FORMER council leader, Mike Fisher, has apologised for not letting the people of Croydon know he was taking a £10,000 pay increase before it was made public in a council document outlining councillors' payments. Cllr Fisher issued a statement this afternoon (Saturday) after standing down as leader of the opposition on Friday night. He said his decision to resign was also governed by a wish not to damage the reputation of the Conservative party. Cllr Fisher's statement said: "It has been a huge privilege to lead the Conservative group for the last nine years. "I am particularly proud of the work the Conservative administration did to change Croydon for the better between 2006 and 2014." He cited, in particular: getting the Council's finances back on an even keel;• reducing Council Tax bills in real terms, despite reductions in the funding the Council gets from central government;• transforming standards in schools, which, he said, are now better than the national average and improving more quickly;• getting two of the country's top retail developers, Westfield and Hammerson, to come together to invest over £1 billion transforming Croydon town centre; and • helping the town recover from the riots in 2011 and this year's floods. Cllr Fisher continued: "Shortly after becoming leader of the Council, I decided to devote my time to the role full-time, giving up the security of my career and pension in the Civil Service. "Not only did this have a huge impact on the lives of my family in terms of time commitment and our right to a private life, it also meant making a financial sacrifice with a significant reduction in income. "I chose to make this sacrifice after consultation with my wife as it allowed me to serve our town. "Over the seven years from 2006 to 2013, the allowance that I claimed as leader fell significantly in real terms. That was the right thing to do at a time when we were taking tough decisions on pay increases for council staff. "Last year, after several years of a reduction in real terms year on year in my allowances, I took the decision to claim some of the increase recommended by an independent body and agreed by the council, in the interests of my family. "Although this information was always going to come into the public domain, I did not issue a statement publicly making people aware of this and I deeply regret that error and apologise for it. "I do not want this mistake to damage my reputation and the reputation of the Conservative Party, which I have been proud to represent for over 20 years. "That is why I have taken the difficult decision to stand down as leader of the Conservative Group. "I will continue to serve my constituents in Shirley and hope that people will forgive me for my lapse in judgement." Responding to Cllr Fisher's resignation announcement, Cllrs Dudley Mead and Tim Pollard, the deputy leaders of the Conservative Group, said: "Mike has been a great servant to the town over many years and under his leadership the prospects of our town significantly improved. "We recognise the sacrifices he has made over the years and greatly regret that one error of judgement has made it necessary for him to stand down. " In doing so, he has taken the right decision both for himself and the party. We believe he still has a lot to offer this town. Gavin Barwell, Member of Parliament for Croydon Central, said: "I am glad that Mike has acknowledged that he made a mistake in not being transparent about taking a pay increase. " He has done the right thing in resigning as leader of the Conservative Group. I hope this will go some way to restoring his reputation, because this mistake aside he has done a lot of good for our town." There has been speculation that other senior councillors also secretly awarded themselves pay increases. Four other councillors enquired about retrospectively claiming allowances they were eligible for. Having looked into the matter, Cllrs Steve O'Connell, Vidhi Mohan, Steve Hollands and former Cllr Simon Hoar made it clear that they would not proceed with these claims. In a joint statement the four said: "When we considered this carefully, and after dialogue with the council, we became convinced that retrospectively increasing what we were paid for our work over the last four years would be completely inappropriate".
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