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Leavers of Croydon drinks 9th May

Another chance to meet-up and reminisce from the campaign, discuss our Debate for Democracy, talk about the European Parliament elections, meet-up with old friends or make some new.  We are holding our next Leavers of Croydon drinks from 7pm on Thursday 9th May at the Builders Arms.  Come along and meet other local leavers.

The Builders Arms, 65 Leslie Park Rd, Croydon CR0 6TP
https://www.buildersarmscroydon.co.uk/

Thursday 9th May from 7pm

https://leaversofbritain.co.uk/events/leavers-of-croydon-drinks-9th-may/

Croydon Council Rich List

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has published another update to their excellent Town Hall Rich List of council employees receiving a remuneration in excess of £100,000.

Full details at https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/12_years_of_town_hall_rich_lists.

Details for Croydon below:

NameJob titleSalaryPensionTotal
Jo
Negrini
Chief Executive185,00027,935£212,935
Barbara
Peacock
Executive Director, People168,08825,368£193,456
Richard
Simpson
Executive, Corporate
Resources and
Section 151 Officer.
153,08523,103£176,188
Shifa
Mustafa
Executive Director – Place153,00021,178£174,178
 undisclosed 137,500 £137,500
 undisclosed 132,500 £132,500
 undisclosed 127,500 £127,500
 undisclosed 127,500 £127,500
 undisclosed 117,500 £117,500
 undisclosed 117,500 £117,500
Julian
Ellerby
Director, Strategy
and Partnerships
108,82816,433£125,261
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
 undisclosed 107,500 £107,500
Jacqueline
Harris
Baker
Director of Law
and
Minitoring Officer
104,16815,729£119,897

Grassroots democracy in Croydon

Grassroots democracy was in action in Croydon on Thursday 18th April, when the Croydon Constitutionalists held their inaugural Debate for Democracy.  Five democracy honouring pro-Brexit parties spoke and took place in a debate at the Green Dragon on Croydon high street.

Unlike so many in Westminster all parties agree on honouring the biggest vote in British history and the evening focused on a post-Brexit Britain.  Questions covered a wide range of topics from knife crime, where a number of participants spoke about the need to rebuild families, alongside tough sentences.  Chris Mendes the former Vote Leave lead in Croydon South and now Foundation Party Leader quoted a recent case where someone caught with a assortment of knives on them, was given just a four month suspended sentence.

Chris Mendes

Parties policies on the Customs Union was an area of agreement with all saying they wanted to leave it, and move to WTO terms.  In the event us being caught in the Backstop, Richard Plackett who in 2002 stood for Labour in Shirley and is now the SDP London and South East Regional Organiser, suggested they would want to give notice to leave and use the Vienna Convention to ensure we did.

Direct verses Representative democracy was a reoccurring theme, Neville Watson the Democrats and Veterans Party Spokesman for Cities, Urban Communities & Sport, and Sean Finch Libertarian Party candidate in the Lewisham East By Election speaking in favour of a Swiss style model.  UKIP Croydon Chair Hoong Wai Cheah, who stood in Lewisham West in the 2017 general election and Old Coulsdon in last years local elections, spoke about UKIP retaining its deposit in the Newport by-election and how we need to move to a Proportional Representation system for elections.

Neville Watson and Hoong Wai Cheah

In a change from the tribal nature of so much of politics the representatives and their supporters stayed behind to enjoy a drink and swap stories from many campaign trails.  With the current two party system broken these parties showed how the future of politics can be different.

Audio from the night available on YouTube at:

Speeches https://youtu.be/UPIirhZECTY

Panel Part 1 https://youtu.be/J_e-2IffCEo

Panel Part 2 https://youtu.be/Ults3b-k-cQ

Richard Plackett
Sean Finch
Panel with Chair Dan Heaton

Croydon Council – Just do your job right

Croydon is one of London’s 32 boroughs that deliver a range of responsibilities including education, social services, housing, libraries, planning, waste collection, licensing, most of London’s roads, parking enforcement, environmental services, including consumer protection, and many arts and leisure services.

That’s a full list of areas our council is responsible for.  You would think that would keep 70 councillors busy.  You would think they might want to get that right before they branch out into new services.  Croydon Council however is more ‘ambitious’ than that, and are keen to expand despite problems in many of their core services.  If you asked your boss to take on extra responsibility when you’re not getting your core job done right, you would expect them to say no.  Croydon’s majority Labour group got past that problem by never asking their boss, Croydon’s voters.

In recent months Croydon Council has purchased the freehold to the Croydon Park Hotel and Colonnades Retail Park on the Purley way.  Over £80 million was spent on these two purchases.  The deals were financed by the council borrowing from the Public Works Loans Board.  This is a government scheme that provides loans to public bodies like councils.  £80 million represents about half of the £167.4 million of Council Tax raised by Croydon 2018/19.

The board lends money at reduced rates, and the council expects to make £1 million a year from the Croydon Park Hotel and £1.4 million from the Colonnades.  This sounds laudable, but what about the risks and accountability for public funds?

