Mayor Perry’s spending cuts should begin with his own cabinet

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Why is our cash-strapped council wasting £1.4m over four years on extra allowances for cabinet members who have little power? Or spending another £400,000 over the same period on ‘support staff’ for councillors at a time it is making £31m in cuts to services for residents?
ANDREW PELLING (right) says it is time to axe the Town Hall luxuries

With cash-strapped Croydon Council looking for a further £31million in cuts while increasing its borrowing by £38million, the Tory Mayor needs to contribute some money from within the Town Hall to staunch the flow of red ink. Spending saved in Town Hall administration means fewer cuts to front-line services for residents.

Off budget: Mayor Perry is borrowing another £38m next year, while making more cuts to services

Official figures obtained from the council via Freedom of Information requests show that, in reality, Croydon’s Conservative Mayoralty has not moved the dial on council staffing numbers.

Perhaps Mayor Perry’s 15% Council Tax increase has relaxed the money discipline in Katharine Street? The council boasts of post-Labour stability, but what we have got looks more like stasis.

The number of staff on the payroll at Croydon Council, as of April this year, is actually not much down since April 2019 – when Tony Newman was council leader and Jo Negrini was CEO.

Four years ago, according to the council’s own figures, they had 3,293 staff on the payroll.

By April 2023, that figure was down to 3,203.

Council staff reached a peak of 3,570 in 2020, during that unhappy Newman-Negrini partnership. Of those job cuts that have happened, most came under Labour immediately after Negrini and Newman left the council.

Figures for the number of highly paid directors and executive directors – who are often on more than £150,000 per year – are also informative.

Top up: council CEO Katherine Kerswell has increased the number of highly paid exec directors

In 2019, empire-builder Negrini had 24 – 20 at director level and four exec directors. In 2023, Katherine Kerswell has 22 employees at director and executive director level with seven of them – almost twice as many as Negrini – on the highest, executive-level salaries.

Whether it’s Labour or Conservative, no one has got a grip of the expensive budget line of six-figure salaried senior officials.

So while the number of frontline staff has gone down, the number of senior officials remains almost unchanged.

Further digging has discovered that, extraordinarily, £102,314 a year is spent on two staff to be “Cabinet Support Officers” to work for the eight councillors who are in Mayor Perry’s cabinet. It’s a bad habit carried on from Labour days.

What makes it worse is that, under the new mayoral system, these cabinet members have no decision-making roles.

These councillors are not MPs needing staff to help in dealing with hundreds of items of casework every week. The “Cabinet Support Officers” would be better used dealing directly with members of the public who have questions about housing, or Council Tax, or getting their bins emptied, rather than shielding well-paid cabinet councillors from contact with the public and running their diaries.

Mayor Jason Perry’s cabinet should be capable of running their own political lives. Cabinet members are paid to do this – almost £40,000 per year each; Lynne Hale, as Perry’s deputy mayor, is on £42,000 per year.

Council committee chairs, who used to have a great deal more to do than our powerless cabinet members, never had such Council Tax-funded support.

In all, Croydon Council’s powerless cabinet costs the taxpayers £355,606 per year, and that’s before National Insurance and costs. And for what?

Earlier this month, the Town Hall chamber saw the first meeting of full council for four months. Between October 11 this year and February 27 next year, there is to be only a single meeting of full council.

Cabinet meets more frequently, but questions from opposition councillors – including the LibDem and Greens as well as Labour – are very limited, with no follow-up questioning allowed. At full council, almost all the questions posed are answered by the Mayor. There’s not much accountability for Croydon’s cabinet members. They could cut the number of cabinet members by half.

The number of councillors could be cut, too.


Over the four-year term, Croydon councillors cost the borough’s residents more than £5million. At 70, Croydon has the highest number of councillors of any London borough.

The number of councillors has not been adjusted to take account of how Croydon has concentrated power in a Mayor who is supposedly directly accountable to voters by a borough-wide vote.

Even when the council had nightly committee meetings, leaders of party groups used to struggle to find jobs for all their councillors. For some councillors, weeks can pass by without the need to attend a meeting at the Town Hall. Some can wait for years to speak at a full council meeting.

Instead, most of our elected councillors spend many hours delivering leaflets for their political parties or door-knocking. As Inside Croydon has often stated, they amount to a Council Tax-funded leaflet delivery cult.

The two main political parties in Croydon also take large deductions – “imposts” – from the councillors’ allowances, a subsidy of the political parties. Council Tax-payers in a bankrupted borough should not be funding political parties in this way. This money should be spent on services for residents.

The London Assembly, representing a global city of 9million people, has just 25 members and is more collegiate and constructive than our local council of 70.

No idea: Tory Mayor Jason Perry is cutting services, but not well-paid jobs for party colleagues

Coming down to 25 council members in Croydon might well refresh a stale Town Hall where, other than some of the scrutiny under Councillor Rowenna Davis and questions from the three minority party councillors, accountability is broken. And that is dangerous in a council cursed by previous compromised governance.

A special case could be made to the Local Government Boundary Commission of England to cut out more than 40 councillors on the grounds of urgent need to save costs, renewal of democracy, adjustment to having a directly elected mayor, and already diverging electoral number inequality.

