CROYDON IN CRISIS: One councillor has turned up for just one meeting in six months. Another has been on holiday in Brazil for the last six weeks. But under the new Mayor, councillors have been left with little to do in the bankrupt borough. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The transition to having the Town Hall run by a mayoralty is proving to be far from smooth, and it is looking to be just a little expensive, too, if the attendance rates of councillors over the past six months is anything to judge by.
Some councillors – including the leader of the opposition – have shown up for barely half of all the meetings they might attend since August, according to council-published data.
The chief whip for the Conservatives, somewhat distracted by his own personal ambitions, has only been present 60per cent of the time, and one senior Labour councillor, already a controversial figure, has failed to show up in person for any council business for the past six weeks while taking a holiday in Brazil. That undoubtedly hasn’t stopped him pocketing his council allowances, though…
When Croydon elected its first executive Mayor last May, the residents still got to choose 70 councillors to represent them across 28 wards. But with Jason Perry, Croydon’s Misinformed Mayor, swiftly taking absolute control of the running of the Town Hall, few of the other elected representatives seem to have any real role in the running of the council.
Only 24 councillors have a 100per cent attendance rate over the past six months in a snapshot of the new council’s activity, according to research conducted by this website, based on official figures published by Croydon Council.
Such levels of disaffection and non-attendance are seen by some observers as signs of low morale among the councillors after nearly three years of pandemic and financial crisis in the bankrupt borough. It can also be interpreted as a reaction from many councillors to the increasing pointlessness of their role in much of the council’s public business.
A local authority which was pilloried, rightly and deservedly, for the lack of strong governance and absence of proper scrutiny is just about to get less governance and reduced levels of scrutiny under the new Tory Mayor. Or #ABitMoreShit, to adapt a hashtag from this website during the mayoral debate of 2021.
Excluding the ceremonial Trumptonesque red-robed and be-chained mayor-making, the full council itself will reduce its number of meetings to just five in a 12-month period.
From March 30 this year till February 27 2024, the full council will meet just three times.
There’s more than a suspicion that this new arrangement will suit the council’s highly paid executives, some of whom privately resent the meddling and intrusion that “mere” elected representatives might bring into their running of the council’s affairs.
And while councillor allowances and attendances are placed in the public domain, the salaries and absences of our professional civic servants, the senior council execs such as chief executive Katherine Kerswell and her top team, are less readily available. Yet Kerswell is paid a salary and pension contributions 2½ times what is paid to Mayor Perry.
There are, of course, many other meetings going on around the Town Hall and in Fisher’s Folly, from the planning committee to the audit and governance committee, and scrutiny has a new councillor in the chair.
But the only place where Misinformed Mayor Jason Perry and the council’s senior officials can be properly held to account are meetings of full council, and few of our councillors ever get the chance to pipe up.
It always was the case that some councillors do not get to speak at full council meetings for years at a time. Not always because they don’t want to, but because even when there were more meetings, there was never enough time and their political parties decide who is allowed to ask questions or speak.
Of course, there can be good and valid reasons why councillors cannot attend meetings.
Respected Labour councillor Shafi Khan was disqualified as a councillor before the last election after non-attendance for six months because of ill health.
Another Labour councillor, Pat Ryan, was also banned after missing six months’ worth of meetings, until, somehow, someone conveniently “remembered” seeing Ryan at a meeting where his attendance had not been recorded…
When Conservative Oni Oviri was close to being similarly disqualified after missing six months’ worth of meetings due to illness, she had to be carried into the Town Hall Chamber to get her name ticked off in the register, allowing her to stay on the council gravy train. A one-term wonder on Croydon Council, Oviri’s illness did not prevent her standing for the Tories as a parliamentary candidate…
Despite the cash-strapped council having more than enough on its agendas, as they try to find their way out of the financial black hole created during Jo Negrini and Tony Newman’s time in charge, there has not been a meeting of the full council since December 14 last year. The council issued its third Section 114 notice in November, the third in two years, but they won’t have managed to hold a full council meeting during the whole of January.
Even when they do meet, the turnout can be a cause for concern. The last full council meeting had 10 councillors absent and several others late in their attendance.
