Last night Croydon Council held yet another Cabinet meeting - one of the main decision-making committees that determine the policies to be adopted for our borough.
It's a vital meeting, and discussed many crucial topics. Historically the Opposition have been allowed to ask questions, to check and scrutinise each paper, in order to ensure they are given the proper consideration before adoption or rejection.
Since taking over leadership of the Council, Cllr Hamida Ali has pursued an active policy of shutting out the Opposition from asking questions at Cabinet meetings. We are allowed just one question per paper, meaning that in a three hour meeting we often don't get to ask more than five questions. There is no right of reply, there is no ability for us to question their answers, and so we are being consciously prevented from doing our job: holding this failing Labour Council to account, and assessing the impact of their policies on the people of Croydon.
Here are some of the many questions that we would have liked to ask last night, and the few that we are able to squeeze in.
Cllr Jason Perry to Cllr Hamida Ali on Croydon Renewal Plan:
What a revelation that KPIs are a useful measure of how performance is going. Let’s hope they’re more realistic than the last time they were used and fudged to suit the required narrative.
No KPIs with regard to housing - are you not adapting to new pressures arising such as a total collapse within the housing department?
Cllr Jason Perry to Cllr Hamida Ali on Croydon's Report in the Public Interest update:
In the ten months that they have left is the pace of change quick enough, bearing in mind it’s essentially the same politicians responding to the crisis what is really changing - where is the additional challenge? A number of items still behind schedule especially key issues around governance of subsidiaries. Concern that only now is work beginning to properly evidence what has been achieved so far - has it been made up to date - again where is the challenge?
Cllr Scott Roche to Cllr Muhammad Ali on Labour Low Traffic Neighbourhood policy:
I have a number of concerns with the nature of data used in the report, car traffic survey, data was gathered between May-August 2020, in the middle of a pandemic.
Clearly this will create irregular traffic patterns linked with the pandemic restrictions nationally.
How can this be deemed as a reliable source of local traffic data? Where is the evidence and baselines for comparative data that shows the Croydon LTNs have improved local air quality, instead of simply dispersing traffic to nearby roads?
How can you mitigate the clear problems that were pushed on to the surrounding roads in Crystal Palace?
I am concerned at the reliability of Business feedback noted in the report from the Norwood triangle last year, Only 47 out of 300 replied, and some not accepted because the wrong “Code” was submitted.
Were all 300 businesses open for businesses when consulted? And are you certain this was a true representation of feedback received as a result?!
Business more than ever needs our support, hindering trade recovery with increased and for many a negative reason not to visit the area and support our local businesses.
Lastly, I find it disingenuous that the consultation report stated that an estimated 25% responding rate is not a full enough representative of the community in the consultation. However, councillors in local elections are often elected on a similar percentage of the electorate.
Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North, agrees with this view-point as well, as he stated in the letter included within the report.
However, 62% of those who responded were against any LTN scheme in the local area and wanted them scrapped completely.
Why are cabinet pushing ahead with the new LTN (TRO) scheme, when there is a very clear and high level of opposition to the previous LTN scheme in Crystal Palace and South Norwood, together with the lack of environmental evidence proving that local air quality improved with the implementation of the LTN schemes?
Cllr Scott Roche to Cllr Muhammad Ali on Croydon Climate Commission report:
Thank you Miatta, for you and your colleague commissioners hard work in producing this report, especially under the very difficult circumstances nationally, and locally.
There are elements of this report that I agree with, and it is right that Croydon Council should, and needs to take a more serious approach at improving our local environment and air quality.
I particularly agree that a High-profile School campaign, as one of the vital steps needed to change the attitudes of the younger generation, and sustaining long term shifts in change of attitude. As you said it is a partnership with stakeholders and the wider community that we can achieve the real change that’s required.
The Council committed to planting 3,500 trees before 2023, as mentioned in the report.
But due to this Councils financial situation, the “Tree Planting Capital Project” has been withdrawn as of last financial year, indefinitely.
I understand that the Council is therefore now reliant on other schemes to apply for funding it cannot meet to try and meet its target.
Cllr Ali, How many trees were planted under the Councils programme before it was cancelled, and any schemes where funding has been applied since, where in the borough have they been planted in terms of % of the total,
And are you going to meet your 2023 target?
