CROYDON IN CRISIS: Opposition councillors demand an immediate apology and question whether the borough’s credulous Tory Mayor can be trusted. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Officials from Croydon Council have been forced to admit that the Conservative Mayor, Jason Perry, lied to a Town Hall meeting last month when he declared that his administration was dealing with a two-storey house built by Brick by Brick that had no stairs.
The discovery of the Mayor’s untruth prompted one Croydon councillor to say today, “If politicians can’t be honest with the public, then they shouldn’t be in power.”
Mayor Perry made his remarks at the final full council meeting of 2022, held on December 14.
A month-long investigation by Inside Croydon has tried to track down where this latest example of the Brick by Brick omnishambles was to be found. Conservative councillors, former cabinet members, council staff and directors as well as members of housing committees were all spoken to about Mayor Perry’s Brick by Brick stair-less house.
No one knew anything about it.
“I visited all the Brick by Brick sites,” one senior Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon. “I will have known if they’d managed to build a house without a staircase. They didn’t.”
Inside Croydon therefore approached the council press office and asked them to identify where Mayor Perry’s stair-less house might be.
Eventually, they offered a response to state that Perry “was misinformed”.
The press office response included no quote from the part-time Mayor.
There was no apology from the Mayor.
Nor was any explanation offered as to how Mayor Perry could have been so badly “misinformed” that, after being told Brick by Brick, the council’s disastrous house-building company, had managed to build a two-storey house with no stairs, that he had not immediately questioned where this house might be, and promptly organised a photo op to demonstrate this latest example of the builders’ blundering.
No one at the December 14 council meeting was allowed to interrupt or challenge Mayor Perry’s assertions, with the meeting tightly controlled by Sue Bennett, the Conservative councillor and long-time colleague of Perry’s, who was in the chair as the deputy ceremonial mayor.
“There’s been a strong suspicion that Mayor Perry, with his Section 114 notice anticipating that he won’t be able to balance the council budgets next year, has been going out of his way to exaggerate some of the issues his administration has encountered, to make the situation at the council seem worse than it is, as a distraction from his own competency, or lack of it,” a Katharine Street source said this morning.
“Now we have to ask whether our part-time Mayor is a full-time liar.”
The episode in the Town Hall chamber was typical of kind of petty games that third-rate politicians such as Perry indulge in to safeguard their council allowances.
A patsy question was placed with Gayle Gander, one of the new intake of Conservative councillors, who delivered her carefully worded prompt, including the key message about Labour’s “toxic legacy”.
“Thank you very much indeed for the question,” said irony-free zone Perry, evidently grateful that his party colleague had managed to repeat the words that she had been given, and all in the right order.
Perry was quickly into his stride with his own prepared lines.
“Denial, denial, denial,” Perry said, aiming his remarks at the Labour opposition councillors over the matter of the borough’s £1.6billion of debt – £1billion of which had been left in 2014 by the previous Tory administration, of which Perry had been a senior member.
Someone, possibly a Labour councillor, may have called out “Untrue” when the amount of debt was mentioned.
“Just unbelievable,” Perry exclaimed, although he is not thought to have been referring to himself.
In November, Perry, the £81,000 per year Mayor who lives in a £1million house near Lloyd Park, approved the issuing of a Section 114 notice, Croydon’s third in two years, claiming that his council would be unable to balance its budget for the next financial year. It is the first time that a pre-emptive S114 notice has been issued in the history of local government in England.
Gander’s question had asked what the S114 notice would mean for the borough’s residents.
“It means we’re going to have to cut services, that’s what it means for the residents in this borough,” Perry continued, following his pre-prepared script.
“It may well be that libraries are affected. That is a result of their toxic legacy that we will probably end up closing libraries in this borough.”
Perry must have been playing cliché bingo when drafting this particular speech. Labour, Perry said, “crashed the bus”, were “playing Monopoly”, as they wasted taxpayers’ money on Brick by Brick, Croydon Park Hotel, The Colonnades (which have made money for the council, it is worth noting), Croydon Affordable Homes…
“The list goes on… oh, the Fairfield Halls, I nearly forgot,” Perry, disingenuous as ever, added as if it were a punchline to a pantomime joke.
This all led to Gander’s supplementary question: what had shocked Perry the most?
The question, and the answer it was designed to elicit, was entirely deliberate.
“That’s a tough one. There are so many,” Perry was laughing now.
With Perry in full flow about all the failings of his political opponents, a Labour councillor, Patsy Cummings, sought to make a point of order just as the Mayor began his anecdote about the stairless Brick by Brick house.
Bennett dismissed the interruption. Perry picked up where he had left off.
“As I say, finding a two-storey Brick by Brick house without a staircase.”
Perry then asked: “How does that even begin to happen?”
The answer, according to council officials this week, is that it never happened at all.
“The Mayor was misinformed about that particular example of Brick by Brick’s work,” a council spokesperson told Inside Croydon.
“The Mayor feels that quality of workmanship on some Brick by Brick properties, particularly those raised with him directly by residents, remains a serious concern,” the professional apologist in the propaganda department said.
But that is not what Perry told the full council meeting. He told them that there is a Brick by Brick house with no staircase. Which is untrue. Palpably and demonstrably.
The Nolan principles of public life in the council’s Code of Ethics include, “Honesty: Holders of public office should be truthful.”
The council’s Code of Ethics applies to all forms of communication and interaction, including “face-to-face meetings”.
Councillors, and the elected Mayor, should have all signed up to the Code, which also states: “In undertaking my role I exercise reasonable care and diligence.” Did Mayor Perry exercise “reasonable care and diligence” when he lied to the council last month?
Today, council figures from across the Town Hall chamber, past and present, reacted with disgust and condemnation of Mayor Perry’s blatant lies.
“Whether this was deliberate or a clumsy mistake, the Mayor has misled councillors of all parties at an official and public council meeting. He must apologise immediately and, importantly, personally correct the record at the next meeting of the full council,” Stuart King, the leader of the Labour group on the council, told Inside Croydon.
“Sadly, the truth has once again become a casualty of Mayor Perry’s determination to engage in petty political point scoring at the expense of all else.”
Ria Patel is one of the new Green Party councillors at Croydon Town Hall. Today, she said, “We have all had enough of dishonesty from politicians in government and here on Croydon Council.
“More lies just makes it even harder for those of us who are working in good faith to try to make things better. If this was a genuine mistake then there has to be a full and public correction of that mistake along with an explanation of why it happened in the first place.
“If politicians can’t be honest with the public then they shouldn’t be in power.”
Andrew Pelling, one of Perry’s rivals in the mayoral election last May, when he stood as an independent candidate, told Inside Croydon, “The directly elected mayoralty offers the opportunity for a radically different way of doing Croydon politics. Croydon needs the dynamism of the style of an Andy Burnham, Ken Livingstone, Ben Houchen or Andy Street.
“A pedestrian approach is the wrong one.”
Pelling said that Croydon risks drifting “into being the council with London’s highest Council Tax in return for minimal services, where residents’ concerns will be a lot more acute than imagined missing staircases”.
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