Croydon Council has been told by the government it should hold its forthcoming referendum offering residents the chance to switch to a directly-elected mayor model of local government on 6 May, rather than in the autumn as the council’s majority Labour group wishes.
In a letter to Croydon leader Hamida Ali, minister for regional growth and local government Luke Hall says a relaxation of emergency Covid regulations means the council can now accept and validate a petition delivered to it last September by campaigners for a directly-elected mayoral system (DEM), who had sought a referendum in May.
Croydon previously ruled that it could not accept the DEM campaigners’ petition under the Covid rules as they then stood. But the minister’s intervention appears to effectively over-ride the council leadership’s preference for a referendum of its own instigation, which was agreed by the council’s majority Labour group under the new leadership of Ali earlier this month and scheduled to be voted on at a full council meeting next Monday.
In his letter, Hall states that holding a referendum on 6 May “will avoid the referendum being held as a free-standing poll at a later date with the additional costs that would arise for your council and with the risk of a low turnout. I would expect Croydon to take this opportunity to hold the referendum on 6 May, if the petition is valid, with the cost savings that will have for your authority.”
Croydon has had to impose emergency spending restrictions on itself after running into desperate financial problems last year, precipitating a change of leader to Ali.
However, if a referendum on 6 May produces a vote in favour of a change to the DEM governance model, an election for a Croydon Mayor would have to held within six months, meaning a free-standing poll before the end of this year would have to happen anyway, followed by a further mayoral election next May when full borough elections are due to take place.
It could also create a situation where Croydon had a Conservative Mayor and a Labour councillor majority until the May 2021 borough elections at least – a potential recipe for six months governance chaos.
Croydon said at the time of its decision to wait until October to hold the referendum that this would give members more time to decide which alternative to the (DEM) model would be offered to voters – either the current Leader and Cabinet one or the Committee System – and also mean that the first election under the new system, if adopted, could take place on the same day as next May’s borough-wide council vote.
Newham Council has also previously said it could not accept a referendum petition presented to it last September by local campaigners seeking to the reverse of their Croydon counterparts – to replace their borough’s DEM system with a Leader and Cabinet model of the type Croydon currently has. Newham’s decision has been subject to an ongoing legal challenge and an outcome has been expected soon.
Hall’s letter to Croydon says the new, relaxed, regulations, which apply nationally, “enable a governance petition presented to a council between 16 March 2020 and 8 February 2021 to be treated as having been presented on 9 February 2021. This means that your authority will be able to validate, by 12 February, the petition which it has received and issue the required notice, allowing the referendum to held on 6 May.”
Newham Council decided in October that it will hold its own referendum on 6 May, offering a choice between retaining the DEM governance model and switching to the Committee System. On London understands that the new government rules have implications for the Newham legal case which are being assessed.
Last updated 18:10, 20 January 2021.
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