Croydon Council’s last meeting before the local elections: calm before the storm?

By - Friday 28th March, 2014

Sean Creighton reports on the last council meeting being held before local elections May

Image taken by Ross Burgess and used under GNU Free Documentation License.

“Profoundly shocking” is how Tory leader Mike Fisher describes the “nature of the revelations made by the review” of the police handling of the Stephen Lawrence commissioned by the Home Secretary. This welcome statement was made in response to a question from Norbury Labour councillor Sherwen Chowdury at the Croydon Council meeting on Monday 24th March.

It is a pity that in response to another question by Labour’s Raj Rajendran, Fisher did not elaborate in detail on what needs to be done to “regain people’s trust and confidence in the Met”. Instead he spoke of his regret that Rajendran had not been reselected by Labour and made electoral points against Labour. His only positive suggestion was “one of the key steps in improving trust and confidence has been to put more police officers onto the streets instead of behind unused front desks.” He added that the council had supported the “move that is putting 177 extra police officers onto Croydon’s streets.” He clearly does not understand that extra police on the streets will for some people mean an increase in institutionally racist use of stop and search powers which are a key under lying factor in the lack of trust.

Both Labour and Tories were somewhat subdued for most of this last council meeting before the local elections on 22nd May. Perhaps this was partly due to the presence of a number of pupils from a school in Addington; councillors were trying to be on their best behaviour. Or it may be that neither are feeling as upbeat about winning as they were at the 24th February meeting.

I protested from the gallery that this was unacceptable as the person was not present and could not respond. I was told I had no right to take part

Yet again the mayor failed to prevent a personal attack being made in open session, not this time on a councillor, but a member of the public who is alleged to have made comments a Tory councillor disapproved of on Twitter. Personal details about this individual were discussed. I protested from the gallery that this was unacceptable as the person was not present and could not respond. I was told I had no right to take part.

The meeting ended with two set piece debates, the first with the Tory motion ‘Croydon can’t afford a Labour council’, and Labour with a motion regretting ‘Croydon Tories decision to betray their 2010 election pledge, that they would never support an incinerator on Croydon’s border, and backs local residents in their ongoing opposition to this scheme’. In these debates both sides livened up with interruptions of speakers and the mayor’s attempts to exert discipline without much effect. As usual she was being tougher on Labour than the Tories. Due to continuing technical problems at the town hall, Croydon Radio was not able to broadcast the meeting, and presenter Bieneosa Ebite had a resort to live tweeting instead. This compares badly with Wandsworth where the meeting is videoed in sections based on agenda items and is available to see on the web.

The omissions from debate can tell us quite a lot. There was no mention of council leader Fisher’s promise to fund £1m for a second access road for the Cane Hill Hospital site development, even though the planning committee has not considered the revised application. The leader should have reported his promise as an update on his written report. Labour should have objected to his failure to do so, but did not do so.

While waiting in a side room to go up to the public gallery I got a taste of how unpleasant the campaign might be

They obviously decided not to put down a motion critical of the leader’s action so soon after the 2014/15 budget had been approved by council and without any prior discussion in committee. Some will say that this is because Labour has no chance of winning seats in the area, and that they were concentrating at the meeting on those parts, like Waddon, near the proposed incinerator site on Beddington Lane in Sutton, where they hope to win all three seats. The Tories were keen in the meeting to highlight what they claim to have achieved in Waddon. While waiting in a side room to go up to the public gallery I got a taste of how unpleasant the campaign might be. Three members of the public were hinting that fly-tipping was being deliberately undertaken so complaints against the Tory-run council could be made.

The public and guest galleries were largely filled with Tory candidates and supporters, with few Labour ones present. Tory Sophie Khan put down a public question about the number of community events held in Bernard Weatherill House. There have been twenty since 6th September. In her follow up she attacked Labour for opposing the development which had given so much benefit to community groups. Oh dear this really does miss the point, or rather is designed to muddy the waters. The community space is incidental to the main reason for it being built and twenty events in six months cannot be said to justify the millions spent. The same question was asked by a Tory councillor.

 They will try to suggest that Labour will put up council tax if it gets into power

The Tories made it clear they were going to stand on their record and hammer home their allegations of Labour’s incompetence up to 2006. They will try to suggest that Labour will put up council tax if it gets into power. What they fail to say is that under current rules council tax rises are limited and also incur government funding penalties. So Labour would not have much room for manoeuvre. With its Ambitious for Croydon manifesto Labour will offer a positive message at the same time as highlighting what they regard as Tory.

The answers to questions from the public and councillors provide a lot of useful information on matters such as: fly-tipping and litter, the outcome of the small grants programme, the treatment of the homeless, school places, library staffing, houses in multiple occupation, and council borrowing. Since 2006/7 council debts mainly with the Public Works Loan Board, Royal Bank of Scotland, Dexia Credit, and Siemens Financial Services have risen from £205,137M to £717,264M (est. 31st March 2014). Interest payable on these debts has fluctuated between n.3.6% and n.5%, with the current rate of 3.93%. (CQ261-14) This means that interest payable will be just over £21M. The questions and answers will be posted in due course on the council website in the questions sub-section of the ‘Council and Democracy’ section.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    I was there. From what I could see and hear, it was the Labour people who were constantly shouting and interrupting, which is why the Mayor told them off. When Claire George-Hilley tried to speak, they kept on shouting “Apologise”. They were like football hooligans. She has nothing to apologise for.