Who should lead Croydon? Mike Fisher and Tony Newman go head-to-head

By - Tuesday 20th May, 2014

The Citizen presents the leaders of Croydon’s Labour and Conservative parties – in their own words

This Thursday, Croydon will go to the polls and elect a new council. It is very probable that one of these two men will lead it. Mike Fisher, the Conservative incumbent leader of Croydon Council, has been in the job since 2006. The man he replaced was Labour’s Tony Newman, who is still the leader of the opposition group on the council. Both men are veterans of the Croydon political scene, with decades of experience between them. On the 22nd, Newman hopes the results will help him get his old job back from Fisher, while Fisher seeks to retain control of the council.

After analysing the content published on the Citizen to determine the issues that matter most to our readers, the Citizen team compiled an identical set of questions that we sent to both men. We’re pleased to present their answers here, side by side. It’s easy to be swept up in a national narrative in a local election. But whatever you think of David Cameron or Ed Miliband, it’s not them, but one of the men on this page that will have a huge amount of influence over Croydon in the next four years. Here, in their own words, are their answers to the questions facing our town today. Mike Fisher’s answers are presented inside blue speech marks, Tony Newman’s inside red speech marks.

The next council term, from 2014-2018, will see huge changes come to Croydon, from Hammerfield and other investments. What will you do to make sure those changes work for all Croydonians? 

 The key outcomes for Croydonians will be new jobs and new homes. We expect the new development to directly provide 5,000 long term jobs, mostly in retail, and to stimulate many others in the locality. We expect many stalled residential developments in the town centre to become viable, creating space for new residents which, in turn, will stimulate the town centre economy in the restaurant and leisure sectors, leading to yet more jobs.

We also expect the new development to generate interest in Croydon as a home to technology-based businesses and to reinvigorate the office market, giving rise to many more office-based jobs. Initiatives like the Business Innovation Centre will help these aspirations become reality and create an environment where both local and imported entrepreneurs can flourish.

So it’s all about jobs, for people of every background and skill level, and from every part of the borough. 

We are proud that Labour has a manifesto for Croydon, titled ‘Ambitious for Croydon’. Labour has a clear commitment to ensuring all residents benefit from any investment into Croydon. We will achieve this by ensuring that developers like Westfield/Hammerson give preference to local people in terms of jobs and training, that in all new housing developments at least 30% of new build is affordable, whether to buy or rent.

We are also committed that a Labour council delivers on our manifesto pledge, to ensure Croydon becomes a ‘living wage borough’, keeps council tax frozen next year to help with household bills, and uses the council’s procurement strategy to ensure local companies get a fair crack at bidding for council contracts.

However it is vital that the council now raises its game and plays a greater role in ensuring that all of our district centres also see that investment, from New Addington to Purley, from Addiscombe to Upper Norwood. Regeneration, jobs, and clean and safe streets are important issues. As Labour leader I am determined that an incoming Labour council, if elected in May, will be here to serve all of Croydon.

What are you doing to get young people involved in politics? Do you think many young people in Croydon know who you are?

 We have a thriving youth council, which keeps cabinet updated with how Croydon feels from a young person’s perspective through regular meetings with my Deputy, and Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Learning, Councillor Tim Pollard. We also have fierce competition each year to be the Croydon representatives at the Youth Parliament.

I’ve never fostered a ‘cult of personality’ around myself, preferring to ensure that Croydon residents of all ages know what we do as a team, rather than making it all about me! I hope that young people do have a good understanding of what we do together.

We clearly need more young people involved in politics, and no, most of them quite rightly have no idea who I am. As a party we have our Young Labour and Labour Students organisations that are increasingly successful, but more needs to be done. Personally I would like to see a youth mayor representing Croydon, a youth parliament, and would support the lowering of the voting age to 16. 

Do you have any plans for Croydon Tech City?

 Croydon Tech City is already making a fantastic contribution to the regeneration of Croydon as a tech-centric place. It’s a great example of individuals taking responsibility for themselves and the future of our community. So I want to support it, without interfering with the integrity it gets from being a genuine grass-roots organisation.

