Time’s running out for Axis as new Mayor comes under scrutiny

The honeymoon period is over for Jason Perry, as the first reports of his administration are due to be published this week, reports KEN LEE, our Town Hall correspondent

Bland of hope and glory: Croydon’s building supplies salesman Mayor has been enjoying his higher profile during his first month in office

Jason Perry this week faces his first real tests as Croydon’s elected Mayor, after a month-long honeymoon period which has been heavy on rhetoric but light on any real actions.

Mayor Perry pulled out of public engagements at the weekend, including the first post-pandemic New Addington festival, citing covid precautions – sources suggest that the Mayor has actually escaped with just a heavy cold – but not before promising to take forward a number of (as yet unspecified) measures in cabinet reports this week.

The £81,000 per year Tory Mayor has already bowed to public pressure by giving an undertaking to pay the costs of staging the South Croydon ward by-election out of his own pocket.

The by-election, to be held on June 30, has been called because Perry opted to stand for election as a councillor as well as for Mayor. He is only allowed to fill one position, and the by-election is to fill the vacancy left by Perry. The by-election is estimated to cost Croydon’s tax-payers at least £20,000.

And the Mayor has fuelled speculation that he might, after all, relinquish his position as managing director of his family business, Carlton Building Plastics.

Critics have repeatedly asked how Perry intends to be a full-time executive Mayor, for which he is very well paid, while maintaining his commercial business interests at the company based on the Beddington industrial estate, where he has held a directorship since 1994.

So far, the Mayor has failed to offer any public statement on how he can possibly reconcile these competing interests.

Not that the Mayor’s declarations of interests are available for public scrutiny.

More than a month since his election, and while the councillors who were elected on May 5 have had their declarations of interests published by the council, those for Mayor Perry are not available on the council website.

This is despite the stated role of the elected Mayor being to “promote, uphold and act in accordance with the Seven Principles of Public Life (the ‘Nolan Principles’)” and the council’s Code of Conduct.

Official records at Companies House show Perry still as one of Carlton Building Plastics’ two directors.

Blank page: while councillors have their declarations of interest published on the council website, five weeks into his term of office, the Mayor still has nothing

But in a recent column for the Tory website Conservative Home, Perry seemed to suggest that his days selling plastic gutters may have come to an end with a throwaway line referring to the family business “which I ran myself prior to becoming Mayor”.

Perry’s first month in office has largely appeared to be a continuation of his election campaign, but now with the Council Tax-payers funding his publicity, through the propaganda department at Fisher’s Folly, with seemingly every mayoral engagement fawningly reported or photographed via council press release.

Perry’s week of big business begins tomorrow night at the first scrutiny committee meeting of his new administration, where he is to provide an “Executive Mayor update”.

The report accompanying this agenda item states, “In inviting Mayor Perry to outline his priorities for the year ahead, this will give the committee an opportunity to provide an early, high-level challenge on these priorities.”

One early move by Perry was to over-rule the previous Labour administration’s approach to scrutiny and insist that the committee should be chaired by a backbench councillor from the largest opposition group – in this case, Labour. If he was going to be scrutinsed, Perry argued, it shouldn’t be done by one of his mates, as was the case under Labour’s disgraced ex-leader, Tony Newman.

Croydon’s Conservatives also made it absolutely clear that there was no way in which the previous chair of scrutiny, Sean Fitzsimons, would be acceptable as the chair of the new committee.

The six-person committee is a Tory and Labour carve-up, and excludes any of the three councillors from the Greens or LibDems elected last month – when even one might have provided a welcome, alternative perspective.

Focus: Rowenna Davis

But under new chair Rowenna Davis, scrutiny has made a bold start in staging a session tonight at which council tenants can offer up their experiences of dealing with Croydon’s struggling housing department and repairs contractors Axis. Members of the scrutiny committee have even been on visits to some council flats.

Twelve councillors – 11 of them Labour – have been recruited to work tonight as “facilitators” for residents in break-out groups in an exercise taken straight from the Blairite play-book and their fondness for running focus groups.

The findings from tonight’s session, we are told, will be fed in to tomorrow’s more formal scrutiny committee meeting, where a fast-approaching new crisis may emerge.

Axis, the £21million-a-year repairs contractors who were at the centre of many of the criticisms over the appalling conditions in council homes in Regina Road, announced in February that they are quitting Croydon. Axis’s work in the borough is due to end in August, yet the council has not even started its process of competitive tendering to find suitable, and hopefully better, replacements.

There is a real risk that the cash-strapped council will be forced into hiring in, at extra cost, some temporary contractors for an interim period, something hinted at in the detail-lite report submitted to the scrutiny committee, which is asked to “evaluate the work undertaken to prepare for the procurement of new providers to deliver Responsive Repairs Service for the council’s housing stock from 2023”.

On the way out: contractors Axis’s work in Croydon ends in August

By running out of time to replace Axis, Mayor Perry could find himself boxed into a corner in any negotiations over replacement contractors, and could lose options such as looking to bring in two or three different contractors to operate in different parts of the borough, as some in and around the council are known to prefer.

The details of this, and other important business, should be revealed this week as reports are published ahead of the first cabinet meeting of the new council on June 22.

