It’s reported by Inside Croydon that the Conservative-run Council have been forced to concede that the management of Croydon’s soon-to-be privatised public libraries should be monitored monthly, rather than the annual reporting frequency originally proposed. This is a small step in the right direction. But, of course, there was no need to privatise the library service in the first place. This is an ideologically-driven move, part of the Tory-led Government’s plans to use the economic crisis as cover to dismantle the welfare state and sell-off public services. The contract, valued at £30 million over eight years, has been awarded to a subsidiary of John Laing plc, who reportedly came last out of three bidders.
Campaigners are rightly concerned about the impact of the privatisation on the quality of the library service and that the public libraries’ assets will be used to bail out the council’s troubled Urban Regeneration Vehicle (URV), which is effectively council-funded property speculation. Concerns are growing about the viability of the URV given the current state of the property market and the role of vested interests in its operation. Again, secrecy prevails, as the contracts for this publicly-funded enterprise, worth over £450 million, have not been published. Meanwhile, the council’s new headquarters building is estimated to be costing £150 million. But details remain a secret and it’s impossible to judge value-for-money. You have to ask whether this represents a good use of public money, given the very real problems around housing and joblessness in Croydon, or whether this is simply another council vanity project.
Attempts by the opposition or local residents to find out what’s going on at the Council are usually shouted down or ignored by the Conservative group in Council meetings. The lack of transparency and anti-democratic political culture that characterises Croydon Council should come as no surprise. The refusal of the Conservative leader of Croydon Council, Mike Fisher – who receives allowances of £53,223 per year plus expenses – to detail the hours that he spends on official business has also been noted recently. These developments all beg serious questions about the level of accountability and competence at the Council.
Such secretive practises and potential abuses of public resources are all too real example of the anti-democratic trend in Britain. Despite the Government’s rhetoric of ‘localism’ and decentralisation, democratic institutions have been steadily undermined as local authorities’ powers have been eroded and the interests of big business and the City have been advanced by the privatisation agenda. Voters rightly demand high standards of their public servants and elected politicians. But the recent MPs’ expenses scandal, as well as the exposure of close links between Government Ministers and corporate business interests and their lobbyists, demonstrate all too clearly that our political system is experiencing a significant ‘democratic deficit’.
This concentration of political power is aided by a media monopoly, owned by transnational corporations and tax-dodging millionaires, which represents their class interests in favour of privatisation and foreign wars, which is clearly hostile to the left and which distorts the news agenda towards a steady diet of celebrity trivia. The Leveson report into press ethics isn’t going to change this as the crucial issue of press ownership was excluded from the enquiry’s remit.
Deliberately fostered cynicism about the political process by the media plays, of course, to the right who are keen to encourage apathy about the scope for politics to change people’s lives for the better. As the recent Croydon North by-election demonstrated, small, serious, parties like the Communist Party, are fighting an unequal battle. Despite a low turnout, the party managed to increase its share of the vote. But while we secured some good local media exposure, with no national media coverage, no business finance to fund the campaign, and the refusal of the Council to honour their statutory obligation to make council premises available for election candidates, the constraints faced by the party in getting its message across are clear and the absence of real democracy is palpable. The by-election result was a vindication of working people’s dislike of the Coalition government rather than the vacuous, backbone-free, New Labourite Steve Reed, whose lack of any real political programme is plain for all to see.
The record low turnout demonstrates how disconnected ordinary people are becoming from politics. If we’re to build a real alternative to this government it can’t be done by being relying on the Labour Party being slightly less vilified than the Tories. Winning by default will not help the millions of unemployed young people, the millions of pensioners living in poverty or the millions of workers and their families struggling to make ends meet. We need a mass campaign for a real alternative in Croydon and the rest of Britain. If you would like to join the fight-back, get in touch with us via the tab at the top of this page.