Yes, we need to ensure that the council plays its role in enabling Tech City and others to flourish. The council’s role should be providing ‘start up’ business spaces for future Tech Cities and ensuring our entire borough has the IT connectivity required for the 21st century.

The IT revolution offers massive opportunities for Croydon in terms of skilled jobs, training, and growth, and is something we should embrace. We must also encourage all our schools to put the IT agenda at the heart of their curriculums. 

“I’m six years old, and my classroom is a Portakabin. Will I still be sitting in one when I’m twelve?” 

 We are dealing with an explosion in the number of children presenting for primary school – up 28% in just two years. The solution to this pressure has been massive investment in school places, through building many new schools, permanently expanding others and putting bulge classes into others. Overall we will spend over £300m to meet the need. These bulge classes are presumably what you mean by ‘portakabins’? If so, I suggest you go and look at one before insinuating they are in any way second rate. They are air conditioned, with toilets attached, they are big rooms, airy and pleasant. There’s nothing second rate about them – indeed in some older schools they are the best classrooms in the school.

The Tory-led coalition government’s decision to cut the ‘Building Schools for the future’ program in 2010 was just plain wrong. As was the Tory council’s decision to spend £140 million on a new council office, rather than investing in much needed new schools.

So although I welcome the recent increases in investment from the current government into the new schools program, this has only happened now that Croydon is in the grip of a school places crisis. This is why Labour believes that we must have a ‘joined up’ approach to regeneration, if new houses are to be built in significant numbers, then it must be right that education needs, health and local transport provision and requirements are also considered at the same time.

What will you do to make Croydon’s air cleaner?

 Croydon shares the responsibility for local air quality with other local boroughs and with the Greater London Authority. The Low Emission Zone helps in this regard, by keeping the worst polluting lorries away. We are investing heavily in promoting public transport – for example the East Croydon Bridge, which secures the future usability of East Croydon Station. Doubtless in this section, Labour will bang on about the so-called incinerator, which they claim will poison everyone for miles. That’s the same energy-from-waste technology which Labour ministers certified for nearby boroughs and which Labour and Liberal councils adjoining ours are enthusiastically supporting.

We need to encourage more cycling and make that a safe option, campaign hard to see the tram network extended further, thus further reducing car usage, and we will continue to oppose the Tory council’s plan to build an incinerator on Croydon’s border. However, this issue cannot just be tackled within borough boundaries, and London-wide solutions are also required.

What are your cultural priorities for Croydon?

 Croydon’s communities have a proud record of promoting the diverse heritage of the people who have made Croydon their home, and I see the council’s role as being to provide the framework within which they can continue to thrive. This framework includes the network of spaces these groups need, like the Clocktower and Fairfield Halls. The days of councils as the main providers of cultural events are behind us, as budget restrictions ensure we prioritise on the key services our residents need. Having said that, we are investing over £30m in a major refurbishment of Fairfield Halls, to ensure that remains viable for many years to come.

To put culture back at the heart of the borough, and celebrate Croydon’s wonderfully diverse communities. We must end the recent years of neglect and support the Fairfield Halls, back local community projects, support our district centres and their creative bases, and treasured institutions such as the David Lean Cinema and the Croydon Mela.

I believe that the current council has targeted cuts to culture disproportionately, because they failed to see that culture is not just ‘art for art’s sake’, important though that is. The ‘cultural offer’ in a town like Croydon is also fundamental to attracting new companies and investment to our town. We live in a global economy and we need Croydon to have a cultural offer to compete on that global stage. 

What’s your plan for Croydon’s libraries?

 We have secured the future of our network of thirteen branch libraries, whilst still making the savings which we have to make to balance the books, by outsourcing the operation of the libraries. Many London Labour authorities balanced their books by branch closures, but we did not go down that route. The libraries have new IT and new books, and are in safe hands.