What accountability?

Both purchases were made without the opportunity for discussion by councillors.  Whilst the Labour party has a majority on Croydon Council and no doubt the cabinet knew, how can it be right that £80 million of public funds was spent without any public scrutiny or even awareness from most of our 70 elected representatives?  Surely councillors and frankly the public should have the opportunity to discuss such a large investments policy, even if specific details of investments need to be kept confidential for commercial reasons?

Risks

Croydon council has just added £80 million in debt to its balance sheet.  That’s £620 for every one of Croydon’s 129,000 homes, and is part of the £1.2 billion owed by Croydon Council. When was your family asked if they wanted to be an extra £600 in debt?

If the investments provide the income the council wants, there is some justification for them, however with £2.4 million benefits from £80 million of borrowing, only a 3% change in margins would find council tax payers lumbered with costs to service the debt.

To judge the risk, it’s worth looking at the council’s track record with large scale property developments:

The council simply does not do property well.  Yet somehow we are expected to believe moving into a car based retail site, at a time when shopping is moving online, with fewer people in London owning cars, and purchasing the freehold to an ageing hotel that recently made a £20k loss, is somehow good business.

Conflicting interests

The most worrying part of the government (this time in the form of the council) purchasing commercial property is the conflict of interest.  Croydon council approves planning licencing decisions for hotels and retail sites.  They approve transport changes to and from them.  They wield power, but will they do so fairly?

  • What happens if say a new hotel requests planning permission for Croydon.  Will the council approve it, if it take business away from the Croydon Park Hotel?
  • What if a hotel wants a conference centre in Croydon.  Local residents have legitimate concerns about the environmental impact.  Does the council approve it, just because it means more people will occupy rooms at the nearby Croydon Park Hotel?
  • If an adult entertainment centre wants to open in the Colonnades next to some shops popular with young children.  Does the council approve any licences knowing they income will help the flagging centre they own?
  • A new shopping centre wants to open on the A235 in South Croydon.  Some minor transport changes are needed.  Does Croydon Council approve them if the new centre could take trade from their centre The Colonnades?

Perhaps council officials and Councillors will be perfect at their roles and never allow a conflict of interest to affect them.  We can only hope they will act beyond reproach.  Sometimes however the mere impression of a conflict causes problems.  The impression may drive business away from the borough.  Would we not be better avoiding this and simply have the council stay away from commercial activity? 

Opportunity costs

Any organisation has only a limited pool of highly productive talent.  Croydon Council will have many excellent staff, but few who can cross organisation boundaries, think-up new ideas, and truly add value.  Anyone in management wants to get their brightest talent focused on the organisations biggest challenges.  I want those brightest employees and councillors adding value on the core services the council provides.  With new commercial purchases focus may move to these new ‘exciting’ ventures, and talent will be looking at other new opportunities.

Instead imagine if the best and the brightest were brought into the ‘Inadequate’ (as judges by Ofsted) Children’s Services department.  Continuing to be inadequate for 18 months, hurts those most venerable in our borough.  Shouldn’t the best people be brought in to solve this?  The same department has many services that could help with the epidemic of knife crime in Croydon.  Wouldn’t it be great if the brightest staff in the council were focused on saving young lives rather than propping up hotels?

Away from Children’s Services in 2018 Croydon undertook significant changes to its refuge collection service.  You would be hard pushed to find a Croydon resident without a story about the problems with their bins being collected.  Could someone be moved from the ‘shopping investments desk’ to solving the problem of bins not being collected?

Other options

Croydon Council rightly has concerns about costs that are rising more quickly that income.  The rising costs could be controlled if they avoided paying for on stage defecations, (yes you read that right) and stopped being some of the highest paid councillors in London.

As business rate income moves from central government to local, the council could stop its war on cars, it could stop help rather than hinder the Westfield and Selhurst Park developments.  Instead of spending taxpayers’ money on their photo opportunities at Boxpark they could stop closing Croydon car parks to give other traders a chance to bring in business.

Any business can cut costs, the trick is to balance cost cutting, whilst retaining customers.  More trainees further automation, pooling services, are all ways to retain existing services levels whilst reducing costs.  Imagine the best people, if they want to be entrepreneurial, focused on this rather than new business ideas?  The savings could easily outweigh the £2.4 million in new income.

Next steps

The purchases have been made, the debt is on the books, and we can but hope that council taxpayers won’t be financially punished for these purchases.  The conflict of interests are a real concern and the council should act now to remove / reduce even the impression of these.  A resale of properties may not be possible, but arm’s length ownership is.

The best minds in the council should be focused on getting the delivery of basic right for those most vulnerable who need them in Croydon.  Not pretending they missed their vocation as hotel or retail magnates.

Democratic scrutiny

I would rather see no further purchases of commercial property made by the council, others will differ, but surely we can all agree any future purchases must be subject to democratic scrutiny.  The council may have found it has dug itself into a hole with these purchases now is the time to cease and desist from further purchases and focus on getting is core services right, delivered for the right price, and get out of the way of Croydon’s entrepreneurs so they can deliver new exciting commercial ideas.

