Jobs in Croydon: past, present and future

By - Thursday 11th January, 2018

How has Croydon fared with different types of work since 1971?

Photo public domain.

GLA Economics has recently produced an experimental data series, available on the London Datastore, of London jobs on a borough and sector basis from 1971 to 2015. This period chronicles the seismic shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy across the capital. It’s an opportunity to see how Croydon has been faring in that regard. The answer, unfortunately, is not well at all.

In 1971, inflation hit a 30-year high of 8.6%. Ahead of us was a plummeting pound and inflation that peaked in 1975 at over 24%. Different times, when in common with the rest of London, the largest sector for jobs in Croydon was manufacturing. Around 41,000 people, well over a quarter of Croydon’s working population, were employed in the sector, compared to the rest of the capital where the figure was slightly less than 20%.

Fourteen years later, in 1985, manufacturing jobs in Croydon and across London had halved, and by 2001 had halved again in London – and gone down even more in Croydon. The decline has continued; such that now only one Croydon worker in 50 is employed in manufacturing.

Croydon has not seen the same recovery as London

The total number of jobs in London also declined steadily from 1971. The nadir was reached in 1993, when a steady year-on-year increase began; by the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the number of jobs was back to where it had been in 1971. Even the financial crisis only caused the number of jobs to drop slightly, and by 2012 London was back setting new records. Since then, the number of jobs across London has continued to grow.

Yet Croydon has not seen such a recovery. Not only was the number of jobs in 2008 still more than 10% below 1971, we were hit harder by the financial crisis and jobs continued to decline into 2013. Since then, there has been only a slight edging up. We are still 38,000 jobs short of where we were in 1971, and are one of only nine boroughs where the number of jobs in 2015 was less than in 1971. In fact, we are the third worst, just behind Haringey. The worst by some distance is Barking & Dagenham, where in 1971 almost half the jobs were in manufacturing. The obvious question is, ‘why have others succeeded when we have not?’

That is not an easy question to answer. We can see that job growth has been strong in central London, and in west London around Heathrow Airport. Inner London has seen growth in jobs from specialisation in business services and by achieving economies of scale from the clustering of sector jobs. Broadly speaking, more successful boroughs have found a niche where they had some advantage, and exploited it.

Hillingdon might be a place to look to for ideas

The problem is complex and there are no simple analogies to Croydon – but Hillingdon might be a place to look for ideas, as a borough with similarities to our own that has been more successful in job creation. Close to Heathrow Airport, as we are close to Gatwick, it was even more reliant on manufacturing in 1971 than we were.

Over the period, Hillingdon increased jobs in administrative and support services, and in professional, real estate, scientific and technical activities faster than we have. Moreover, Hillingdon was able to increase jobs in transportation and storage and in wholesale when we saw significant declines.

Looking to the future, we need to exploit our advantages, make the right decisions and then execute them swiftly and effectively. We have the prospect of more jobs in retail and in arts, entertainment and recreation with the Westfield and Fairfield Hall developments, but repeated delays threaten success. We face a challenge getting through what is likely to be several years of disruption.

We are starting to see the benefit of investment on the rail lines into London

But we have a lot going for us. We are a resilient community. We have a young and ambitious population, eager to make a difference – and much more.

Buildings are springing up in the town centre. Major investment on the rail lines into London, which has caused much disruption, is coming to an end and we are seeing the benefits. Extra money for small-scale improvements should reduce the number and impact of equipment failures, without causing delays themselves to implement.

Climbing the job-creation league table will not be easy – but that’s the challenge ahead. If I were a betting man, I’d bet on us to win.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • David

    Interesting read and in part I also reckon Croydon’s on the wrong end of an accident of geography.

    There’s been quite a big redistribution of jobs within London as a whole and given the sorts of jobs the capital’s been good at creating, the advantages of locating in central London have risen. At the same time the sorts of jobs that dominated the outer boroughs (manufacturing, construction and transportation) have declined pretty much everywhere as the economy has changed.

    I think the role of the Outer Boroughs has moved from being somewhere to live and work with their own identity into suburbs for a global city. That said I reckon London’s getting to a tipping point in terms of cost which should start pushing things somewhat back in our favour.

  • Michael Swadling

    It’s is good to hear the numbers tally up with what I have seen. In the early 90s Croydon town centre was full of suits and felt like a place of business. Stating work again in Croydon 2 years ago after a 20 year gap, it’s now a weekday town of hoodies.

    Of course past success was in part driven by low business rates an opportunity hopefully the council should again get soon – lets hope they do.