Missing: Croydon’s Bus Shelters

By: Zachary Stiling

Croydon residents will have noticed the disappearance of bus shelters across the borough. The old ones were cheap-looking and nasty, but never so awful as their so-called ‘Smart City’ replacements.

Since early 2020, Croydon Council has been working with VALO Smart City towards the ‘Replacement of existing Croydon bus shelters… with new bus shelters and advertising panels, providing an opportunity to embed ‘Smart City’ technology and to upgrade the existing paper advertising with digital advertising screens.’ The programme concerns all 158 shelters which are the council’s responsibility, but not those operated by Transport for London.

“VALO Smart City is a New York-based company which conceals its purpose behind unintelligible jargon”

VALO Smart City is a New York-based company which conceals its purpose behind unintelligible jargon. According to its website, ‘VALO’s Smart City platform makes cities more efficient by collecting real-time data for city services and infrastructure, such as transportation, utilities, security, and pollution. VALO is a smart city integrator that aims to better people’s lives around the world through the Internet of Things technology.’ Croydon Council tells us the shelters will monitor air quality, noise, footfall and traffic flow.

The scheme is spearheaded by Opama Khan, whose changeable but permanently nonsensical job title is currently ‘Head of Digital Services, Access & Reach’; she is ‘Leading delivery of an ambitious strategy to enhance the borough of Croydon through digital innovation and technology.’ Nobody voted for her, but she wields power over Croydon and won’t be underpaid (the council’s outgoing Chief Digital Officer, Neil Williams, was on over £100,000 a year).

“What are we to make of this, apart from that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money when the old shelters worked perfectly well, and that a council which has just received a £120 million bailout after bankruptcy ought to be more careful?”

What are we to make of this, apart from that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money when the old shelters worked perfectly well, and that a council which has just received a £120 million bailout after bankruptcy ought to be more careful? Suffice it to say, the council hasn’t revealed the cost but it claims it will generate £6.75 million in advertising revenue over 10 years. One fails to see how it should generate more than the old bus stops which also displayed advertising, but £6.75 million doesn’t seem much considering the council spent £5.4 million on a 2017 revamp of East Croydon bus station, which amounted to smothering the shelters in crass primary colours best appreciated by small children.

It’s pure hypocrisy for a council which subscribes to climate alarmism to outsource its bus shelters to an American company. Like all tech products, they are surely to be made in undeveloped countries, with raw materials, constituent parts and the finished shelters having to be transported thousands of miles before they arrive in Croydon. There may even be a bit of child labour somewhere along the line. And because they are to be online constantly, they are going to require a constant supply of power.

“They may not look misplaced on central Croydon’s streets, besieged as they are by glass-and-steel Babels, but they have no place in the suburbs”

The aesthetic of the shelters may be described as ‘industrial neo-modern’. At night, they will be tackily lit by LEDs. They may not look misplaced on central Croydon’s streets, besieged as they are by glass-and-steel Babels, but they have no place in the suburbs. Croydon’s suburbs were built in accordance with the Arts & Crafts philosophy intended to combine the beauty and healthy qualities of the countryside with the convenience of the town. To introduce the ugliness of stark utilitarianism to such a landscape would be to the detriment of all residents. Far better would be to supply semi-rural and suburban areas with traditional wooden shelters which could be made by local craftspeople for minimal cost.

Most of all, the great evil of the Smart City which affects us all is the spread of Big Brother. One may wonder how a bus shelter monitors footfall and traffic flow. That’s easy – it has cameras which, with its internet connection, might be viewed at any time from some central H.Q. With our government demonstrating increasingly authoritarian tendencies, surveillance bus shelters are not our friend.

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Croydon Council: the pain for taxpayers’ continues

The Local Government Chronicle reports that “Croydon may need higher 2020-21 bailout amid ongoing turmoil”.  Ever since Croydon went into de facto bankruptcy in November last year, we have seen a succession of bad stories for the council, including bumper councillor allowances, accusations of bullying, bumper executive pay, and the disgraceful condition of flats in Regina Road.