Assumptions about overall and ward elector numbers in the 2018 boundary review have proven misplaced. Lower-than-expected elector numbers show that Croydon has not seen its economy and tax base grow as much as was predicted – another impact of the failed Westfield development. There is a 2.5% shortfall.

At the 2018 review, the Conservatives did suggest coming down to 60 councillors. Labour opposed that change.

With real services being cut and the accountability process already compromised, luxuries that benefit political parties and not residents need to go.

Read more: Town Hall staff braced for £31m more cuts and job losses
Read more: Perry says there’s no alternative to his budget. But there’s lots
Read more: ‘There is no solution in sight’ warns council’s finance chief

  • Andrew Pelling was a Labour councillor from 2014 to 2022, when he was expelled from the party. He has previously been a Croydon councillor, London Assembly Member and MP for the Conservatives

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10 Responses to Mayor Perry’s spending cuts should begin with his own cabinet

  1. Sarah Bird says:

    An insightful article . I have raised the question of the excessive number of councilors . I fail to see, how and why , there are so many councilors to say the least of their ancillary paid staff. I have lived and worked all over the world and UK .Given, the very critical independent reports into Croydon Council, I fail to see how any of the long standing councilors positions are tenable at any level. There should be a complete overhaul .Like many residents, I am at a loss to understand what they actually do at great expense . I cannot see how they can ” hold the council to account ” at any level if they are paid by the council. This must be a conflict position. I have yet to be advised, how the long standing councillors , many of whom have been in situ for a very long time, failed to see 1.6 billion debt accruing or the numerous failings of the council staff . When the auditors refused to sign off the accounts what did the councilors actually do ?In my view all councilors should be personally liable.

  2. David White says:

    I would personally like to see an end to the Directly Elected Mayor system. Mayor Perry’s term in Croydon has hardly been a good advert for it, has it? A return to the Committee system, which was the norm in England before the year 2000, involves all councillors in decision making. In those circumstances 70 councillors are justified.

    But all the time we have the Directly Elected Mayor system Andrew is right – 25 councillors are more than adequate.

    I’d also suggest other cost saving measures:

    1. Abolish the post of Civic Mayor. Why does Croydon need 2 Mayors? All that’s needed is a Speaker to chair Council meetings (councillors could fulfill this function in turn, without additional payment)
    2. Mayor Perry should take just half of his £80,000+ salary, at least while the Council is in financial difficulties (his Labour opponent in last year’s Mayoral election, Val Shawcross, said she would do this)
    3) End the ridiculous ceremonial functions of the Council (such as civic dinners, raising flags on the Town Hall, welcoming the King’s representative to the Town Hall etc)
    4) End councillors’ free parking and other perks.

    In general the Council needs more spending on services for the public. Government should restore the cuts in funding it has made, to enable this to happen. The measures I’ve suggested above will provide a small but worthwhile addition.

  3. What are the so-called Cabinet Members actually doing to earn their extra dosh?

    Councillors Bains, Cummings, Gatland, Hale, Hopley, Kolade, Roche and Stranack are each paid an extra £27,503 on top of the basic Councillors’ allowance of £11,691 to do what exactly?

    Anyone know?

    • Sarah Bird says:

      Exactly my points! Mystery to me what they do and without exception, every single person I have spoken to, too. What did the local councilors in the Regina Road housing do? And this is just one example

      • I know what most Purley and Kenley councillors do and I am grateful that they are accessible and responsive. I am sure that Sarah would learn a lot from attending her councillors’ drop-ins. Allowances are to attend evening meetings, assume responsibilities etc.
        Years ago councillors weren’t paid at all, so we only got self-employed capitalists representing us – everyone is glad those days are gone. Paying councillors is still controversial because, as you say, they can be invisible. The ‘downside’ is that we get full-time, ‘professional’ councillors who may not have the useful experience of people like Andrew Pelling. It’s us who need to call them to account and media like IC, of course.

        • It was a guiding principle of the Chartists, nearly 200 years ago, that among the reforms needed nationally was that MPs should be paid, so that those seeking to represent us need not only come from the gentry and wealthy.

          The same principle holds good for councillors.

          But that does not mean that the two major political parties should benefit from massive subsidies from our Council Tax.

          The basic allowance for councillors in Croydon is a little under £12,000.

          For 70 councillors.

          Nearly half of those councillors get special allowances, for additional “rsponsibilities”.

          Pelling makes the case for more than halving the number of councillors.

          The additional Special Responsibility Allowances, all the way up to the £84,000 paid to part-time Mayor Perry (he’s still managing director of his family firm) is also worthy of serious review.

        • sarah Bird says:

          Sadly as I am not a resident there ,I would not be attend . I am sure it would be interesting. But what about the rest of the councillors? I still do not understand how any councillor can ” hold the council to account” when required if they are taking the council’s shilling.

          • It’s worse than that, Sarah.

            The opportunities for councillors to ask questions in the public forum of Town Hall meetings is severely limited. There have been full council meetings in July and October. The next one is not until February, and few councillors are allowed to ask questions of the Mayor, and therefore the administration.

            Of course, they can put in enquiries every day to council staff. But we hear regularly that councillors are often dealt with with barely concealed contempt by officials – and that’s on the occasions that they get any response at all.

  4. sarah Bird says:

    Any idea what has happened to the Q& A with the Mayor? The public and councilors must be be able to question the Mayor and hold him to account. The UK is a democracy !

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