CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mayor Perry has made a political play with the Conservative government in an effort to re-set the council’s finances. Again. By our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE
Croydon’s Conservatives were quick to play the blame game this morning over the bankrupt borough’s third Section 114 Notice in two years, as they issued a press release from their Purley HQ that sought to heap the blame on Mayor Jason Perry’s predecessors in charge of the Town Hall.
Perry was elected in May as the borough’s first executive Mayor, on a council-funded salary of £81,000.
The Tories claim that their “Opening The Books” exercise – under which they temporarily stopped publishing monthly budget updates – has somehow revealed hidden terrors in the darkest recesses of the Labour-run council budget.
That budget was passed only eight months ago, and was signed off at the time by the Tory government-appointed improvement board that has supposedly been overseeing the cash-strapped council’s finances since February 2021.
The improvement board, chaired by Tony McArdle, last issued one of its supposedly quarterly reports through the Department for Levelling Up in December 2021. The DLUHC refuses to say why subsequent reports have been withheld or when they might be published.
In fact, what the Tories highlighted today were a string of budget weaknesses and fantasies that have been known for the past year, or more.
“Whilst everybody knew the situation was bad, Labour were hiding just how bad it was,” Croydon’s Tories claimed this morning, therefore implicating the government-installed improvement panel as being either incompetent or suggesting that they were in some way “in” on the cover-up with former council leader Hamida Ali and her Labour colleagues.
Referring to “shocking mistakes” in the Whitehall-endorsed budgets, the Tories claim that the mistakes include:
Parking: “Labour set estimates for parking income that they knew were totally unrealistic”. The council’s parking income is more than £10million less than the amount Labour budgeted for.
Housing: What the council chief exec dismissed as merely an “accounting problem” of £73million of Housing Revenue Account cash being misused for other spending finally looks likely to be resolved, but at a cost to Mayor Perry’s budgets of “at least £9million”.
LTNs: When council director Steve Iles came up with a back-of-a-fag-packet £1million-per-month in income from fines from drivers getting caught using the new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (or whatever they are called this week), Inside Croydon was not alone in suggesting that this was wishful thinking on the council boss’s behalf, seeking to please his then political masters with a no-pain solution to the deep-seated financial issues. Yet Iles’s fantasy figures were written into the budget by Labour’s Callton Young, and approved by the government’s improvement panel. Today, the Tories have said that Iles’s figures “would be impossible to deliver”.
“These mistakes will cost Council Tax-payers tens of millions of pounds,” the Tories said.
Perry and the Tories are also now sweating on the rising interest rates that have been created by inflation, the impact of Brexit and covid, and their own government’s economic policies.
When they were last in office at Croydon Town Hall, Perry and the Conservatives left a £1billion debt mountain. That has risen in the eight years since to £1.6billion.
“This debt costs £47million to service every single year – roughly one-sixth of the council’s entire expenditure, or around four times what it costs to empty the bins,” the Tories now say.
Read more: Council forced to issue 3rd bankruptcy notice in just two years
Read more: Mayor Perry has ‘second thoughts’ about investing in Croydon
Read more: After nearly a year, Gove is sitting on two ‘improvement’ reports
Read more: ‘Uncertainty faced by all local authorities is unprecedented’
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