By Grainne Cuffe
The recently selected Conservative candidate for Sydenham has said a lack of opposition at Lewisham Council has left it “marking its own homework”.
Helena Croft, who has lived in Lewisham since 2016, is hoping to become a councillor in the May by-election.
Councillor Tom Copley stepped down earlier this year after becoming Deputy Mayor for Housing.
Mrs Croft, former deputy leader of Horsham District Council before being deselected as a candidate ahead of the elections in 2015, said there is a need for opposition in the council, which except for one Independent, is made up of either Labour or Labour and Co-operative councillors.
“At present the Labour leadership in the Town Hall is left to mark its own homework and local people are paying the price – an opposition in the Town Hall would mean somebody to challenge Labour’s culture of arrogance and complacency,” she said.
Mrs Croft criticised the council’s response to the controversial Lewisham and Lee Green low traffic neighbourhood LTN and the performance of the borough’s secondary schools.
“An opposition in the Town Hall will also ensure taxpayers money is being well spent and on the right priorities – this year alone we’ve seen the council recruit a new head of communications on 2.5 times the average salary in Lewisham and a political assistant on £34,000 a year to focus on drug law reform (despite the council having no power on this).
“Fourteen executives at Lewisham Council earn more than £100,000 a year with the highest paid earning close to the Prime Minister’s salary.
“An opposition in the Town Hall will hold Labour to account and campaign for less money spent on executives and more on delivering the services local people rely on,” she said.
The women’s charity director said the council should focus on improving school standards, tackling rising crime rates, improving local transport, and supporting high streets.
Labour has also selected its candidate, economics teacher and school governor Jack Lavery.
Mr Lavery said he hopes to use his experience as an educator and of living in Lewisham’s private rented sector if elected.
“I am looking forward to working hard on behalf of everyone living in Sydenham.
“Lewisham Council is doing a huge amount of work in improving education attainment and opportunities.
“If elected, I hope I can bring my experience as a teacher and school governor into the role.
“I also want to advocate for the thousands who are living in the private rented sector, like myself, and help deliver more council housing across the borough.
“Sydenham has such a wonderful sense of community and I am eager, as soon as it is safe, to get on the doorstep, speak with local residents and earn their trust,” he said.
The deputy mayor of the council and Sydenham Councillor Chris Best has backed the selection
“Both myself and Councillor Liam Curran are delighted Sydenham Labour Party has selected Jack to be our candidate.
“I have been very impressed with his hard work and I know that, if elected, he will be a fantastic councillor for Sydenham and an asset to the council,” she said.
A spokesperson for Lewisham Labour said Lewisham residents trusting Labour as their representatives “is something that we will never take for granted”.
“We would invite local Conservative candidates to join our lobbying to reform the UK’s drugs laws, rather than dismiss it.
“These laws have a hugely disproportionate impact on Lewisham’s young and diverse population.
“LTNs are one example of Lewisham’s response to the climate emergency which helps support more people walking and cycling.
“As a listening council, we have taken account of residents’ feedback at every step, including hosting a virtual town hall session and regularly meeting with local community groups.
“This feedback has helped inform the changes made to the scheme and there will be a comprehensive consultation scheme in April,” he said.
The spokesperson said school performance is a “key priority”, while primary schools perform well.
“We have established Lewisham Learning that shares best practice from schools across the borough as well as investing in teacher leadership programmes to develop the next generation of teachers here in Lewisham.
“When it comes to senior council staff, the Tax Payers’ Alliance Town Hall 2020 report shows that Lewisham has a relatively small executive team.
“Conservative-run councils have significantly larger and more expensive teams than Lewisham’s.
“Westminster Council has 24 members of staff paid over £100,000 a year, whilst Wandsworth has 18.
“Both their chief executives receive considerably higher salaries than both Lewisham’s and the Prime Minister,” he said.
The spokesperson criticised a “brutal decade of Conservative austerity”, while the council has lost more than 50 per cent of its staff and “now spends £500 less on services per resident today than in 2010”.
Pictured: From left, Helena Croft, Jack Lavery
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