The culture of secrecy and cover-ups in Croydon Labour meant that one councillor never did face any scrutiny over his misuse of thousands of pounds of public money to resurface a private road and to pay for equipment in a private pre-school based outside his ward. KEN LEE reports
Among those councillors who won’t be standing on May 5 is Pat Ryan, the sometimes cantankerous veteran Crystal Palace councillor who, in the end, went with a whimper and not a bang.
“If there had been a bang,” one of his erstwhile Katharine Street colleagues said fondly, “Pat probably wouldn’t have heard it.”
Septuagenarian Ryan’s final months on the council were not exactly covered in glory.
He broke the party whip over LTNs, he was disqualified as a councillor for his lengthy absences (through ill health), only to be reinstated just before the end-of-term under never properly explained circumstances. But Ryan’s closeness to Blairite MP Steve Reed OBE and his long association with council leader Tony Newman – he was Newman’s chief whip in 2014 – probably counted in his favour as far as the numpties running Croydon Labour are concerned.
Ryan’s recent return to the Town Hall Chamber has proved to be short-lived, despite efforts by some to get him on to the ballot paper for the elections on May 5 at the expense of a black woman left-wing candidate.
Ryan was first elected to the council in a by-election in November 1992, but come November 2021 and Ryan was de-selected democratically by members in his own ward, many of whom were unhappy at his confrontational attitude to some branch officials, while others had witnessed his breach of Labour Party discipline by voting against agreed policy on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
Ryan was unable to make that selection meeting – he was ill in a hospital bed.
But there is also a strong suggestion from party colleagues at the Town Hall that Ryan never faced the required candidate panelling process in 2021 – the interview by senior party officials from outside the borough that every prospective candidate is supposed to face.
“He was ill at the time of the interviews, too,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon.
“So it seems possible that he was never interviewed by the panel. Had he been, there’s no way he could have gone forward as an ‘approved candidate’ after he broke the party whip.”
For Ryan even to be considered as a candidate, therefore, without undergoing the necessary interview process, will have amounted to a major oversight by some of his old mates on the Local Campaign Forum, the Labour committee in charge of the selection process?
Or did someone intervene on Ryan’s behalf?
There were persistent reports in the final weeks before final candidate declarations had to be made that there was a real possibility that Ryan would be squeezed back on the ballot, probably at the expense of Patsy Cummings, with the LCF – chaired by Reed flunkie Joel “Bodger” Bodmer – undertaking another selection stitch-up.
In the end, such efforts petered out, as the incompetents running Labour’s LCF struggled to cope with various other selection crises of its own making. It appears that as they struggled to cope with another crisis of their own making, they ran out of time to sort things for Ryan.
But right up until the deadline date for declarations on March 28, there were plenty of signals that showed Labour centrists conspiring to fix selections to get Ryan on the ballot. The social media messaging and use of images to show support for Ryan, only removing him when the matter was finally closed, was the sort of thing seen in Stalinist Russia.
Christine Spooner, a new candidate for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood, had a photo of her with Ryan placed at the top of her Twitter profile.
Spooner is far from being described as an avid tweeter (four years on Twitter, 40 followers, nine tweets), so this adjustment of her profile seemed at odds with her usual inactivity. When questioned about this photo, showing her apparently kind act of helping an old man down the street, Spooner failed to respond.
Another of Labour’s CPUN candidates selected to stand on May 5 is Nina Degrads.
Degrads is the sitting councillor who somehow, conveniently, discovered that Ryan had attended a council meeting of some kind between July 2021 and January 2022, a meeting no one else was aware of, but which was enough to spare her erstwhile colleague the disgrace of disqualification as a councillor for his prolonged absences.
Degrads, too, used Twitter in an apparent effort to boost Ryan’s claims to be a council candidate all over again, putting the old stager front and centre of a jolly campaign tweet barely a week before the deadline for nominations. Cummings is nowhere to be seen in Degrads’ image of “Team CPUN”.
The closing date for candidate declarations was April 5.
It was not until March 29, in response to a question posed on social media by Inside Croydon, that anyone from Labour came forward to confirm that Cummings was no longer under threat of being removed as an election candidate.
“Our hardworking candidates for Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood are Christine Spooner, Nina Degrads and Patsy Cummings,” replied none other than Labour Mayoral candidate Val Shawcross.
Which, in some ways, especially for those who expect the highest possible standards in public life and proper accountability with public funds, is a bit of a shame.
Because due to his lengthy absences, and the relative chaos of the cash-strapped council’s business these past two years, Ryan appears to have escaped any questions about how he came to use thousands of pounds from the Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood ward budgets on a couple of his own pet causes, both of which appear to have only tmarginal public interest.
Councillors’ ward budgets were an initiative of the Labour administration under Newman and, initially at least, were a genuine attempt to give some financial clout to councillors to help local schemes. But with little council resource to check how some less-scrupulous councillors wanted to spend public money – one particularly thirsty Labour figure splashed the cash on a favoured drinking hole outside his ward – the scope for sharp practice has been huge.
In 2018-2019, the three Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood councillors, Degrads, Ryan and Stephen Mann, distributed £24,499.80 on a range of projects from their ward budget, including such items as a neighbourhood watch scheme, helping promote a chamber of commerce initiative, or paying for community notice boards.
But among all that, why did Councillor Ryan decide that the private, fee-paying Norwood Grove Pre-school in SW16 – not even in his own ward – needed £2,000-worth of Croydon tax-payers’ money to buy IT equipment and toys?
And why did Councillor Ryan think it appropriate – apart from making access easier to the nearby allotments – to spend £1,399.80 of council funds to resurface the private Dale Park Road, off Spa Hill, apart from his efforts to favour some of the residents on this adopted road?
The Croydon public are never likely to discover the truth behind such generosity with other people’s money by the soon-to-be “Alderman” Ryan.
Perhaps Val Shawcross, if elected as Mayor, could step in once again to clarify the position?
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