Labour Group in Croydon Council Fined £14k for Election Law Breaches
The Electoral Commission has fined the Labour group in Croydon Council £14,000 for breaking election laws in advance of the borough-wide referendum on a directly elected mayor held on 7 October. The group, known as ‘Labour Together,’ is closely affiliated with Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party. This comes ahead of the party’s annual conference, where Starmer is set to outline his vision for the party. The findings of the Commission are likely to be uncomfortable reading for Starmer, particularly as Labour Together has been found to have committed “multiple breaches of electoral law” over a five-year period.
The Culture of Corruption in Croydon Council:
The recent fine adds to the long list of financial scandals and mismanagement cases in Croydon Council, which has one of the worst reputations in the country. Despite the appointment of a new CEO, Katherine Kerswell, who was brought in to improve the council’s standards, cases of incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption continue to surface. Several members of the council have resigned from their positions this year due to the scandals.
Hamida Ali, who recently took over the council 12 months ago, was found to have planned to break election spending laws, following in the footsteps of her corrupt predecessors. Despite citing expensive costs as a reason for opposing the proposal to switch to a directly elected mayor, her excuse has not found favor with many council insiders who remain skeptical about the move.
The Electoral Commission Rules:
The rules of the Electoral Commission allow a registered election or referendum campaign in a borough the size of Croydon to have a budget of no more than £18,783. However, Ali outlined a scheme to spend more than £24,000 on the Labour group’s referendum campaign, exceeding the Electoral Commission limit by one-third, according to insiders at the council. The plan was to use funds collected by the party locally, including contributions from Labour’s 41 councillors taken from their council allowances. The amount planned was so excessive that it could have covered campaigns for this year and next year.
The Financial Crisis in Croydon Council:
Croydon council has a long history of corruption and ignoring the interests of its residents. Matters appear to be getting worse, with a culture of political networking that is more business-driven than result-focused. In June 2020, the council was forced to file a section 114 notice, which means all non-essential spending was immediately frozen, and expenditure was limited to core services. This was due to a budget shortfall of £36m in “undeliverable” income from the council’s in-house property developer, Brick by Brick. The council was also placed under government review following a damning report by auditors Grant Thornton, who found there had been “collective corporate blindness to both the seriousness of the financial position and the urgency with which actions needed to be taken.”
The culture of corruption in Croydon council is deeply ingrained, and urgent action is needed to address its ill state. The burden is on MP Sarah Jones to take decisive action and improve the council’s standards, as it is clear that tighter controls and supervision from a reliable overseeing body are necessary. The recent fine by the Electoral Commission is a reminder that laws must be upheld, and political leaders must be held accountable for their actions.