Croydon Council’s politics are broken. If any evidence of that is needed, one has only to consider the litany of recent failures. Croydon is the only London council to go bankrupt for over 20 years, following disastrous failed loss-making commercial property speculation. Local services such as libraries, children’s services, grass cutting and swimming pools like Purley are closed or being slashed as a result. The Westfield centre has been cancelled. The council treats its own tenants with contempt, allowing residents of Regina Road and other blocks to live in squalor and ignoring their pleas for help. Fairfield Halls has cost over £70m for what turns out to be a cosmetic refurbishment, nearly three times over budget. The council’s planning department grants consents like confetti, concreting over the Borough and changing the character of long-established neighbourhoods while ignoring the heart-felt pleas of local people. The most destructive developer in the Borough, Brick by Brick, is even 100% owned by the council itself – and to cap it all, its losses helped tip the Borough into bankruptcy.
How could all this have been allowed to happen? Residents across the Borough – from north to south – have been pleading with the council on these issues for years. Pleading to protect green spaces. Pleading to keep swimming pools like Purley open. Pleading to get flats like Regina Road repaired and made fit for human habitation. Pleading for Brick by Brick’s destructive activities to be ended.
And yet these pleas were all ignored. You would have thought, in a democracy and with the council leadership wanting to be re-elected, they would listen.
But they don’t listen. In fact, they treat most of the Borough with contempt. The key question is a simple one: Why?
The answer lies in the electoral system and the electoral geography of the Borough. There are 70 councillors in Croydon, representing 28 areas, or Wards (each of which has 1, 2 or 3 councillors). Whichever party gets a majority of councillors chooses a “Leader” with sweeping executive powers. At the moment, Labour has 41 of the 70 councillors, and so the Leader is chosen by a majority of the 41 Labour councillors – requiring potentially as few as 21 votes.
But the election results in most of the 28 Wards are a foregone conclusion, largely based on north/south geography. There are only a handful of “marginal” wards where the result is in doubt. So the ruling group only has to pay attention to these seven or eight wards (out of 28) wards to hang onto power. That is why they ignore – or even treat with contempt – the majority of the Borough, even areas that return Labour councillors such as Regina Road. In theory (although I hope not in practice) the same could be true if the boot were on the other foot.
That is why we need change. Change to a system where whoever runs the council has to listen to every single resident across the whole Borough to get elected – not just a handful in a few marginal wards. A Democratically Elected Executive Mayor would do this. Instead of the Leader being chosen in a smoke filled room by as few as 21 councillors – many of whom are then promptly rewarded by the new “Leader” with paid positions – the public as a whole would instead directly elect an Executive Mayor. Power to choose that person would be in the hands of Croydon’s 400,000 residents, not a small clique acting behind closed doors, often out of self-interest. When the previous leader of the Council, Tony Newman, resigned in disgrace a year or so ago Labour councillors just voted behind closed doors to replace him one of his proteges – someone who had themselves served in Newman’s “Cabinet” and had even previously had some responsibility for the Borough’s finances.
The Directly Elected Mayor would have important executive powers, rather like the Mayor of London. They would be publicly visible and accountable. They would be chosen by the people, not by a clique. They would have to listen to every single voter across the Borough to win. And they would not even cost more – they would simply replace the existing Leader and exercise the same executive powers as the Leader currently does.
There is a referendum on 7th October about making this change. Many people support it. The only people who don’t appear to support it are those in the small clique who bankrupt the Borough – who, unsurprisingly, don’t like the idea of proper accountability.
Let’s make a change on 7th October and make sure the people choose who runs the Borough. Let’s vote in favour of a Democratically Elected Executive Mayor and make sure our pleas to those in power are never ignored again.