This posting is based on my talk to the Croydon Unite Retired Members Branch on Friday 10 June.Members are active in the Croydon TUC, National Pensioners Convention and two were active in the work of the Croydon Climate Change Commission.
The election of an Executive Mayor changes completely changes the way Croydon Council is run.
All decision making is down to the Mayor. If the Councillors disagree with the Mayor’s proposals there has to be a two-thirds majority to require a re-think. But the Mayor can decide not to make changes the proposals will be acted upon. In other words all the Councillors can do is to delay implementation. This situation under the Tory Jason Perry would have been the same if Val Shawcross had been elected.
The likelihood of a two-thirds majority is impossible. Labour has 34 seats, the Tories will have 33 after the by-election to replace Jason Perry as Councillor being held at the end of the month, and two Greens and 1 Liberal Democrat.
Perry has announced his Cabinet but has decided that they are to be purely advisory. He is reserving all decision making to himself, other than those the Council constitution delegates to officers and those made by the semi-judicial committees like Planning and Licensing. When I had a discussion with him Thursday last week at a Jubilee event in Norbury he explained he was doing this in order to drill deep down into the various issues and problems he was having to consider. He is particularly concerned about the rot in the Housing Department. New problems that have been hidden from view are emerging. I did suggest to him that he would not be able to keep up that level of involvement and would have to think about when to delegate to his Cabinet members.
The context in which he is operating is the same as if Val had been elected.
(1) He has inherited the cuts budget set by the outgoing Labour administration which was approved by the Government’s Improvement Panel enabling the Government to agree the capitalisation loan approval to bridge the gap between income and expenditure.
(2) Any changes within the budget may have to have the approval of the Panel.
(3) Any increase in expenditure will have to be met by an increase in income. Some extra income may result from on-going negotiations with the Government over such things as the costs of looking after unaccompanied refugee and asylum children.
(4) Increasing costs and inflation due to the current economic crisis will require changes within the budget and are uncertain.
(5) If he fails to deliver or messes up the Government still holds over the Council the threat of appointing commissioners to take over the Council.
(6) The increasing deprivation of a growing number of residents because of the cost of living crisis, requiring more support from the Council and the voluntary and community sector.
There are more locally based challenges which would also have posed problems for Val.
(1) The proposed Unite strike of its Veolia refuse collectors and street cleaners could seriously damage confidence in him by those who voted for him. While he can pressure Veolia he is only one voice in the five Council South West London Waste Partnership which controls the contract.
(2) The Brick by Brick scandal has not been resolved and has been highlighted in the news about the empty flats across the road in Heathfield Gardens.
(3) The growing discontent with the management by BHL of Fairfield Halls and what to do about it.
(4) The announcement by Westfield that it is going back to the drawing board on the future of the Whitgift Centre, which means the likelihood of any substantial improvement will not be complete for at least 5 years, leaving the Town Centre as a continuing dead zone.
(5) The problems of trying to deliver an effective Borough of Culture programme from April next year given the top—down control approach the outgoing Labour Cabinet approved.
Perry has taken two very important decisions.
(1) He is reviewing the draft Local Plan 2018 Review to ensure there are substantial changes before it is approved and submitted to the Government for pubic inquiry. He wants to reduce the intensification approach Labour adopted, try and stop developers only building blocks of up to 9 flats to avoid the requirement to include so called affordable housing, and drastically change the detailed design document. He is only able to do this because Val persuaded the Chief Executive to stop work on finalising the Review to enable whoever was elected Mayor to have the final word. I have asked him to ensure that the Branch’s views on the housing needs of older people are adequately reflected in the Plan.
(2) The commitment to re-opening Purley Pool.
Perry is handicapped by the loss of several experienced Tories who did not restand as Councillors and a lot of new inexperienced Councillors. The same is true of the Labour Group.
The failure of Labour to win the Mayor election by just under 600 votes was due to a disastrously bad campaign by the Party. The Party’s National Executive Committee has instructed the London Regional Office to supervise the Group so the elected Councillors are hampered in their ability to democratically run themselves, and be accountable to the branches in the wards they have been elected.
The new Labour Leader is Stuart King, one of the architects of the cuts budget, who works for the property developer lobby company run by Peter Bingle, the former Thatcherite Tory Councillor in Wandsworth. One of the two Deputies is Callton Young, the other architect of the budget cuts. The Chief Whip works for Steve Reed, who now effectively controls Croydon North Labour Party, to which he is meant to be accountable. King has appointed Rowena Davis as Chair of the Scrutiny Committee.. The Chair should have been Leila Ben-Hassel, who had proved herself to be a probing Vice-Chair of Scrutiny under Labour. The Vice-Chair of the Audit & Governance Committee is the new Norbury Councillor Matt Griffiths. I have advised him to seek a briefing from Andrew Pelling, who the Labour Group and Party treated badly and who was not re-elected as an independent. He is standing in the by-election, but is unlikely to be elected as he does not have the campaign machine needed.
With Councillors having no real power there is speculation that the next four years will see several bye-elections as individuals on both sides resign.
Those of us who were largely unable to influence the Labour Council across a wide range of policies and implementation have got to think of a new strategic and tactical approach in the new situation. We cannot ignore the existence of the Executive Mayor, even though he is a Tory. We have to try and influence him.
Priorities For Croydon's Trade Union Movement
The priorities of the Croydon trade union movement should continue to be focussed on:
· The local economy
· Wages and conditions
· Really affordable housing
· Anti-poverty and deprivation
I suggest that it:
· raise these issues at the public enquiry on the Local Plan Review
· set up a working party of trade unionists from the affiliated branches on the Croydon TUC with statistical skills to analyse the Census
· use the Borough of Culture to promote trade unionism with a focus on the creative arts, poetry, films, and music, including a May Day weekend long Festival of events at Ruskin House and venues in other parts of the Borough, particularly North Croydon and New Addington.