CROYDON IN CRISIS: This website’s hashtag when describing the choice of a Mayoral system for running the council was #ABitLessShit. In his first 100 days in office, Jason Perry has done his best to prove that having a Tory Mayor is, in fact, #ABitMoreShit. By WALTER CRONXITE, political editor
Croydon Conservatives are making best advantage of their control of the Town Hall, marking the first 100 days in office of Mayor Jason Perry with a self-congratulatory video.
First impressions left by the video are good. Often, first impressions are all that count. Most voters will not have time to watch all three and a half minutes of Croydon’s answer to David Brent babbling on about what a good job he’s been doing.
By lunchtime today, two days after Croydon’s Tories posted Perry’s latest little biopic, it had attracted fewer than 600 views. And only 18 of those bothered clicking on “like”. More might have liked it if they’d turned the sound off, to eliminate the nasal whining sound of Perry’s voice…
There’s not much substance to the video’s bold claims of activity and achievement in Perry’s first 100 days. It doesn’t take much to see that the Conservatives are already getting the council into more financial difficulties, and struggling to deliver on part-time Perry’s promise to re-open Purley Pool.
There is nothing in the video about how the council budget is going or how senior Tory councillors are actually applying themselves to their new cabinet jobs.
In fact, as Inside Croydon reported yesterday, the council’s finances are already slipping out of the Conservatives’ control even before the honeymoon period is over.
Things are getting so bad that Perry and the Tories are using the new Mayoral system to reduce the amount of reporting of the council’s finances, while trying to say that new budget overruns are all Labour’s fault. Which overlooks the fact that when Perry came to office in May, he inherited a £2million budget underspend.
It is already apparent that Perry and a lot of his team are taking their council roles to be part-time ones – despite the Tory Mayor being on council allowances of £81,000 per year.
Phone calls and emails are going unanswered, even those sent from their own Conservative backbench colleagues. Requests for meetings and appointments with part-time Perry or some of his cabinet members are being fobbed off with dates offered in four months’ time. If any date is offered at all.
That doesn’t get mentioned in Mayor Perry’s video.
And there’s no mention in the video of how Perry’s council will sort out the lingering uncertainty arising from the misallocation of £73million of supposedly ring-fenced housing money, that has been used for other council spending. It is one of the reasons auditors Grant Thornton have still not signed off on Croydon Council’s accounts for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.
There is talk in the video of “implementing” the Residents’ Charter. Yet so far, this has just been an expression of aspirations for the improved treatment of council tenants, and no real change, with much-criticised contractors Axis serving out their notice for another year of no doubt troubled repairs.
In his video, Perry boasts of “Cleaning Up” Croydon, undertakes to regenerate the town centre and working with the police.
But the previous Labour council also worked with the police, unsurprisingly. All Perry is actually doing is re-introducing a PSPO – Public Space Protection Order – in Croydon that increases powers over anti-social behaviour, and which had been allowed to lapse in the middle of the covid crisis by council officials.
As far as the claim of cleaning up the borough, Mayor Perry is claiming credit for using money placed in the 2022-2023 budget by Labour before they left office for graffiti cleaning and grass cutting. At the time, in March this year, Perry and his Tory colleagues voted against that budget, having voted in favour of two Labour budgets which led to the borough’s bankruptcy.
Funnily enough, that seems to have slipped Perry’s mind, too, because there’s no mention in his video of where he got the money for graffiti cleaning, either.
As for regenerating the town centre, Mayor Perry’s back to going cap-in-hand to Westfield and Hammerson, the very people who have reneged on every promise they have made to the people of Croydon about their £1.4billion development since the local Tories, and Boris Johnson, unveiled the scheme a decade ago.
There’s a Secret Cinema-style event coming to the old Allders building (“In the next few weeks”, according to Perry), which the Mayor claims “will be the start of the change we want to make”, and “will be a real game-change [sic] for Croydon”.
As welcome as Fabien Riggall’s innovative shows coming to Allders will be, most recent visitors to the Whitgift Centre will agree that it will take a good deal more than that to revive the flagging retail offer in Croydon. And that was before Waitrose announced that they are the latest prestige High Street brand to abandon central Croydon.
Missing from the video altogether is any mention of part-time Perry’s pet project, the re-opening of Purley Pool.
In a message sent to Conservative Party members accompanying his video, Perry tells Croydon Tories, “The week after being elected Mayor, I went to Purley Pool for a tour of the facilities to see what would be required to re-open it.
“I have now taken the next step by commissioning a report into all of the possible options surrounding the leisure centre, to look at how financially viable each of them are. The pool is a vital facility and I am determined to deliver on my promise to get it open again.”
Which is hardly the same as providing a firm date and promise for when the pool will re-open, is it? During the election, Perry promised to open the pool, no ifs, no buts.
Now, that’s become “looking at all possible options”. It sounds like Perry’s election manifesto promise is in financial trouble.
And then there is Perry’s video claim about reforming Croydon’s planning.
Some developers’ applications have been turned down in a showy fashion at the planning committee, now chaired by Perry’s old Croham ward colleague, Michael Neal.
Planning guidance which is a supplement to the main Croydon Plans has been dropped. But as the council’s own website states, “The policies in the Local Plan and Development Plan remain unchanged.”
Binning the SPD2, as Mayor Perry has done, is not the planning panacea that he wants his supporters to believe.
That Suburban Design Guide Supplementary Planning Document, to give it its full councilspeak title, gave guidance for suburban residential developments, development in Areas of Focused Intensification and updates to previous guidance on extensions and alterations to homes across the borough.
In a mocking report from Nick Hibberd (“corporate director of sustainable communities, regeneration and economic recovery”), Heather Cheesbrough (“director of planning and sustainable regeneration”) and Steve Dennington (“head of spatial planning and interim head of growth and regeneration”), the council says an opportunity “will be used to understand in greater detail the manifesto pledges of the Mayor”.
The report also said SPD2 was redundant anyway, as time had moved on with the London Plan and national design guidance now ruling the roost. The London Plan has set a lower target of housing units for Croydon, 2,079 instead of 2,949 per year.
Which all suggests that part-time Perry’s boast about reforming planning is a bit of an empty one. Cheesbrough and her planning team are still very much in control, and the Mayor is obliged to consult further on the new Croydon Plan before taking it to the Secretary of State.
In his video, Perry revisits many of his photo-ops and emphasises his election hashtag of “Listening to Croydon” (which we think is less honest than the one Inside Croydon came up with to describe the Mayoral system: #ABitLessShit). One hundred days in, and Perry hasn’t stopped campaigning, perhaps because those around him are only too aware that, having attracted the votes of just 13per cent of the electorate, he still has much work to do.
Read more: Tory Mayor wants to keep finances under wraps for 9 months
Read more: Part-time Mayor Perry is only ‘listening’ four hours a day
Read more: MPs’ gofers and failed businesses: new cabinet’s back-stories
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