Even the Town Hall meetings don’t work at bankrupt council

In the time-honoured words of EJ Thribb, ‘And so farewell then…’. As many as 35 of the borough’s 70 councillors who were elected in 2018 won’t be Town Hall regulars after the May 5 elections.
Political Editor WALTER CONXITE bids a not-altogether fond farewell to some of the borough’s departing elected representatives

Half of the 70 Croydon councillors who were elected at the last local elections in 2018 will not be standing again at this year’s Town Hall elections on May 5.

That’s the exceptionally high toll taken at the bankrupt borough, after local representatives have struggled through two tough years of covid remote working on top of dealing with all of the stresses created by the council’s financial collapse.

Five of the Class of 2018 went 12 months ago. All five of those held, or had recently held, cabinet status. One had been council leader until October 2020. Two, Tony Newman, that discredited council leader, and Simon Hall, were forced to resign in disgrace for their parts in the various scandals that have swirled around Croydon Town Hall and Fisher’s Folly.

And 29 more councillors have now decided that they no longer have the appetite for the various duties and meetings that go along with the purple lanyard, the car park pass and at least £11,000 per year in allowances.

Among those who were elected four years ago but are standing down this year are 13 past or present front-benchers – members of the cabinet or the opposition’s shadow cabinet – who between them amassed almost 200 years of experience of dealing with residents’ casework and trying to get council officials to deliver the services they are paid for.

Independent-minded: Andrew Pelling, delivering leaflets in Ted Heath’s old street

Whichever way you look at it, that is a huge cull of some of the borough’s leading civic figures.

There is one further, current councillor who has been a significant Town Hall figure for a total of 32 years but who may no longer be on the council come May 7: Andrew Pelling, most recently a Labour councillor in Waddon, is standing again, but this time as an independent.

Pelling, a leading proponent of having a directly-elected Mayor before it became fashionable, or permitted, was himself democratically selected by grassroots party members in the ward he has served since 2014. But Labour then decided to hound him out of the party.

He thus became one of seven current councillors who have been either deselected or expelled during a particularly messy selection process conducted by the local Labour Party, a process which has been shown to be seriously inadequate on several occasions.

Among the “big beasts” standing down is Hamida Ali, who spent all 18 months of her time as leader of the council apologising: for the financial collapse that occurred while she was a member of Tony Newman’s cabinet, for the Regina Road housing scandal, for the £67million fiasco over the Fairfield Halls, for people’s bins not being emptied… It was, from the first, a tough gig, and after an unpromising start, Ali never managed to get on to the front foot.

She had intended to seek re-election this May, but last month had a change of mind, just as she and the council were subjected to another round of criticism for the ineffectual handling of the mouldy, damp and dangerous living conditions in council flats in South Norwood. And another round of apologies.

It is fair to say that some of the departees might be missed by the residents in their wards somewhat more than others.

Nine of those standing down at these elections are Conservative councillors.

After the last full council meeting of the administration at the end of last month, the local Tories published a photo montage of those leaving. Now while Inside Croydon’s loyal reader is better-informed than many about the goings-on in the borough, we defy anyone (at least anyone who is not a card-carrying Tory) to be able to identify more than three of them…

Election 2022 quiz: How many of these Croydon Tories can you identify and name the wards they have represented?

There were moments during that last council meeting that had a funereal quality to it, as councillor after councillor was invited to speak and presaged their remarks with something along the lines of, “This will be the final time I address this chamber…”.

Mostly it was good-natured stuff, though some remarks issued after the meeting by Stephen Mann, the departing councillor for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, highlight the shortcomings and barriers faced by the majority of the borough’s 70 councillors.

First elected to the council in 2014 when he was in his early 20s, Mann had looked like he might be a rising star, until after some apparent slight of Newman or his numpties, he was consigned to life on the backbenches, dealing with casework and his irascible ward colleague, Pat Ryan. But gagged from getting a regular chance to speak at Town Hall meetings.

“For too many councillors, the meetings are long and frankly boring, with no participation required,” Mann noted after handing in his Town Hall pass for a final time. “Could we reintroduce elements, for example ward matters, on a rota so every member speaks once a year minimum?

“The next administration has a lot of big challenges on its plate but reforming the nature and functionality of these meetings would help improve the quality of Croydon politics no end.”

Mann suggests that the council’s scrutiny of the executive was reduced by a switch from written to more superficial, oral questions, which tend to encourage political grandstanding and point-scoring.

“How can a member hold an administration to account?” Mann asked. He highlighted how all questions asked by councillors had come to be controlled by their party whips, in a particularly Stalinist, controlling sort of manner.

“This has led to many ward specific matters not being heard…”, he said, with Town Hall questions “instead being dominated by attack lines”.

Over and out: Stephen Mann is one of 29 councillors not seeking re-election on May 5

Mann said, “In other boroughs, many motions are put and backbenchers are allowed to bob for Mayoral attention [to be called to speak]. This encourages better standards across the benches.

“The role of the chair is vital. Meetings have been weakened in successive periods due to the reliance on a script rather than the confidence to set the agenda and oversee proper business,” Mann said.

“As a borough, we are far too remote from our disparate communities, from Coulsdon and Addington to Crystal Palace. How can we genuinely encourage engagement and participation outside of single-issue, party-led campaigns?

“In Palace we wanted to have a local debate motion about supporting local businesses, but it got blocked all because we were administration backbenchers and Crystal Palace on change.org is classified as ‘London’, not ‘Croydon’. As a result, more than 2,000 people instantly lost their voice.

“Yet if I had been an opposition councillor, the debate would have happened.”

And Mann concluded his eight years as a Croydon councillor by saying, “There are many great and passionate members on both sides who have Croydon and its communities at heart. All the best in whatever this new world brings… Councillor Mann, 2014 to 2022. Over and Out.”

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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
This entry was posted in 2022 council elections, Andrew Pelling, Croydon Council, Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, Hamida Ali, Stephen Mann, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Even the Town Hall meetings don’t work at bankrupt council

  1. David White says:

    I was able to identify Tim and Helen Pollard, Simon Hoar and Blubber Streeter from your gallery of departing Tories. Do I get a prize? (Stephen Mann’s comments about Council meetings make a lot of sense by the way).

  2. This level of churn is worrying. Rats desert sinking ships. Who in their right mind would want to join a failing outfit? I fear for our future, with or without Andrew Pelling

  3. Anita Smith says:

    I mean no disrespect to any councillor, but with so many standing down, and with homage to Inside Croydon lets hope that we now have #ABitLessShit at the Council.

  4. Lewis White says:

    35 of 70 councillors stepping down?.
    There must be a lot of very good ones who have –for various reasons– had enough. A loss to Croydon.

  5. Gavin Palmer says:

    Thank you Councillor Stephen Mann,
    If I am elected Mayor these good practices you have mentioned will be adopted as good or best practice (even if there are more challenges in the chamber for me! 🙂 )

    Thank you very much for your service even in your departure. Reform of the response to questions at Scrutiny, of the CEO, needs a permanent set up War room with facts figures, wall charts, displays to move and manage these issues.

    Prior to the election campaign starting I advocated to others a table by ward by ward issues so that a running list of problems and solutions can be managed and resolved.

    There are a great many challenges both within a Mayors control, the Councils control and those we don’t not have control of eg Wars, supply chain issues,

    If you have further ideas please contribute them either before or after the election.
    You seem a good man and I would like to shake your hand and thank you.

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