Lastly, What is the Cabinets Position on the commissions report’s recommendation 23, adopting “distanced-based road pricing?” structure in Croydon. Are you committed to moving to adopt a scheme of this nature in Croydon?
Currently a lot of this council approach in its attempt to improve local air quality, is by forcing stealth tax on to the community, in the form of ANPR enforced LTN’s, and similar schemes across the borough, and now potentially a distanced based road pricing model as recommended in this report.
Which are methods that will not bring the majority of the community along in a supportive fashion, we need to introduced measures which will not divide and impact unfairly the poorer members of our community with the inevitable increase in issued fines.
Cllr Helen Redfern to Cllr Alisa Flemming on the subject of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children:
I have previously requested a detailed breakdown of the costs pertaining to UASC, as has Cllr Ward. That detail is absent from this report (without this I would question the value of taking this report to Scrutiny)
Last week we heard from Tony McArdle, the Chair of the Croydon Assurance & Improvement Panel, who stated that Croydon should not do ‘more than it needs to do’ adding that it would be easy to benchmark our expenditure against other boroughs on a per capita basis. It would have been useful to see this.
If we are making a case to Government to be reimbursed, Croydon needs to be able to demonstrate that it is, in Mr McArdle’s words, ‘not part of the problem’. The Panel has offered to act as broker between Croydon and Government which we welcome.
Meanwhile, Conservative Kent County Council is acting this week to resolve its own situation, as it did last summer, although it has just half the number of UASC as a proportion of its 0-17 cohort as Croydon has. I question why Croydon is such a passive participant in the process.
UASC provides a useful smoke screen to mask Croydon’s woeful financial situation. Will you be open and transparent about how exactly you incur UASC costs so that those who want to help, can truly prove both Croydon’s unique position and that is not exacerbating its own problem?
Cllr Yvette Hopley to Cllr Alisa Flemming on Croydon's Autism Strategy:
I am delighted to be supporting the autism strategy a document of great value supported by councillors of both parties. Margaret and I have attended all meetings. Much hard work has gone into this by officers and the joint chairs Jerry and Nicky and indeed many participants on the spectrum. My concern is that an up-to-date strategy has not been produced for residents with disabilities. Will the Cabinet Member give her assurance that the same effort will be made to produce an up-to-date strategy for disabled residents?
Cllr Simon Hoar to Cllr Callton Young on YourCare options appraisal:
What other failings we are going to see from this Labour Administration? You’ve failed with BxB, you’re housing management has been denounced as the operation of a slum landlord, and now your management of YourCare is so poor it couldn’t even open a shop inside 2 years and is saddling Croydon with another £200k of debt that the people of Croydon will be paying off for 40 years. 40 more years of Labour debt is the message going out to our residents.
Cllr Yvette Hopley to Cllr Janet Campbell on YourCare options appraisal:
What was the cabinet members involvement/oversight of the board meetings and the point at which she had concerns over the governance of Your Care and why did she choose not to take action sooner - did she know the company was heading for bankruptcy? What was the cabinet members view of the dynamic of the operating model given the low take up of purchase from CUH and other local authorities and also high competition from other companies providing effectively better equipment for less money? Were deficit recharges rectified that may have impacted the company causing any adverse variance in the financial forecasts. Given the anticipated growth and complexity of the company could the cabinet member outline the importance of the financial director/financial controller. Were quarterly and annual report systems for analysis presented and for future commercial analysis of trades, bad debts, cash flow and all outturn positions. It appears that the company was not sufficiently capitalised to continue. Didn't this ring alarm bells? Residents are going to be paying off this debt for the next 40 years.
Internal and external audit should have played a key role along with the risk management analysis. Were these processes in place and when were concerns highlighted in the monitoring process?
Cllr Simon Hoar to Cllr Callton Young on Investing in Our Borough report:
The Fleet repairs contract is a sensible idea although it looks like a flat £150k per year rather than being based on actual work. Is this the case or is it a maximum of £150k depending on work needed? Also, the report gives details of contracts and extensions over £500k, but also lists another 13 over £100k that is just a headline and no detail for scrutiny because they come under delegated decisions. This is still a significant amount of money and given the Council’s financial mess there should be public scrutiny of these contracts too.
The full agenda and all the papers for the meeting can be read here.