Now we hear “Significant sums” are still being queried by auditors in Croydon LBC’s 2019-20 accounts – with the auditor having sought advice from a QC over one outstanding issue – while a number of “significant risks” remain over the current year’s budget”

The Chronicle reports: “concerns around the approval of a £30m refurbishment budget for the council’s Fairfield Halls arts centre, to be paid for through the transfer of land to Brick by Brick to be developed and sold” and that “there are “a number of significant risks, amounting to £26.6m, which could negatively impact on the outturn position” – even before any accounting adjustments needed for the Fairfield Halls development are taken into account” compared to reserves of just £7.4 million.

It has now been almost 10 months since we first spoke of the imminent de facto bankruptcy of the council.  We now have to ask, what has changed in that time?  How have the finances of local taxpayers’, and the needs of service users been protected?  Why has it taken 10 months for these issues to come to light?  We want to know why weren’t the fully extent of the problems made clear when the councils finances were first recapitalised, and how can we fell confident we will ever see an end to this ongoing failure of governance?

Full Local Government Chronicle article – https://www.lgcplus.com/finance/croydon-may-need-higher-2020-21-capitalisation-direction-amid-ongoing-turmoil-18-06-2021/

TaxPayers’ Alliance, Town Hall Rich List 2021 – Croydon Press Release

Croydon leading the list of local boroughs with executives paid over £100K, according to report.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance have issued their 2021 Town Hall Rich List of council employees in the UK in receipt of over £100,000 in total remuneration.  The list covers the financial year 2019-20, and since then we have seen Croydon Council issue a Section 114 notice, declaring de facto bankruptcy.  It’s not hard to see why the council ended up in this position when despite years of complaining about a lack of funding, and years of maximum council tax increases, Croydon Council still had 19 people earning over £100,000 a year, with six people whose remuneration exceeded the salary of the Prime Minister.

To put this in context, neighbouring Bromley had just 9 staff whose remuneration exceeded £100,000.  Sutton had 10 staff, Merton 9, Tandridge 2, and Reigate & Banstead 6.  Whilst our inner London neighbours Lambeth had 18 and Lewisham 15 (both fewer than Croydon), Barnet a similar sized borough made do with just 9 staff on over £100K.

Private sector organisations often benchmark salaries against other similar organisations.  Indeed, within the council, schools are required to benchmark themselves on a range of financial measures against others similar schools.  We wonder if it has ever benchmarked their own executive salaries, and if it has, what conclusions they drew?  We can see why Croydon Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton described the situation at the council as follows:  “There has been collective corporate blindness to both the seriousness of the financial position and the urgency with which actions needed to be taken”.

The current council leader, and others in the cabinet were in the cabinet at the time these bumper salaries were being paid out.  What were they doing to control council expenses?  Of course we now know those councillors were in receipt of the highest average allowance in London.

Many things have changed at Croydon Council but the latest figures still show 16 people being paid over £100,000 and two on more than the nation’s Prime Minister.  Deep cuts are being made to front line jobs and services, can we say that is being reflected in the salaries of those at the top?

As council tax bills are landing in people homes, the people of Croydon who will pay for the mismanagement of the council budget have the right to ask, why we are being expected to once again pay more, when the those at the top of the council seem to be so well rewarded.

Croydon Council Pay over £100,000, 2019-20:

CouncilNameJob titleSalarySub totalPensionTotal
CroydonJo NegriniChief executive £189,165 £189,165 £29,193 £218,358
CroydonGuy Van DicheleExecutive director (interim) of health, wellbeing & adults £197,171 £197,171 £11,983 £209,154
CroydonShifa MustafaExecutive director, place £156,060 £156,060 £24,085 £180,145
CroydonJacqueline Harris-BakerExecutive director of resources and monitoring officer £153,936 £153,936 £23,795 £177,731
CroydonRobert HendersonExecutive director of children, families & education £148,886 £148,886 £22,986 £171,872
CroydonHazel SimmondsExecutive director of gateway, strategy & engagement £137,700 £137,700 £21,252 £158,952
Croydon Undisclosed  £157,500  £157,500
CroydonLisa TaylorDirector of finance, investment and risk and interim S151 officer £124,393 £124,393 £19,216 £143,609
Croydon Undisclosed  £137,500  £137,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £137,500  £137,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £137,500  £137,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £132,500  £132,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £117,500  £117,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £117,500  £117,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £117,500  £117,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £117,500  £117,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £117,500  £117,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £102,500  £102,500
Croydon Undisclosed  £102,500  £102,500

Full Report: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/taxpayersalliance/pages/17258/attachments/original/1617382775/Town_Hall_Rich_List_2021_Doc.pdf?1617382775

Council-by-council breakdown of data: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/taxpayersalliance/pages/17258/attachments/original/1617382651/Town_Hall_Rich_List_2021_Dataset.xlsx?1617382651

Celebrating our town – Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School

Mike Swadling of this parish is Vice Chair of Governors at Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School in Thornton Heath, Croydon.  Many of us have found lockdown hard, too many of us have failed to put the time to good use, but one local school has used this period to good effect.

