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'I need to stay politically neutral', says Croydon Council chief executive after fiery community meeting

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CROYDON Council chief executive Jon Rouse (JR) says his expectation was to have a meeting with the WCCF and feels uncomfortable that the press are present.

Bushra Ahmed (BA), who formed the WCCF, said: "Were you not aware that it was going to be an open meeting?

JR (looks at other council officers): "Well I don't know if anybody else... they're all shaking their heads."

BA: "Well, I apologise for that."

JR: "It's just not appropriate for an officer to be placed in this position.

"If you want to have an open forum with the politicians, fair enough, that's what they're elected to do.

"In terms of me being accountable then we have scrutiny committees to do that and I'm called to appear before scrutiny committees, as are my officers."

A member of the audience then asks the press if they would leave.

BA: "It was an open meeting and we have asked people who have now come. If we follow the questions, is there anything on there...

JR: "The point I would make is it's going to be a very, very different meeting if the press are here because I'm going to give very factual and very closed answers.

"It isn't my job, or my officers', to place ourselves in a position which is rightly the position of the democratically elected politicians. We will have a meeting, but it is going to be quite stilted."

Mr Rouse is asked if the pre-prepared questions are OK and he says they are fine.

But when asked to press on with the answers he replies he will do so "up to a point".

Andrew Pelling, blogger and former Croydon Central MP: "Surely it's better for the community if the press are not here, in terms of communicating and trying to move things forward.

"I speak on behalf of my organisation and not the other two. It does strike me, I am an ex-politician, that I know sometimes officials are neutral, they're not politicians and maybe they want to share things with you that would be difficult to share openly at this stage."

Clive Locke, chairman of the WCCF: "Can I please ask the press to retire then please?"

One audience member says it would be "very rude" to ask the press to leave.

JR: "There are two types of meeting here, if you want to have an open forum and you have an open debate with the press present then that is the role of the politically elected members and that's why in the Croydon Advertiser you see the elected members regularly quoted."

BA: "I think that's probably on our part that we didn't make it clear to yourselves that we were having an open meeting and that means anybody was invited."

Ross Lidbetter, Croydon Advertiser reporter: "We've come here to write a story to present it to the community.

"If as a community, the community wants us to leave then I will accept that.

"But my role was to come here tonight to write a story to present to the West Croydon community about what is going on within the area. I don't think the questions are that controversial, but I will have to accept the decision."

Audience member calls for a vote, and it is decided six to four in favour of the press leaving, with some not casting a vote.

The Advertiser Says – page 4

Jon Rouse sent this response the Advertiser on Tuesday...

FOLLOWING reports about my attitude to being scrutinised by the media at the West Croydon Community Forum meeting last week, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I value and expect press scrutiny of my actions in administrating council services.

Where I seek to draw the line, though, is in not getting involved in public debate about council policy, which is more properly a matter for cabinet members. That is because I am not an elected politician and I need to be politically neutral at all times. This is crucial to my role as the most senior public servant on the council and, indeed, as acting returning officer for the borough. During my time at Croydon, I have always been prepared to give account for the matters for which I am responsible. I would also like to make clear that it was the forum's community representatives who made the decision to exclude the press. I would have abided by their decision either way.

'I need to stay politically neutral', says Croydon Council chief executive after fiery community meeting


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