Conservative councillors repeatedly condemned the Labour council for its state of bankruptcy. Councillor Gareth Streeter said: “We’ve been sounding the alarm bells for years, but we didn’t want to be right. This isn’t just about numbers on a spreadsheet, this is about real people that will have to bear the brunt of this for years to come.”
Although new leadership was recently elected, Conservatives stressed that they came from the same Labour controlled cabinet that had been running the council and, it was claimed, mishandled finances in the past few years.
Councillor Lynne Hale said: “Croydon is not a monopoly board and council taxpayer’s money is not a community chest that you can raid and gamble with. To expose council taxpayers to such incredible risk looks extraordinarily reckless.”
Council leader Hamida Ali made it clear that she accepts responsibility for her role in the council’s current situation and said she intended to work honestly to rebuild trust with residents. Ali emphasised the establishment of an independent improvement board to assess progress and said: “I won’t be asking you to take my word on our progress, I’ll be able to highlight an external perspective adjudicating our progress.”
Following the crisis, some cabinet members stepped down from their roles. Councillor Ian Parker asked when Ali would take responsibility and called for her resignation. Ali answered: “My response hasn’t been to step down but to step up.”
Ali reminded the opposition that Grant Thornton – the independent auditor that conducted the report in the public interest – found there to be a systemic issue rather than individual blame. She emphasised the need for unity going forward and said: “That is my focus, that is the focus of the new cabinet and this is the focus of this administration.”
“I remain both surprised and disappointed that both political groups cannot act as one this evening to support one of the most important moments in the organisation’s history” said Ali.
Labour councillors stressed the importance of taking accountability to understand what led the council to this point, and promised to make substantial change in the future.
“Our improvement journey started weeks ago when we woke up and accepted the reality of what we had become” said Councillor Stuart King, cabinet member for Croydon renewal. “We are committed to changing ourselves in order to change Croydon for the better.”
Paul Dossett, Head of Public Sector Assurance at Grant Thornton, said: “Working together in a collaborative manner for the best interest of the public of Croydon would be what we’d want to see going forward. It’s going to be a long journey but it’s one that you need to take on behalf of the residents of Croydon.”