If possible to end the Tory privatisation, and return our libraries to the public. We also want to build on the Upper Norwood Library model where local people have a much greater say in how their library is run, and what services are provided. Libraries in the 21st century must become community hubs for all, to ensure their long term survival.

Books will hopefully always be important, but libraries must have more IT facilities, more after school facilities, and perhaps a greater social offer for older people and daytime users.

What’s the last thing you bought from an independent shop in Croydon?

 Anyone who knows me will know that I am not really motivated by shopping, and least of all by chain stores! Like everyone else I regularly buy top-up items from my local shops in the Selsdon district centre near my home. As it happens the last thing I bought was some children’s stationery from Aladdin’s Cave.

Some garden fencing from the excellent Emerton Ironmongers, in South Norwood.

What makes you proud to be a Croydonian?

 The way our people face up to setbacks and come back stronger. A great example of that is the recent flooding caused by the unprecedented winter rainfall which could have spelled disaster for many businesses and homes. A massive effort by the emergency services averted disaster, and the response of the whole community in Kenley and Purley was absolutely fantastic. And we see that sort of community spirit week in, week out all across the borough from New Addington to Thornton Heath.

That it truly is a fantastic place to live and work.

The community spirit that exists across Croydon is inspiring and has stood our town well in some recent tough times. I love the fact that although we now have over 350,000 people living here, Croydon essentially still feels more like a village, as most days I meet someone I know at the bus stop or at the station.

What’s the biggest disagreement you’ve ever had with your Westminster party?

 It’s no secret that I believe that Croydon has been under-funded by government for decades, and by that I mean governments of all parties. I have lobbied dozens of ministers (and, through Gavin Barwell MP, the PM himself) about the unfairnesses which has been unaddressed for years. The reception we have had lately has been warm, and I really believe that a future Conservative government will reform the system, but my biggest grouse is that it hasn’t happened in this parliament.

My biggest battle, including meetings at 10 Downing Street, was fighting to make the case to the then Labour government that Croydon should be the priority for what was called Enterprise Growth Funding, and this was against stiff competition from other cities across the country. The battle paid off, and we secured £75 million of investment for our town.

The battle for the next Labour council will be to ensure that whoever is in Number 10 Downing Street, we make the case that Croydon’s funding needs from national government must increase in terms of health, housing and education. Croydon is emphatically now an outer London borough with inner London needs.

Are you happy with the diversity of the council? Do you feel there is more to be done to engage people from minority backgrounds?

 The council has changed as the borough has changed. We have councillors of just about every heritage in the council, and a good mix of genders and ages. The most important thing is that wherever they live in the borough, the residents feel that the councillors who serve them reflect the nature of their community, and I think that by and large this is true of most parts of Croydon. But I am sure, as Croydon continues to evolve, so too will the make-up of the council.

Absolutely, there is more to be done. Labour has made much greater progress on this issue than our political opponents, but it is still not enough. It’s really important that all our communities are reflected in the make up of the Town Hall. Unlike the Conservative Party, Labour ensures that every ward in Croydon has at least one woman as a candidate, that has been a start but clearly is not yet good enough.

And finally: name one thing the other party has done for Croydon that you are happy to support. 

Perhaps the greatest service the other party has done Croydon was getting itself sacked by the people in 2006! But seriously, one of the previous Labour administration’s achievements was the implementation of the tram (which was conceived under the Conservatives and had cross-party support, but was implemented by them). That’s been good for Croydon and I look forward to a future Conservative administration extending it.

We appreciate the work that has been done in bringing empty properties back into use.


The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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  • David Callam

    Oh dear! That was a good idea but all fairly predictable: a lacklustre performance by a couple of political warhorses, both of whom should be put out to pasture.
    Does it help me to decide who to vote for on Thursday? Not at all.

  • Sean Creighton

    The issue of which Party to vote for depends on what we all think are the values and aims that should underpin the running of the Council. Having been critical of Labour in opposition I will be voting Labour in the Council elections for the reasons outlined in my blog at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/why-i-will-be-voting-labour-to-control.html