Our Representatives Have Become Our Dictators

Mike Swadling appeared on Sputnik radio this week discussing the anti-democratic actions being taken in Parliament.

” we have such a viper’s nest of traitors in parliament at the moment that many of them really are willing to bring down our democracy, and vote to revoke Article Fifty”

“If we don’t leave the EU in very short order; our representatives have become our dictators, they will have ignored the biggest vote in British history, and there would be no reason to think that voting again makes any difference, and at the point they pit themselves against us, you can’t vote for change and you leave people with very few options if they want to affect change”

“She is actively bringing about the demise of the most successful party in world democratic history, and if that’s what they want to do, that’s up to them; I can’t for the life of me understand how they haven’t removed what is a terrible Prime Minister”

Full article https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201903261073527730-brexit-dekay-dictatorship/

Campaigning for democracy in Wallington

On Saturday 23rd March, we were out in Wallington reminding Tom Brake MP that Sutton and Britain voted leave.  Huge support for a WTO Brexit and making sure on Friday 29th March we leave the EU to once again  become a free and independent sovereign nation.


Phil Sheppard out today in Wallington. Time for Tom Brake to listen.

Mike Swadling in Wallington Don’t let our MPs kill British Democracy.

Press Release – AS MUCH AS THEY THINK THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH

Press Release – 17th March 2019

Two weeks ago Croydon Council once again decided to raise the tax burden on the hard working families of Croydon by the maximum of 2.99% for the council without calling a referendum. To give them the benefit of the doubt that they have not done, as to quote Sir Humphrey Appleby “pitch for as much as they think they can get away with and then think what to spend it on”, we would like to ask the council to reconsider the rise and make some savings.

Our proposals would bring down the increased tax take by 10% to a 2.69% increase in council tax. This would give more money back to stretched family budgets and remove the impression of a council treating taxpayers like fools.

To achieve this we needed to save £518,000 from Croydon council’s 2019/20 budget. We have done this with room to spare, here’s how:

  • Croydon’s Councillors are amongst the highest paid in London. If we reverse last year’s pay increase to bring them closer to the norm we can save £30,429.69 a year.
  • Does anyone seriously believe that being the senior leader in Croydon Council is harder than being Home Secretary? Harder than being Chancellor? Are most jobs harder than being a Minister of State, like say the Minister of Housing? Granted this might not be possible overnight, but by reducing the Chief Executive’s salary to that of a Cabinet Member (£134K) and all other Directors to that of a Minister of State (£98K) we can save a whopping £213,129 a year.
  • We would like to leave more money in people’s pockets to make their own entertainment choices. Your weekend is not best planned by the council. The Culture Growth Fund in the past year has funded a Boxpark priced above disposable income of most Croydon families, a Croydon Pride photo opportunity for local politicians that could have been funded by commercial sponsors, the Drunken Chorus Arts Collective, and somehow found £10,000 for someone to take a poo on stage. Halving this budget, and funding the truly unique and exceptional arts in the borough, not just those for the upper middle class or that take a poo, we can save £114,500 annually.
  • Councillors receive £8000 a year to fund local ward projects on fairly lose criteria. This sounds great but in reality most councillors (and we have 3 per ward in half the borough) struggle for ideas to spend the money on. If the community wants a local service, it’s a great opportunity to fundraise and pay for it. If they don’t, don’t force others to pay for it in tax. This money also risks looking like a series of local bribes, but does support some important services. We suggest councillors struggle by on £4000 a year for their local tax payer funded largess, saving a massive £288,000 a year

The total saving here is £646,058.69. £127K more that we proposed, the council could even pay down some debt. All of these savings have been achieved without impacting a single front line service.

If these savings weren’t enough maybe the council could have saved £11 million by delivering the Fairfield Halls on budget http://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk/2019/03/outrage-as-council-exceeds-fairfield-halls-refurbishment-budget-by-11m/ or £8 million but keeping to the budget for New Addington Leisure Centre https://www.shakinghands.co.uk/news/20170720_new-addington-leisure-centre/. Of Course had Croydon’s highly paid Councillors or Directors brought either project in on budget, Council Tax could have gone down this year.

Both Labour and Tory councillors voted for the increase. The people of Croydon desperately need councillors that will represent them and their families’ budget as much as they represent councillors’ allowances

Podcast Episode 7 – Parliamentary Shenanigans, Leavers of Croydon & a Debate for Democracy

We discuss the latest shenanigans in Parliament and the impact not only on Brexit but on our constitution.

We discuss recent and upcoming Leavers of Croydon events.

We announce the Debate for Democracy that we are hosting in Croydon.

We bemoan Croydon Council’s latest tax rise and suggest some areas for savings.

Finally we comment on the recent council by-election in Norbury & Pollards Hill.

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyQ4FhLVblw&t=4s

Spreaker – https://www.spreaker.com/user/croydonconstitutionalists/podcast-7

iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/croydon-constitutionalists-podcast/id1436442293?mt=2#