final paragraph about the council’s flimsy improvement plan had appeared: “A further, strengthened, version of the plan responding to the board’s suggestions will be developed for approval by the new Mayor and cabinet after the May election.”

So what got approved on Monday night is not worth the paper it is written on.

Last week, the Housing Improvement Board’s first report to the council stated unequivocally, “Not enough has been accomplished.

Different tone: the added comments from the Improvement Board’s chair and final paragraph put the council’s flimsy plan in context

“Far more could and should have been done in the year since the ITV News pieces to address the unacceptable conditions in which some tenants have been living in Regina Road and elsewhere, both to take the first steps to improve the service, and to produce a strong plan to bring the service up to a good standard over the next few years.”

And the council’s housing improvement plan – which had taken 12 months to pull together – needed “considerable further work if it is to command our confidence”, the tenants’ panel had said.

Yesterday, in the revised version of the council statement, Wheatley was quoted as saying, “The council has a clear desire to improve its housing services and has made some progress in the past year, including in reaching out and listening to tenants.

“However, we believe that more could have been done to improve tenants’ experience, and to produce a strong plan to bring the service up to a good standard over the next few years.

“We want to see clearer, visible, evidence of change in the experience of tenants, and a much-strengthened plan, to have greater confidence that the council’s correct analysis and intentions will lead to the very substantial improvements needed.”

As the revised council statement now makes clear, the Housing Improvement Board “will provide continued independent challenge”.

QED.

Dan Hewitt, the ITV News reporter who won awards for his coverage of the scandalous conditions in council housing in Croydon and across the country last year, was back in south London today.

Our Katharine Street sources suggest he was interviewing Hamida “Apologetic” Ali, the leader of the Labour-controlled council who provided him with a series of car-crash interviews last year.

Our sources also suggests that Hewitt was not in town to ask about the imminent end of Ali’s time as an elected councillor. You might want to tune in to ITV News over the next couple of evenings to see whether Ali’s TV interview technique has improved with experience…

Read more: One year on from housing shame: ‘not enough has been done’
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: ‘None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council’
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats

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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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