CROYDON IN CRISIS: The borough’s new Mayor has already overspent on an agreed budget by £20m – but won’t be producing financial reports until next year. EXCLUSIVE by WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
Croydon Council is already £18million over its budget forecasts that were agreed less than six months ago, yet the borough’s first elected Mayor is trying to hide the true figures by withholding the detail from councillors and the public.
Jason Perry, Croydon’s part-time Mayor, yesterday appeared in a video celebrating the “achievements” of his first 100 days in office.
It was a short video.
But it did include the claim that his Tory administration is “opening the books” at the cash-strapped council. In fact, the opposite is the case, and it has prompted opposition leaders to ask serious questions over Perry’s brand of financial management, and where the money’s going.
Perry inherited a £2million budget underspend when he took office 101 days ago.
The Mayor is now being less transparent and much less open about the troubled authority’s finances, as he and his Tory colleagues prepare to hit Croydon residents with another £8.3million-worth of increased fees and charges.
Mayor Perry has even admitted that he is unable to deliver on the balanced council budget for this year that was passed as recently as March.
Inside Croydon has obtained a letter sent to the independent chair of the Town Hall’s audit and governance committee which raises serious concerns about how Mayor Perry is making public much less detail on the council’s finances than had become routine before he took over in May.
Stuart King, the Labour opposition leader on the council, has accused Mayor Perry of plotting the hike in fees and charges while he keeps the lid on the council’s books to disguise the latest assault on Croydon residents’ pockets.
“It’s a shameless attempt by Mayor Perry to hide the impact of his huge hike in fees and charges at a time when Croydon families and businesses are being crippled by his government’s cost of living crisis,” King said.
It’s been more than a month since the last council business was conducted in the Town Hall Chamber. There’s been no change under Mayor Perry of the indolent scheduling of council business over the course of the summer.
At the last council cabinet meeting, staged in early July, agenda item 5 was entitled, without a hint of irony, “Opening the Books”. It proposed to end monthly financial updates as had been the practice for the previous 18 months. Under part-time Perry’s plan, full details of the state of the council’s finances won’t be made public before January 2023, at the earliest.
Mayor Perry has admitted that the council’s finances are already in a worse state than when he took over in May.
In a statement issued at the time of the last cabinet meeting, the propaganda department in Fisher’s Folly said that under Mayor Perry the council “is already facing additional pressures since the budget setting in March 2022. As a result of inflation, the rising cost of living, and historical financial mismanagement, the council will need to find more savings in-year and for the next two years than previously planned”.
In other words: under Mayor Perry, there’s to be even more cuts and more increases in charges.
“There is no doubt that previous financial mismanagement has reduced the council’s ability to weather the challenges of inflation and cost of living rises,” bleated the part-time Mayor, who is nonetheless trousering an inflation-busting £81,000 per year in council allowances.
Perry has failed to offer any explanation why his administration cannot match the practice established previously, of delivering a financial update reports to cabinet for every month of the budget year.
The reports previously contained details of departmental spend against budget and forecasts for the remainder of the year, together with detail on progress delivering savings and full capital and HRA reporting.
The official council report last month even commended the previous practice: “Over the last year, the cabinet has received monthly reports on the General Fund, Housing Revenue Account and Capital Programme, providing a step change improvement in transparency in relation the council’s finances.” Them’s our italics.
That’s not something part-time Perry mentioned in his video nasty.
Nor did he mention the multi-million-pound hike in fees and charges.
These fees are broad and varied and are charged for a range of council services, including things such as registrar’s fees for holding a wedding ceremony at the Clocktower (£354 for a Saturday; up from £340), the cost of a Muslim grave site at Greenlawns Memorial Park (£3,790; up from £3,680), to the rod charge for anyone wanting to go fishing at a council-owned lake (£7.01; up from £6.38).
- Click here for a pdf of the latest schedule of fees and charges issued under Mayor Perry (which excludes any mention of previous, lower fees).
- And click here for a pdf of the charges for the previous financial year, 2021-2022
When Perry produced his latest schedule of fees and charges, it included only the new amounts to be charged, and gave no details of the increases he was introducing.
In June, King asked the Mayor, at his first cabinet meeting in charge, whether the financial reporting practice would continue. Jason Cummings, the Conservative councillor and the brains behind Perry’s operation, said that it would. He even went as far as to say it was a manifesto pledge by Perry.
Yet at the very next cabinet meeting, the financial reports contained no departmental level numbers, nothing at all on the council’s capital programme and just 17 words on the Housing Revenue Account.
King was a member of the council cabinet under discredited ex-leader Tony Newman which crashed the council’s finances.
Now, he is so alarmed at the turn taken by Perry’s regime that he has lodged complaints not only with Dr Olu Olasode, the independent chair of audit (an appointment implemented since the council’s bankruptcy, having been lobbied for by the Tories), but also with Tony McArdle, the government-appointed head of the improvement panel that has been overseeing Croydon’s finances since the council went bust two years ago.
It is suggested that it was upon McArdle’s recommendations, together with the then interim director of finances, Chris Buss, that the formula for reporting financial details was agreed and implemented.
King’s letter to Olasode said, “The publication of detailed forecasts on a monthly basis was widely welcomed, including by the government’s improvement panel.
“I am concerned that the paper received at yesterday’s cabinet provided significantly less information on Period 1 than has previously been the case.”
King provided a lengthy list of the information that was missing from Perry’s report.
“Could I ask you to consider whether, in your view as the council’s independent chair of audit and governance, this is acceptable?”
Olasode is not due to chair an audit committee meeting until September 15. After all, there’s no urgency, is there..?
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