Town Hall election reflections from a backbench councillor

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Among the candidates seeking election last Thursday was ROBERT WARD, right, who’s been a Conservative councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village since 2018. Here, he shares his thoughts on a tough campaign, and what the next Town Hall term offers

After miles of streets pounded, countless leaflets pushed through letterboxes and dozens of fruitless Twitter spats, it is all over.

On Sunday evening, I and the rest of the weary candidates at last knew our fate. The electorate had spoken, but here in Croydon it took three days and nights to figure out what they had said.

By yesterday, the morning after, we were able to reflect on what it might mean for the people of Croydon.

But first, the election campaign. It was a hard-fought, but from my perspective, a clean contest. The council has no money, so policy choices were limited. Labour concentrated their fire on the Prime Minister, Conservatives on the failings of the Labour Council.

Against this very negative backdrop, the hustings that I attended were excellent. I left them feeling positive, impressed with the candidates and that the discussions were conducted in a civilised manner.

At the count, as has been my experience of four years as a councillor, outside the public party-political bickering, across the parties we recognise that the other side has genuine people who want to make a difference to our town. We may disagree on how to get there, but we all seek a better Croydon.

Hustling at the hustings: Ward says he found election meetings ‘excellent’, ‘positive’ and ‘civilised’

The result, for a Conservative like myself, was positive. We now have a Conservative, Jason Perry, as our first directly-elected Mayor. In the council, there is no overall control. We have our first Green Party councillors and the first LibDem for a long time. There are a lot of new faces both sides of the chamber.

Change is in the air. The new and unfamiliar system of a powerful elected Mayor means we must do things differently. While I would have liked more Conservative councillors to be elected, the presence of two Greens and a LibDem takes us away from the duopoly, which may be a good thing. The many new councillors will shake things up. I hope they challenge us and that we rise to that challenge.

Because we need to up our game, and we need all the help we can get.

Be under no illusion, we are not out of the woods yet. There are many difficult budgetary decisions to make, to start the long road to fixing Croydon’s finances. The wider economic outlook is weak. Inflation is rising and growth slowing. There are tough and painful choices ahead.

So congratulations to those who were elected, and commiserations to those who were not.

For those who were elected, now the hard work starts. To the newcomers, welcome, I hope you realise what you’ve let yourself in for. If my own experience is anything to go by, you probably don’t. Being a councillor is tough but rewarding work.

I will end in a spirit of cross-party collaboration, by echoing a call made by Peter Underwood, the Green Party candidate for Mayor. Whatever life and the world may throw at us, month by month and year by year, let’s make Croydon a happier place.

Read more: Tory Perry wins historic Mayor election by less than 600 votes
Read more: Election results leave Labour supporters angry and dismayed
Read more: From bankrupt to laughing stock as council count continues

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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, 2022 Croydon Mayor election, Robert Ward, Selsdon and Addington Village and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Town Hall election reflections from a backbench councillor

  1. Lewis White says:

    Excellent article from Robert Ward here.

    He mentions the need for councillors to up their game.

    I am wondering if councillors serving on the planning committee receive any training, such as 1 day short courses on design of housing, good urban design (and bad desin!) and related topics like trees and tree preservation– to enable them to have greater knowledge of Planning and Design?

    While a litle knowledge can be a dangerours thing, having more knowledge must be good, so well-planed and targetted training must be .

    Likewise, Councillors involved in any specific area, such as waste mangement or children’s servises, or highways, or old people’s services. .

    Alongside this, why not send all councillors on a basic course about what makes for a better environment — and why parks and green open spaces are vital. And incineration might be replaced by something better for the locals who breathe air from a certain place just over the Sutton border.

    Another essential thing to do would be the “Help Centre challenge” where every councillor would step into the public’s shoes, by setting them a problem to resolve, and then the challenge of “getting through” to the help centre by phone, and then the next challenge of actually speaking with the department they wanted to talk to.

    Over a week, they would phone the same help desk number at various times, selected at random by a computer, and see how long it takes for them get answered– if ever. .

    So much to do then, for the new Mayor, not least of which is how to give councillors truly meaningful roles. Can he trust them ? There are rather a lot of them.

    Maybe he has the power to have a return to a reformed committee rather than “rubber stamp all officer decisions” type of system, plus the Mayor’s veto ?

    If Mayor Perry can identify senior officers wearing Emperor’s new clothes, and candidates for top council jobs doing the same, he will be doing great.

    • Lewis wonders if there is any training for new councillors.

      There is.

      The Local Government Association provide it through their “New councillor hub” and Members of Croydon council, old and new, can educate themselves by simply visiting
      https://www.local.gov.uk/our-support/leadership-workforce-and-communications/new-councillor-hub

      There they will find e-learning modules on the following subjects:

      • Biodiversity for councils
      • Commissioning council services
      • Community engagement and leadership
      • Councillor Code of Conduct
      • Councillor induction
      • Economic development
      • Equality, diversity and inclusion
      • Facilitation and conflict resolution
      • Handling intimidation
      • Holding council meetings online
      • Influencing skills
      • Licensing and regulation
      • Local government finance
      • Planning
      • Police and crime panels
      • Scrutiny for councillors
      • Stress management and personal resilience
      • Supporting mentally healthier communities
      • Supporting your constituents with complex issues
      • The effective ward councillor
      • UK general data protection regulation (GDPR)

      One of the many reasons that Croydon council is in its current terrible state is that clueless numpties were given power and responsibility for matters they knew very little about and they were too arrogant and stupid to do anything to improve themselves.

      The saying “a little learning is a dangerous thing” should be carved into the panelling in the Council chamber.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Thank you for the info Arfur. As an interested member of the public, I must delve into the website link you have taken such pains to provide in detail- and see what I can learn about a few subjects at random……. ones I should know a reasonable amount about already, and some of which i have no direct experience.

    Whilst a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, ignorance is worse. Self-help learning is good, but for councillors to go on courses where experts can show them good practice and bad practice, must be even better.

    Perhaps it would be helpful if all members of the Planning Committee- and the new Mayor and his advisors, hire a double decker bus and go round the borough (on the top deck) looking at the best –and worst- residential developments of the last 10 years or so– in all areas of the borough. Guided by a few mentors who can guide a discussion on local impact, density, bulk, architectural design and landscape. Plus local Resident Association reps– as long as these are not merely dyed-in-the wool NIMBYs.

    I would love to be on that trip !

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