Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Fun and Games at Croydon Council Meeting 1 July

I was a naughty boy at last night's Council meeting. I heckled from the public gallery and was threatened with removal by the new Mayor - but more about that later  Yes the usual fun and games - but with some important outcomes which can so easily be overlooked in the cut and thrust of Party political banter.


The Conservatives adopted a resolution opposed by Labour to support  the House of Commons private member's bill to enable a referendum about Britain's membership of the European Union. They spoke about the importance of giving people a voice. So now the Council has in principle approved of the idea of holding a referendum. So let's see one on the future of the Libraries and one on the Beddington Incinerator. Why not change the Council's Constitution to include a provision for local referenda? Campaign groups should now consider asking for a referendum, quoting the words used by Conservative Councillors.   

The Riesco Collection

The waters around the Riesco Collection are becoming muddier as the weeks go by. It now appears that the Council owns the collection, and that a previous administration had decided to create  charitable trust for the collection but no action seems to have been taken. There were several points at which the issue was discussed: in the questions submitted by members of the public and by Councillors.

The first part of Caroline Rendle's question is: 'Will the council release written evidence to support claims the Riesco family support selling some of the collection.' Cllr Tim Pollard's reply: 'The Council is not minded to provide any further details at this time as members of the family have been inconvenienced by the amount of unsolicited contact that this matter has caused.'  

David White had submitted 'Why has the Council not made available promptly documents which show the legal basis on which Raymond Riesco left his ceramics collection for the people of Croydon....? Cllr Pollard replied that his request was being dealt with under the timescale of the Freedom of Information Act. Nice one Pollard - a good delaying tactic! In response to White's supplementary Pollard said that the Collection had been handed into the Council's ownership, which was the basis on which the sales of previous items had been made.

Dominic O'Donnell's submitted question elicited the detailed costs of the insurance requirements relating to the security of the Riesco Collection: £60,000 plus annual premium of £20,000.

In response to Tory Cllr Helen Pollard's question, her husband replied: 'Should a sale go ahead it is the Council's intention to invest any proceeds into the regeneration of the cultural infrastructure of the borough. This will include contributing to the redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls.' Well well; so how much will go into the Halls and how much into other (and what) cultural infrastructure? 

Labour's Tim Godfrey asked what happened to the Riesco Trust which the Council had agreed years before to transfer the Collection to. Pollard replied that the decision had been taken on 24 June 1992 to establish a charitable trust, and that the Council had on 6 July 1992 agreed that the draft Trustee Deed should be submitted to the Charity Commission for formal approval. 'However, this charitable trust was never established, for reasons which are not known.' 

Well there may be a case for some more research. The Council files should contain the documentation  showing officers' actions to implement the Council decision. The Charity Commission can be asked if their archive contains any surviving correspondence with the Council. It is possible that registering the proposed Trust may have been complicated by the the fact that a Riesco Charitable Trust already existed. The Charity Commission website records that it was registered on 12 October 1973 and removed on 5 May 1995 because it had ceased to exist. It would be worth research into the files of that removed charity. 

During the debate mention was made of the Arts Council criticism of the proposed sale. I have emailed the Chief Executive to let him know about the new information that came out last night.

The Proposed Library Contract with Laing

Alan Crawley submitted a question about J Laing Integrated Services' ultimate parent company, the Henderson Group. Council Leader Mike Fisher explained the contractual relationship the Council has with the Laing group in CCURV, and in negotiation with JLIS. However the answer doe snot explain that earlier in the year the media had reported that the ultimate owners were thinking of selling J Laing plc, which is the guarantor to its subsidiary J Laing Integrated Services for the Library contract. I have submitted a FOI request on whether the Council will negotiate to protect that guarantee in the event of sale.

Other Public Questions with Useful Answers:

  • Ann Morton - 'How many more flats are there going to be in the already over populated town?'
  • Shasha Kahn - Viridor's Glasgow incinerator contract.
  • Philip Lee-Morris - about the derelict buildings adjacent to the tram lines before West Croydon tram station?
  • Mark Samuel - on why there was no public consultation before the Council spent £1.78m buying land for a new school in Haling Rd.
  • Andrew Rendle - on the ownership and security of of Old Ashburton Library building. Cllr Dudley Mead replied is was the Council and in a supplementary answer indicated that the building was being marketed.
  • Joy Prince's question about letting members of the public film or audio record the  meeting elicted an explanation from Cllr Pollard that there was no new requirement that Councils should do this, and that the Council had agreed that Croydon Radio could audio record the proceedings to enable members of the public to listen to proceedings subsequently. .