“Founded in 1906, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants School sits on a site with separate Junior Boys and Girls schools. The last remaining single-sex, state-funded junior schools in the country. Whilst the schools often cooperate they remain very much independent schools, with their own staff, heads, budgets and governors”

“ensure compliance with required regulations and the good governance of public resources. Following much hard work over the previous year the school received a commendable ‘Substantial Assurance’ audit”

“Teachers provide a warm, nurturing start to each day with a live online session. They give clear guidance and support to pupils and parents about the day’s learning tasks.”

“This past year has been a challenge for everyone, some of us have used the time to set goals, many of us have failed to achieve them, but one local school, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, can rightly say, its whole community should be proud of its journey of self-improvement”

Full article: https://www.inyourarea.co.uk/news/nursery-and-infant-school-in-thornton-heath-reflects-on-a-year-in-lockdown/

The story was also picked up by the Thornton Heath Chronicle https://www.thorntonheathchronicle.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/TTHC-April21.pdf

You may also be interested in a follow-up from August 2021 on the schools graduation ceremony: Croydon nursery and infant school celebrates graduation after year of Covid disruption | InYourArea Community

Croydon council: Testing our better angels – TaxPayers’ Alliance article

The TaxPayers’ Alliance have published an update on Croydon Council written by Mike Swadling of this parish.

“Ambitious for Croydon” was the Labour Party’s motto when they were duly elected to run Croydon again in 2018. Certainly, the plans have been ambitious; as has the spending that went with them. Whilst the budgets that underpinned these goals have largely received cross-party support, things quickly spiralled out of control, as many had predicted”

“makes it all the more galling that the council was forking out vast sums of local residents’ money on things such as solar panelled bins – and now they need to close rubbish tips, which will no doubt lead to more fly-tipping!”

“Croydon’s councillors voted to reduce £300,000 from councillor pay from April 2021. Better late than never, but this will still likely leave Croydon’s councillors in the top 20 per cent best remunerated in the country and top six in London. Is this really fitting for cabinet members who oversaw only the second council bankruptcy this century?”

“Against this backdrop, Croydon’s hard-pressed taxpayers are bound to ask what has changed. Highly paid executives and well-remunerated councillors oversaw a fiasco that has left local households to pick up the tab for many years to come.”

Full article: https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/croydon_council_testing_our_better_angels

The article has also been shared by The Future Cities Project at http://futurecities.org.uk/2021/03/18/croydon-in-crisis/

Video:

Podcast Episode 52 – Lockdown Exit Strategy, A Croydon Referendum & Labour’s Wokemare

We discuss the Government’s confused lockdown exit strategy and the announcement of a referendum on a Directly Elected Mayor for Croydon along with other developments at Croydon Council. We then chat about Sir Keir Starmer’s apparent wish to replace the free market system, the fact that he is not woke enough for some of his comrades and Sadiq Khan’s “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm”.

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Press Release – Croydon Councillor Allowances

As Croydon goes bankrupt you don’t need to worry about its councillors going short.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a review of local authority councillor allowances – Councillors’ allowances 2020 – TaxPayers’ Alliance.  The report shows people who live just miles apart from each other may be represented by councillors who have similar workloads but are entitled to vastly different allowances.  This is true for the residents of Croydon.

In 2018-19 Croydon’s Councillors received a relatively modest basic allowance £11,407 for these ‘unpaid’ roles, although it should be noted this is the second highest rate in London.  What’s more alarming is when you average the total cost it comes to £21,784 per councillor.  Croydon councillors were the 11th most expensive of 398 councils across the country and the highest costing in London.

In the same time period neighbouring Sutton (£12,135) and Bromley (£12,111) were both much cheaper coming in 168th and 169th in average cost per councillor.  Croydon’s comparatively lavish allowances were being paid whilst the council’s external auditors Grant Thornton were, as recently reported, warning about low reserves and poor financial controls.  You have to wonder how they could justify these allowances whilst asking taxpayers for ever increasing amounts of money.

