Last night’s council scrutiny meeting had to be abandoned after the building was evacuated because of a bomb scare.
The committee, chaired by Labour councillor Rowenna Davis, had spent more than an hour discussing the latest budget figures and the asset disposal “strategy” (which can be summarised as follows: “If it’s not nailed down, flog it”) when just before 8pm a council staffer interrupted and, somewhat breathlessly, asked the assembled councillors and auditors to evacuate the building.
Around 30 people, councillors, staff and assorted visitors to the building, found themselves outside the Town Hall waiting for any news.
It is thought that the alarm was caused by an unattended bag or package. There had been no warning phone call to the police.
The bomb squad was called out, and within five minutes of their arrival, after they had satisfied themselves that the Town Hall was a Semtex-free zone, the all-clear was sounded.
The scrutiny meeting had earlier raised the subject of the possibility of selling the listed Town Hall building to help the cash-strapped council pay off its mountain of debt. This possibility was dismissed by Jason Cummings, the Conservative councillor and cabinet member for finance who is overseeing the asset disposals.
But as one source said as they exited Katharine Street as part of the security alert, “If they blow up the Town Hall, they probably would have to sell it off…”.
The scrutiny agenda had included an item on the procurement of a new service provider for the borough’s waste collection and street cleaning services, with rubbish contractor Veolia on their way out after their deal ends in March 2025. The bomb scare meant that it was not discussed.
“We were in the middle of discussing the asset disposal strategy and a staff member with a hi-viz jacket burst in saying we needed to evacuate the building,” Davis told Inside Croydon.
“Of course, I’m very pleased everyone was safe, just disappointed we didn’t get to look at the waste contract. We will pick that up as soon as possible.
“We did ask if we could reconvene in Bernard Wetherill House but were told that glass walls were probably best avoided given the situation.”
Before the abrupt interruption of the meeting, there was some discussion of the current council budgets – underspent in some areas, because of problems recruiting staff, which has meant an overspend on agency workers.
And Jane West, the council’s executive director in charge of finances provided a timetable for the signing off of the troubled council’s annual accounts. Grant Thornton, the external auditors, have so far refused to sign off as accurate records at least three years’ worth of accounts, going back as far as 2019.
According to West, everything should be in order with the council accounts by June… 2024. West hopes to have the 2019-2020 accounts signed off by the end of next month with the paperwork being presented to the council’s audit committee in July.
So just before those accounts’ fifth anniversary. Which is hardly going like… well, a bomb, is it?
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Has Part-time Perry found a way of blowing apart the debt mountain? Claim it on the insurance?
This council needs less a bomb and more a rocket (up the jacksy).