The council publishes all the details of councillor, and the Mayor’s, attendance records, for full council and other committees, and Inside Croydon has taken a snapshot of those figures for the last six months, from August 2, 2022, through to January 24.
Council Tax-payers might well consider that some councillors have some explaining to do about their poor attendance rate at the Town Hall.
If you have a Green councillor, you will be pleased to see that they have attended all meetings.
As a group, the 34 Conservatives attend 7-in-8 meetings.
Labour are less attentive, at 4-in-5 meetings overall.
Stuart King, the Leader of the Labour Group since May, is hardly leading by example. He has only attended half of his timetabled meetings. By turning up for another meeting at which his attendance was not mandatory, he bumped up his attendance rate to a still modest 55per cent.
As well as an elected Mayor, Croydon’s councillors have opted to continue with having a civic Mayor. All decked out in red robes and ermine in 2022-2023 has been Councillor Alisa Flemming, the honour of being the borough’s first citizen for a year – with its £27,551.96 allowances – representing something of a sop for her being dropped from the shadow cabinet.
Although Flemming has been very visible performing her mayoral duties around the borough, cutting the ribbon to open school fetes, visiting old folks’ homes, that kind of thing, when it comes to turning up in the Town Hall Chamber to act as the chair of set-piece council meetings, Flemming has shown up just once.
Given her enhanced allowances as civic Mayor, it means that Councillor Flemming was paid at a rate of £13,795.98 for that single meeting attendance in the last six months.
Lara Fish, a Tory councillor and deputy cabinet member for customer services, has shown up for just two out of four meetings in the six months – at a rate of £3,799.50 per meeting.
Labour councillor Mohammed Islam, elected for the first time last May, turned up to just one meeting in four over the last six months. Islam just happens to be the chair of the Labour group. If you work out how much Councillor Islam is being paid per meeting attended, it comes to a spectacular £5,845.98!
Of course councillors are meant to be busy elsewhere, carrying out resident casework, holding ward surgeries, being prominent in their local communities and advocating on behalf of residents.
But evidence of that activity is sparse in some notable cases. Councillors will have internal party political meetings, but attendance there goes unpublished. There’s always the leaflet-delivering cult, to which all political parties appear to be enthusiastic members. In many ways, the councillor allowances paid for out of your Council Tax are an indirect way of subsidising local political party activity.
Croydon residents will be astounded by the rates of pay per meeting.
Pay is not the word used. The preferred genteel, councilspeak term employed is “allowances”, like some monthly gift.
Because of the low number of meetings and poor attendances, more than half the councillors take home over £1,000 a meeting.
The pay rate per meeting for Councillor King is £2,472.67 per meeting.
Soon-to-be-Reigate resident and Tory parliamentary hopeful, Mario Creatura, scores £3,968.96 per meeting. His notable absences are why Creatura has become known among his Conservative colleagues as “WINO” – whip in name only.
The context of such largesse for a relatively small band of politicians is that these are the same people who will ultimately endorse – they don’t really decide anything – moves by Mayor Perry to reduce Council Tax benefit paid to pensioners, to axe funding to charities and voluntary groups, to increase Council Tax and council rents in April, and maybe ultimately to close libraries.
A handful – five Conservative councillors, including a Bird and a Fish – have opted to take £165.45 per month less than their full entitlement (the others are councillors Dwesar, Stewart and Ward).
It’s a modest gesture, but a welcome one. A start, if you like.
There are very good arguments for councillors to receive financial compensation, but such payments come with a reasonable expectation that the elected representatives do actually have some role to perform, and that they do show up to perform it.
The reduced allowances by some councillors, though, also serve to illustrate quite how badly wrong things managed to become in the dysfunctional borough of Croydon.
Even if every one of the borough’s 70 councillors took a similar monthly pay cut, over the course of a year it would save the borough £138,978 – £300,000 less than former chief exec Jo Negrini walked away with in 2020 as her golden handshake…
Oh, and the councillor who’s been enjoying a full Brazilian? We’ll be bringing you all the gory details very soon.
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