Since then the council has issued a Section 114 notice and gone into de facto bankruptcy.  After cutting services and making over 400 job cuts Croydon’s councillors have finally shared some of the burden.  On the 16th December Croydon’s councillors voted to reduce £300,000 from councillor pay from April 2021.  Whilst this is a welcome reduction it will still likely leave Croydon’s councillors in the top 20% best rewarded in the country and top 6 highest rewarded in London.  We ask, does this really reflect the damage Croydon Council’s poor administration has wrought on services in the borough?  Do the people of Croydon think their councillors who oversaw only the second council bankruptcy this century, deserve to be the in the top fifth for reward?

Drastic financial restructuring is needed at Croydon Council.  Services will be cut, regressive council taxes will increase, and likely more employees will lose their roles.  We commend Croydon’s Councillors for cutting £300,000 from their allowances, but this must only be a start.  Along with dramatic cuts for the citizens and staff, councillors should step up to the plate and aim to come in no higher than the average cost per councillor in London, still high for a bankrupt council but a reasonable sacrifice.

We ask Councillors Hamida Ali, and Jason Perry to work on further reducing allowances in Croydon.  Until then whatever else you worry about, as Croydon goes bankrupt, you don’t need to worry about its councillors going short.

“The staggering amount Croydon councillors were paid in allowances last year” – Story in MyLondon https://www.mylondon.news/news/staggering-amount-croydon-councillors-were-19497661

How to avoid Croydon’s fate – Harry Fone article for Conservative Home

Harry Fone the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance has written in Conservative Home, on how to avoid the fate of Croydon Council.

“Between 1997 and 2010, before the cuts, Croydon Council raised rates 13 out of 14 years, leaving it with the seventh most expensive council tax charges in London”

“Frankly, access to loans from the PWLB was all too easy. One former council leader described the process as “absolutely bonkers” having requested hundreds of millions of pounds only to receive it “three days later.”

“As Council Tax increased, both Negrini and Lacey repeatedly failed local residents, but enjoyed gold plated pay at their expense. Council leaders shouldn’t assume that paying top dollar for chief executives will benefit taxpayers. All too often it ends up costing residents dear.”

Full article: https://www.conservativehome.com/localgovernment/2020/12/harry-fone-how-to-avoid-croydons-fate.html

This follow a litany of failures by the council which resulted in the section 114 notice being issued which we write about here, a damming audit report, and years of excessive salaries and spending.

For more on Croydon Council see our other articles: http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/category/croydon-council/

Croydon Council – Section 114 notice

Croydon Council issued a Section 114 notice on Wednesday (11 Nov) afternoon “due to the severe ongoing financial challenges facing the authority.”

News of this is being widely reported including by the BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-54897296

“The Section 114 notice bans all new expenditure at Croydon Council, with the exception of statutory services for protecting vulnerable people”

“£17.7m of the £27.9m of the “new savings” presented to Croydon’s cabinet on 21 September and the full council meeting on 28 September were “incorrectly identified as new savings”

“Croydon’s financial pressures are not all related to the pandemic”. It is under a government review amid claims of “irresponsible spending”

Whilst we have been by no means alone.  In the 2 and a half years the Croydon Constitutionals have been running we have regularly reported on what we have seen as irresponsible spending by the council. 

These concerns have been validated by the recent audit report:

Mike wrote a summary of the problems for the TaxPayers’ Alliance:

All of this spending didn’t improve services for the people of Croydon:

With the TaxPayers’ Alliance and some cross party support we’ve highlighted the high rates of executive pay at the council:

Poor commercial property investments have caught up with the council. Rather as we expected them to:

We didn’t think Croydon Council got value for money for residents:

We have asked them to tax us less and even found ways to save money:

Don’t just take our word for it we’ve also interviewed Councillor Robert Ward, Councillor Jeet Bains who also spoke with us about planning in Croydon, Councillor Mario Creatura, Chris Philp MP, former Chairman of the Croydon Conservative Federation Alasdair Stewart and council candidate Jayde Edwards.

Things can change in Croydon and Mike spoke about the campaign for a Democratically Elected Mayor of Croydon at one of our events.

For more of our articles and podcasts on the council go to http://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/category/croydon-council/