WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on the completely predictable make-up of the borough’s executive Mayor’s first cabinet, and the wheeling and dealing over who will chair the Town Hall’s most influential committees
Given that it took nearly five days to count the votes for the local elections, the Croydon public – if they were at all bothered – probably ought not to have been surprised it then took two weeks for the borough’s first elected Mayor to pull together what some wag sarcastically referred to as “Perry’s top team”.
Among the details that are beginning to emerge about the new regime at the cash-strapped council, it is now clear that in the first year of his mayoralty, Jason Perry will personally cost the Council Tax-payers of Croydon more than £100,000, plus expenses, in salary and election costs.
And Perry’s “new” cabinet, made up entirely of councillors from the Conservative Party, plus five yet-to-be-named deputy cabinet members, will this year alone cost the borough another £402,328. Or what is called on Katharine Street these days, “almost a full Negrini”.
Perry’s first cabinet was announced by the council’s press office last night, and in addition to Deputy Mayor Lynne Hale (who will receive £42,044.80 per year in council allowances), it is made up of councillors who all, bar one, voted with Perry for the Labour budgets in 2019 and 2020 which bankrupted the council.
The only cabinet member who did not vote for the bankrupting budgets was Ola Kolade, and that was almost certainly only because he was not actually a councillor at that time.
Official reports ahead of next Wednesday’s first full council meeting of the new administration under the borough’s first elected Mayor show that Perry is to be paid a salary of £81,894.36 – more than £30,000 a year more than the council leader received under the previous system of allowances.
On top of that, there will undoubtedly be some expenses incurred during the Mayor’s official business.
Plus, there is also the entirely avoidable and unnecessary cost of a council by-election in South Croydon ward, where Perry chose to stand for a council seat that he could not possibly take up if he was successful in his bid to become Mayor.
The price of Perry covering his own political arse? Anything north of £20,000.
Given that Perry has remained stubbornly silent over his position as a director of his family building supplies firm, and that his election rival, Labour’s Val Shawcross, pledged to take only half of the mayoral salary if she won the election, the Tory Mayor may need to do some considerable work to avoid fully earning the reputation as a “fat cat mayor”.
Joining Perry on the Town Hall gravy train are:
Statutory Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Homes – Cllr Lynne Hale (£42,044.80)
Cabinet Member for Finance – Cllr Jason Cummings (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Children and Young People – Cllr Maria Gatland (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care – Cllr Yvette Hopley (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Community Safety – Cllr Ola Kolade (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Planning and Regeneration – Cllr Jeet Bains (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Streets and Environment – Cllr Scott Roche (£39,195.20)
Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture – Cllr Andy Stranack (£39,195.20)
That the situation is a complete anomaly, framed by the election of a Conservative Mayor while Labour are the largest political group on the council, has been summed up by a senior council official as “problematic”.
For all his hot air about “pressing the reset button” (a phrase he nicked from Shawcross), Perry has simply installed his Tory chums to the top jobs. According to the council press release issued last night on behalf of the Tory Mayor, Perry “has met with representatives from all parties over the last two weeks to strongly encourage Croydon’s newly elected councillors to work together for residents.
“Mayor Perry is encouraging a cross-party approach to agree committee arrangements”.
Before the election, the possibilities under an elected Mayor had been discussed, and included cross-party representation in cabinet and even the notion that non-politicians might be offered positions within an administration.
But Perry – with only the slimmest of mandates after being elected with the votes of just 13per cent of the Croydon electorate – has ignored all that with his cabinet appointments.
The council statement claims that, “Cross-party discussions have been constructive, with Mayor Perry also announcing that the chair of the scrutiny and overview committee will be held by the opposition.”
This was a move which Labour opposed in the last days of its administration. “This will enable a greater level of scrutiny, ensuring the council makes the best decisions for our residents.”
The chair of scrutiny role carries allowances of £32,634 – more than will be paid to the leader of the Labour group – but according to Katharine Street sources, the job will not be offered to Sean Fitzsimons, the Tony Newman-appointed scrutiny chair of the last eight years.
“Given all that has happened, Sean is not considered to be a credible candidate for scrutiny chair,” a source said.
The glaring omission from the council’s press release last night was any mention of who might be appointed to the key role as chair of the planning committee (allowances: £24,916.80). That’s because it seems that neither Tories nor Labour want what could prove to be a poisoned chalice.
In previous years, the majority group on the council has held the majority of places on the 10-seat planning committee, usually 6-4. But now with the council being “no overall control”, the divvying-up of committee places undertaken by council officials over the last fortnight sees planning be divided 5-5 Labour and Conservative.
Whoever chairs the meetings will usually have the casting vote in the event of ties, and sources within the Labour group at the Town Hall have suggested that they might decide to allow the Tories to take the responsibility for any contentious planning decisions over the coming four years.
Given that Perry will be working alongside a council chief executive (annual salary: £192,474) and what he calls his “strong cabinet” (12 councillors, including deputies, on special allowances totalling £402,328 per year), it would be a reasonable question to ask the Mayor what it is exactly that he will be doing for 81 grand a year.
But Mayor Perry has so far refused to agree to give Inside Croydon an interview ahead of formally taking up office next week.
Instead, he has the council press office (annual cost: an estimated £500,000) issue bland platitudes such as, “It is clear that our residents want change and a bright future for our borough and I am pleased to announce a strong cabinet who will help me achieve that.
“We plan to push the reset button and rebuild trust with local people, listening to them and prioritising the issues they have told us are most important.
“The council is first and foremost here to serve our residents and it is important that we become a more outward-focused organisation in the services and policies we deliver for them.”
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