What was decided at last month’s Croydon Congress

By - Thursday 8th December, 2016

Councillor Hamida Ali reports on a well-attended meeting to shape Croydon’s economic and cultural future

Croydon College, where the Croydon Congress was held.
Photo by CroydonCollege, used under Creative Commons licence.

Last month Croydon College was host to Croydon Congress – a bi-annual assembly where leaders across business, voluntary and public sectors in the borough come together to discuss common issues. Previous topics have included social isolation, child sexual exploitation and domestic and sexual violence and galvanised people to take action. The purpose of this Congress was to act as an economic summit to celebrate Croydon’s economic growth and look at how we ensure that all residents see its benefits. As cabinet member for Communities, Safety and Justice, one of my roles is to chair the Croydon Congress. It’s always a privilege.

According to ONS figures, Croydon has the fastest growth of any local economy in the country. The cost of commercial space in Croydon is five times cheaper than that of Westminster, and more people are moving into Croydon than the West End and Canary Wharf combined. The borough’s connections looking both north and south mean that our strategic position geographically is increasingly being recognised. The biggest inhibitor to more businesses relocating to Croydon? Southern – which will be no surprise to Croydon’s commuters.

The keynote speaker was the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who made clear his commitment to Croydon, describing the borough as “one of the hidden gems of our great city”, a “significant cog in the success of London” and set to be a “real hub for tech, culture and development”. He declared that “culture should never be considered a luxury but at the heart of redevelopment” and commended the council for playing a leading role to achieve just that. His new Night Czar, Amy Lamé, whose role will be to champion London’s night time economy, talked about “changing the conversation about the night time economy” and encouraged Croydon to lead the way on her vision for the most diverse and dynamic night time economy right across London.

The Body Shop’s internal banner for their office move was ‘Croydon: Surprisingly Awesome’

Panel discussions explored these issues in more depth. One on the night time economy featured Jeff Boothe, the new Borough Commander; the Chair of Pub Watch and landlord of the Oval Tavern, Esther Sutton; Head of RISE Gallery, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison; and Ian Graham from the Metropolitan Police Service’s central licensing unit. Their debate focused on the importance of fully utilising the space available in the borough – particularly in the next few years – both to diversify the offer from the night time economy, and to engage a broader audience, particularly of all ages.

A second panel presented key employers in the borough including Gatwick Airport, Body Shop, Boxpark, Croydon Health Services and the council. Their debate focused on the importance of leveraging opportunities – particularly for young people – given that 32% of our population in Croydon is aged under 25. The employers’ enthusiasm for Croydon was clear. For example, the Body Shop’s internal communications drive for their office move to Croydon was under the banner ‘Croydon: Surprisingly Awesome’.

The most important feature of Croydon Congress events is the chance to make a pledge, by committing to making a change on the issue of that day, and this one was no exception. In this case it was the opportunity to pledge to our new Good Employer Charter. Just such an idea was recommended by the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission, of which I was proud to be vice-chair. The Good Employer Charter is designed to promote and celebrate progressive business values across the borough – specifically recognising Croydon employers who pay a fair wage, employ local people, buy local services and promote equality. Local employers Ikea, Dotmailer, MyOutspace and the Frost Group presented the charter to Congress and talked about the benefits of paying a fair wage and being an inclusive employer. More than one in four residents takes home less than the London Living Wage – which is higher than average nationally and why we want to encourage all employers in Croydon to pay staff a decent wage that they can live on. Employers in the room signed up on the day and we’ll be following up with them and taking the charter out across the borough.

Encouraging more employers to commit to these values is just one way that the council is taking action to ensure that residents see the benefits of the growth and opportunity that is coming Croydon’s way. Perhaps then we won’t be too far away from a time when we can drop the ‘surprisingly’: the natural adjective for Croydon will simply be ‘awesome’!

Hamida Ali

Hamida Ali

Hamida Ali is a councillor for Woodside and cabinet member for communities safety and justice, where she has responsibility for a range of policy areas including community safety, regulatory services and enforcement, community relations, equality and diversity and financial inclusion. Hamida is an equality and diversity professional by background and currently works for a trade union.

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