CROYDON IN CRISIS: The cash-strapped council received £1.35m from City Hall towards the staging of the Borough of Culture, but it is subject to next-to-no external scrutiny over how that public money is being used.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
The Greater London Authority, which has handed cash-strapped Croydon Council £1.35million towards the costs of the 2023 Borough of Culture, says it has no records whatsoever of how that public money is being distributed and spent.
That’s according to a Freedom of Information request from Inside Croydon to the GLA.
Inside Croydon has been conducting an investigation into which arts bodies have been receiving grants towards the Borough of Culture, and for what. And we’ve also been looking into which Croydon arts organisations have been refused grants, and why.
We have also asked who it is who has been making the decisions on which arts bodies receive cash, and which ones don’t.
Croydon Council declared itself effectively bankrupt in 2020 (twice), and then again in 2022, with debts of £1.6billion and massive losses on previous public projects such as the Brick by Brick failed housing company and the £70million fiasco at the Fairfield Halls, the borough’s major arts centre. So you might expect the authority’s use of public money to be under closer scrutiny than ever before.
But not according to the GLA.
Our FoI to City Hall was answered promptly enough. But the vacuity of the answers will disappoint many.
We requested from the GLA a list of all the grants made by Croydon to arts organisations for the Borough of Culture, listing the amounts, date the grant was approved, recipient of the grant, where the recipient operates from (addresses for public bodies or arts organisations), and details of what the grant is expected to pay for.
The answer we got was: “The GLA does not hold a breakdown of the information requested.”
We posed a similar question about the organisations and projects which were unsuccessful in applying for Borough of Culture funding.
We got much the same answer.
Inside Croydon and others within the borough’s arts community have been aware for some time that there have been problems, delays and issues for a bankrupt borough to host a year-long carnival of culture. The 2023 Borough of Culture got underway three months late because officials and contractors in Croydon were slow to get their preparatory work ready.
Calls for bids for grant funding were still being issued by Croydon’s Borough of Culture organisers as recently as June – with 2023 already half over. This was not a sign of events being especially well organised.
On the evidence of what has been publicised so far, many exisiting cultural events and festivals have had a few quid chucked their way as a result of the Borough of Culture funding.
Some perhaps less-deserving causes, such as the town centre’s Business “Improvement” District – not an organisation usually short of a bob or two – has somehow managed to persuade the decision-makers to give them Borough of Culture cash for a herd of fibre-glass giraffes, in the hope that they will boost “footfall” around the run-down Whitgift Centre and struggling Centrale shopping mall through in the coming months. Because, obviously, that’s what the Borough of Culture is all about…
More recently, even litter-picks in local parks – an essential but not an especially cultural activity to most reasonably-minded residents – have appeared to have had money from Borough of Culture funding.
So we sought to find out what degree of scrutiny City Hall was taking in overseeing the use of this significant sum of public money, especially given that almost all of those who were involved at all with the original bid for Croydon to be the Borough of Culture have long ago left their jobs at Fisher’s Folly or been kicked out of the Town Hall as councillors.
The GLA told us this: “Croydon Council entered into a milestone-related funding agreement with the GLA, for £1.35million, and as such is monitored against the fulfilment of contracted project objectives through meeting milestones.
“Croydon Council and GLA officers meet on a regular basis throughout the development and delivery stages of the programme, to ensure the project milestones are achieved and conditions are met, with evidence provided with each grant claim form.”
Again, a very detail-lite response. We have since gone back to the GLA, seeking the dates of all such meetings, the attendee list and minutes from these meetings. We’ll let you know when the nice people at City Hall get back to us. Don’t hold your breath…
- Tomorrow: The Borough of Culture project organiser paid £250 per day from Lottery grants
Read more: £1.5m being spent on our Borough of not-very-much Culture
Read more: It’s hard to find signs of the borough’s musical heritage trail
Read more: Croydon is made a national laughing stock, Part 94. And Part 95
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