While the printed questions and answers should be posted on the Council website, the wordings of supplementary questions and answers will have to be listened to on Croydon Radio's podcast.

Councillor Questions

There were lots of questions by Councillors. Among the interesting replies were those on:

  • why the Council will  not publish full financial and contractual details of the Viridor incinerator deal
  • Band D Council tax figures
  • transfer applications cancelled since 1 January (1252). (Most are due to 'no housing need', but that is no reason to cancel as helping such applicants move can be part of multi-way exchanges which would help those in housing need.)
  • explanation of the schools places planning projections
  • the work and cost of the in-house Social Work Academy
  • TfL's proposed Tramlink improvements
  • the capitalised expenditure figures on the new Town Hall HQ building and the finances of the CCURV partnership with Laing
  • the remaining street lighting replacement programme to July 2016
  • the wards in which the first phase of the compulsory recycling monitoring scheme will take place; of the 47 roads 29 are in Thornton Heath Ward
  • a list of roads in the next phase of road surfacing/repairs 
  • the list of awards so far in the Small Grants Fund
  • action to meet the shortage of burial places available to residents 

Fairfield Halls, Clocktower and Warehouse Theatre

In response to Labour's Tim Godfrey, Pollard explained that the previous Labour deal with Countryside Developments to help refurbish Fairfield Halls had not gone ahead because the latter had pulled out on 30 May 2006. He then set out what he sees as cultural activities improvements planned for the Clocktower..He also justified the withdrawal of funding form Warehouse Theatre on Audit Commission requirements not to permit public subsidy to organisations in imminent danger of liquidation. Godfrey also asked for an update on the status of the Stanhope S106 agreement re-the Warehouse Theatre and its administrators. Cabinet member Jason Perry gave a lengthy explanation.

Employment in Croydon

In response to a question from Cllr Richard Chatterjee Cabinet Member Vihdi Mohan  provided information on the employment situation.

  • End of March Job Seekers Allowance claimants 9,910 - 4.5% of working poop) down by 1,025 on the year before
  • 18-24 year olds on JSA 2,300 down by 525 on the year before
  • Westfield & Hammerson Croydon partnership project c. 5,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs
  • New developments should create c. 3,000 jobs
  • Infrastructure investment c. 2,000 job
  • SME  c,2,000 jobs
  • Inward investment and business services c.1,000 jobs

Mohan also gave detailed responses to:

  • Cllr Humayun Kabir on the employment situation in West Croydon, and explained how the Council supported MP Steve Reed's jobs fair
  • Cllr Louisa Woodley he outlined the work in West Croydon using the post-riot money. 

And So Back To Being Naughty Boy

On 11 June another member of the public and I addressed the Scrutiny Committee on the libraries tendering process. This was not recorded in the report to the Council meeting. For their meeting on 18 June the members of the Scrutiny sub-committee which looks at housing matters had a paper from me. The Chairman did not ask me whether I wanted to comment. The report to Council did not contain a reference to there being a submission from a member of the public.  

I emailed the Chairs  about the importance of acknowledging contributions by members of the public. As the report to Council did not do this I emailed all Councillors as follows:

Having attended the main Scrutiny Committee and the Housing etc Sub-committee as a member of the public I am appalled at the inadequate nature of this report to the Council meeting tomorrow night (Monday).
It fails to summarise the main points in the open discussion on the Library tender and to record that two members of the public made representations, Ian Hunter and myself on the Library issue and me on the work programme.
It also fails to report in detail the debate on the welfare reform and housing changes.  Further as requested by me of the Sub-committee Chair it does not refer to the fact that a member of the public had submitted to a paper to Sub-committee members on housing issues. Indeed the Chair has not responded to me on the matter.
The report is in no ways an adequate form of reporting accountability to full Council. Further  the failure to mention public contributions by any member of the public shows contempt for those of us who seek to engage constructively in the Council decision making process, and is a further example of why many people are cynical of that process.

I request that you consider referring the report back so it can properly reflect the proceedings of both meetings and officially record that members of the public made contributions to the debate.

Needless to say this request was ignored. So at the end of the discussion I stood up in the public gallery and addressed the Mayor saying that I wished to congratulate the majority party for its contempt of members of the public seeking to make constructive contributions to the discussion and decision making process. The   Mayor threatened to have me removed.  The Labour Councillors clapped their agreement with what I said! Once I had said my piece I sat down so the Mayor did not feel it necessary to try and have me removed.

And as I have not received an email or correspondence from Officers with information and comment on my submission I have submitted the questions it contained as a series of  Freedom of Information requests.

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