In his weekly homily to the borough on Friday, Mayor Perry said, “There is much, much more to do in the months ahead and it will take time, but I am determined to keep up the pace of change that I know residents, businesses, our partners and everyone in Croydon wants.

“My priority remains to keep on listening,” Perry said, after apparently having cocked a deaf ‘un to the business of his own family business.

Read more: Mayor Perry unveils his old team as the new team
Read more: Mayor Perry’s first act is to end planners’ ‘9-9-9 emergency’

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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
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12 Responses to Time’s running out for Axis as new Mayor comes under scrutiny

  1. jackgriffin1933 says:

    “The six-person committee … excludes any of the three councillors from the Greens or LibDems elected last month – when even one might have provided a welcome, alternative perspective.”

    Perhaps the Greens and the LibDems thought they’d be too busy with all that ward stuff to cope with it, like they thought about planning?

  2. ebberskeith says:

    Early days yet, give him a chance!

  3. Susan Williams says:

    Why would Mayor Perry visit New Addington festival?

    He is an executive Mayor running the council, not a ceremonial puppet mayor like all the dimwits we’ve had in this role over recent years.

    Why should Perry visit New Addington festival when Katherine Kerswell cannot even be arsed to respond to her emails. Perhaps we get Kerswell to carry out these ceremonial duties – if not she should take a big pay cut because somebody else is now doing the lion share of what she did. The difference being she did it badly.

    • Mayor Perry himself tweeted his apologies and regrets at missing the New Addington carnival weekend, which he did as a health precaution.

      The borough is burdened with a ceremonial mayor for ribbon cutting and so forth, yes.

      The Mayor, however, remains a politician, for whom it is important to maintain a high level of public visibility: like Thatcher kissing babies and Cameron snogging pigs. Public appearances are part of his first priority, of getting re-elected.

  4. Eugene Regan says:

    How long is a Honeymoon?

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    As Susan said – it is about time that Ms Kerswell got out and about and faced the people. The big question would be if McArdle and Co. would be trundling behind on a short rope with fibre optic wires carrying digital commands of requisite advice. Bit like buy one get three free.

    I see many information requests on the horizon along with many evasive replies, withholding of data and eventual complaint to regulatory bodies for various reasons and many of those complaints valid and upheld. I expect the intensification and social engineering in the North to continue, with slum style landlords overdeveloping properties badly, and with a total lack of any effective enforcement leading to higher crime rates, anti social behaviors and the general deterioration of the fabric of communities and public realm. But not 9-9-9 of the south. Which is bad – but not a brothel or drug house or rehab or housing those under ASBOs from other areas. I see many refugee’s and homeless put into seriously bad and unhealthy hotel or emergency rooms at exorbitant cost all without effective inspections, I see long delays for maintenance in social housing more food banks, people being made homeless, more potholes and unsafe streets, more violence and threats and complaints to the council not being answered.
    Strangely there have been quite a few of these issues in the north and many over the years reported to the Police and Police but sadly despite their best efforts never got prevented or prosecuted.
    Perhaps there might be some scrutiny of that by the Committee? But ah, it is scrutinising the Mayor who is only thinking about thinking – not the activities of this Council – my Bad!

  6. Ha ha ha! There never was going to be a ‘honeymoon period’ for Mayor Perry on Inside Croydon. The combative Ken Lee was never going to let that happen. Keep his feet to the fire IC!

    • Chris, we’ve just gone through the entire month of May where there was no council business, committee meetings, conducted whatsoever, with the exception of the Trumpton-esque Mayor-making ceremonials, and the distribution of the baubles and juicy allowances. One scheduled planning committee was cancelled – the new committee members had not completed their officer-supervised training.

      Precious little was done in April, either.

      This month, council business is only getting underway tonight, with June half over. Before long, they will all be breaking up for the long summer vacation, until the end of September.

      Our councillors are controlled by the council officials, from Kerswell downwards. They have been for many years.

      If Mayor Perry was going to change anything, he probably had to do so if the first few weeks. He has not.

      • Susan Williams says:

        I not knowledgeable of Croydon local government but how could Croydon residents request an investigation of KK. She is aloof and disconnected from the public and fails at every turn. The recent election was shambolic and costly for Croydon – money and reputation. She is not acting in our best interests, only her own.

      • Lancaster says:

        ” councillors are controlled by the council officials, from Kerswell downwards ”

        In years gone by it was ‘advised’ by council officers, not controlled.

        Sadly in the last two decades council officers have lost all fortitude and now just jump to whatever whim crosses a councillors brain cell without questioning; wanting to win favor and kiss ass.

        Those council officers who do interact with councillors, generally tier one and two managers, now no longer have the service experience that once existed. Those officers that run services and teams below those tiers are actively and aggressively kept away from councillors.

  7. Bob Bayliss says:

    It is extremely churlish to suggest that the Mayor “bowed to public pressure” to finance the cost of the by-election personally. As I pointed out previously, he could not reasonably be expected not to continue to serve as a councillor given that Val Shawcross was widely expected to win the mayoral contest.

    Secondly, I think it is healthy that our Mayor has many years of experience of running a local family firm. There are too many in politics who have little or no experience of working outside of the political bubble. Of course being elected as Mayor of Croydon is a full-time role, and I am sure he will make the necessary arrangements in his company. But to use it as a stick to beat him with is, I promise you, way wide of the mark in the eyes of most voters.

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