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A 'fair' spend? Croydon Council to spend £200,000 on fairness commission

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THE new Labour council is to fork out £200,000 on a major public consultation designed to ensure it spends money – and makes cuts -fairly.

The inquiry, dubbed the Fairness Commission for Croydon, will recommend how wide-ranging public services, such as housing, health and social care, should be provided.

It will be headed up by an independent expert and "Ambassadors for Fairness" – members of the public, private and voluntary organisations – will sit on the panel and undertake a year-long "listening exercise" before producing a final report.

Council leader Tony Newman said £200,000 was a small amount to pay to take a "once in a generation opportunity to ensure fairness underpins council decisions".

The Conservatives, however, described the idea as a "complete waste of money".

A fairness commission was a key promise in Labour's election manifesto and is one of a handful of flagship policies up for discussion at Monday's cabinet meeting, the first since the party's election victory in May.

Cllr Newman said the panel would address "huge inequalities" in Croydon and help the council make informed decisions about how to deliver services in face of continued cuts in government funding.

He told the Advertiser: "This is an opportunity to take a considered look at how we, in tough economic times, ensure the huge sums of money we spend achieve maximum effect, and reach those who need it most."

Labour has drawn up a list of experts they are considering asking to head the panel, including Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Julia Unwin, head of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

A series of public meetings will be held across the borough, potentially beginning in November, where the panel will hear evidence from expert witnesses, residents and community groups. A final report could be published in January 2016.

The commission will not have any legal powers but will "strongly guide and influence" council policy, Cllr Newman said. "The key thing is this is absolutely not a report designed to sit on a shelf," he added.

"The commission might not have legal powers, but we have staked our manifesto on it, so the idea that we would do anything other than take its recommendations very seriously would leave us looking rather silly."

Conservative leader Mike Fisher said: "I knocked on hundreds, if not thousands, of doors during the local election and not one person asked me: 'When's the Fairness Commission starting, Mike?'

"I think people will be appalled that £200,000 is being spent on finding out whether the government and council is being fair to them.

"Is there anyone out there clamouring for this kind of council bureaucracy? It's a complete waste of money."

Cllr Newman said the cost of the commission, which includes a small team of council officers, would be offset by the changes it will prompt.

Candidate says commission will make a difference AN EXPERT on the council's shortlist believes a fairness commission could make a real difference to Croydon. Andy Hull, from the Institute of Public Policy Research think tank, is a Labour councillor in Islington, where he led its own Fairness Commission. Mr Hull said he was flattered to be under consideration to chair Croydon's panel, adding that the commission could prompt real change. "My experience of our fairness commission, and the 15 or so others across the country, is that they can make a genuine difference," he told the Advertiser. "If it generates radical and realistic recommendations which are implemented with vigour, they can help close some of those gaps that threaten to divide our communities." Among the changes prompted by Islington's commission was the adoption of the living wage, both for council staff and contractors and the opening of the first new branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau branch in London in 20 years. It also led to the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children. Mr Hull said: "With a bit of political will, and a bit of time and effort, I think a commission like this can make a real difference, as has been shown in Islington."The experts heading the council's shortlist to chair the commission: - Matthew Taylor, chief executive of Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA) and former chief adviser on political strategy to Tony Blair during his time as Prime Minister - Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and former chair of the Refugee Council - Sir Michael Gideon Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London - Professor John Hills, Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics - Naomi Eisenstadt, senior research fellow, Department of Education and Social Policy, University of Oxford - Andy Hull, from the Institute of Public Policy Research think tank

A 'fair' spend? Croydon Council to spend £200,000 on fairness commission


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