Croydon’s cuts begin to kick in

By - Monday 19th October, 2015

As the election recedes and austerity bites, Sean Creighton asks what this means for Croydon

As cabinet member Simon Hall will tell today’s meeting of Croydon Council: “the government has continued its onslaught on local government generally and Croydon specifically.” He will detail over £11.1m cuts affecting unaccompanied asylum seeker children, no recourse to public funds issues, public health services and Croydon Adult Learning and Training (CALAT).

The new benefit cap reduction will affect some 1,000 families in the borough. In Cllr Hall’s words: “Tax credit changes will affect thousands of families, notably working families on low income, reducing the incomes of many by over £25 per week, as well as creating a need for council tax support in excess of £1m.”

Funding for Croydon “is not taking account of major population growth and demographic change, imbalances in local housing allowance rates and funding cuts to other local public services, leading to pressures on council services.”

An anti-austerity package is urgently needed

The full impact of the next round of cuts in council services will become public during budget setting for 2016-17 in February and March. The development of an anti-cuts and austerity strategy is urgently needed,and will be the central theme of the Croydon Assembly on Saturday 7th November when it considers adopting a manifesto of positive proposals.

One service already faces cuts and another may well do. Cabinet member Stuart Collins outlines in his report to the council meeting the ending of the free garden waste collection service from 27th November and and the introduction of a chargeable service next year. He describes how ‘the new scheme brings the council in line with other local authorities that charge for garden waste collections and is a means to help offset operational costs amidst budget cuts from central government. In an effort to maintain other council services, the free collection of green waste is considered no longer affordable in the current financial climate of austerity set by central government.’

Of course, if the end of the free service leads to more fly-tipping then the council will incur costs dealing with it, so no saving there. There may also be more bonfires in back gardens, increasing air pollution.

Gloomy comments buried behind optimistic spin

There is a threat to Croydon’s library service. In his culture report to the council, Cllr Timothy Godfrey states: “It is very clear that as government cuts continue, we must ensure that we invest and protect our library service in the right way, for example, by investment in the ‘book fund’ that buys the books, access licences etc. What services should be available, for example IT, advice, reprographics, study areas and help? What outreach and targeting should the service undertake? We will be starting a wide ranging review of our library service very soon. This will ask residents how the service in ten years’ time should look and what it should deliver.”

Gloomy comments are buried in nearly sixty pages of reports by the leader and cabinet members, delivered in an overall tone of optimistic spin with details of some welcome new initiatives like the new youth cultural alliance, and taking the bailiffs service in-house. On Tuesday the council is co-sponsoring a Social Enterprise workshop, a welcome initiative given this growing sector of the local economy. Wednesday sees the council’s Landlords and Agents Fair at Fairfield Halls from 3:00pm to 8:00pm, promoting council and housing association private sector leasing and the new landlord licensing schemes.

The ordinary business of the council continues, especially in planning. The cabinet on Tuesday and the planning committee on Thursday will consider the plans for the College Green area of the town centre and for Fairfield Halls itself.

Have councillors the courage to refuse permission for this school?

Then there is the planning application for the Harris Invictus school on London Road. Last December the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee recommended that new schools should not be built next to main roads and that existing schools should have air filtration units installed as a planning requirement.The application also raises concerns about whether the level of contamination of the site will be fully addressed, and whether the measures for water run-off will be sufficient to prevent flooding at times of very heavy rain.

Then there are the local transport problems that will be aggravated in an already very congested area of central Croydon. A local mother has told me: “My children wait for the bus to school further up London Road and often can’t get on at all as every bus is packed full – and that’s now. There will be hardly any parking for parents and visitors and this will be yet another cramped school with hopelessly inadequate space around it but no parks anywhere nearby for sport, which other sites with similar issues do at least have… all before the flood risk and possible toxic stuff on site have been considered.”

The Thursday planning committee will also be considering a pre-application presentation on the Norbury police station building in London Road, on which members of the public have no speaking rights. They can ask to speak on the ridiculous Boxpark scheme next to East Croydon station – ridiculous because it is going to be devoted to food (hence competing with other parts of the existing town centre offer), does not include a new visitor centre, and does not offer temporary units for the non-food businesses which have to move out of the Whitgift Centre.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    Regarding bonfires – in some areas they are not allowed. We had an incident years’ ago when someone a few doors down had a bonfire one afternoon at the week-end and they received a visit from Environmental pollution.

  • Sean Creighton

    Council Leader Tony Newman gives a very full explanation of his view of the cuts in an answer to CQ427-15 at tonight’s Council meeting. his is downloadable by searching ‘Council Questions’ on the Council website.

  • Anne Giles

    As a former adult education teacher, I do feel sorry about the cuts in adult education services. Some of my friends may well be made redundant. Sat.