The Public Gallery: The civil servants are coming

By - Thursday 16th October, 2014

Tom Black examines the public sector and the public sphere in a week of new arrivals – and departures from – the Croydon scene

Whitehall’s loss is Croydon’s gain: office jobs ahoy!

The British government (that’s the one in Whitehall, not Katharine Street) has decided it’s time to cut costs. You may have heard about this at some point in the last four years.

However, alongside the bedroom tax, the government does feel it ought to tighten its own belt, so Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, wants 80% of government offices currently in pricey-pricey Whitehall to be elsewhere by 2020. Work has already begun, with the 185 government offices in Whitehall in 2010 already reduced to 75.

More are going to move out over the next six years. But why does this matter to Croydon? The answer is simple: some of them are coming here.

The old War Office building, used by the MoD. Last year, it was announced that it too was to be put up for sale.
Photo by ChrisO, used under Creative Commons Licence.

The decision to make the move is a financial one. In Maude’s own words: “it costs £35,000 per year to base someone in Ministry of Defence Whitehall headquarters, compared to £3,000 at the UK Visas and Immigration offices in Croydon.” Office space is cheaper here, and ever-improving transport links (particularly with The Artist Formerly Known As Thameslink 2000 finally underway) make our borough an attractive proposition for public sector offices. 3Space Croydon, which graciously gives the Citizen and other local start-ups a free desk, shares central Croydon’s Southern House with a number of HMRC offices.

More offices moving into town will be good news for Croydon. Empty office space is good for no-one, and organisations like 3Space can’t make every abandoned storey into a hive of start-up activity. More town centre office workers means more footfall for local businesses, something we can all agree is needed as the construction of Westfield draws nearer and the impending town centre disruption looms.

It should be noted that the plans are, at the moment, exactly that – plans. And with an election in 2015, Mr Maude could soon find himself no longer in charge of where the civil service puts its offices. But it should be borne in mind that civil service and bureaucratic changes are not the kind of thing an incoming government usually shakes up. These incoming jobs, while not capable of regenerating the town on their own – much less the outer parts of the borough – will nevertheless be a welcome boost to the changing face of the town centre. And they’ll probably be coming soon, whoever wins next year.

Barwell and Jones go head-to-head on selective licensing

If you read my roundup of what the Croydon Conservatives call the ‘tenant tax’ a few weeks ago, you may have also caught the Croydon Advertiser‘s head-to-head on the subject. Sarah Jones, Labour PPC for Croydon Central, ‘speaks first’ in the published article and makes a statistics-driven case for why the scheme is necessary. Jones goes on to warn against ‘scaremongering Tories’.

Gavin Barwell, sitting MP for Croydon Central and a Conservative, writes a piece that acknowledges the case for improving private rented accommodation and the deals renters get. But he rejects any accusation of scaremongering, focusing instead on apparent admissions by Labour that the scheme could see costs passed on to tenants, as well as Barwell’s own belief that rogue landlords are already breaking the law, so can’t be expected to pay up if a new scheme is launched.

You can read the whole piece here, and it’s worth a look if you want a sense of what both candidates are saying about the scheme. The plan itself continues to move forward, but consultation is underway. You can take part in a council questionnaire here – but hurry, the deadline is tomorrow.

Croydon Radio’s Bieneosa Ebite hangs up her headphones

Her overnight coverage of the Croydon 2014 count brought ward-by-ward results live to people’s homes. Her interview with the National Front’s Tony Lee Martin brought criticism from ‘no platform’ acolytes but won plaudits for confronting racism head-on (and was also very good radio). Her probing questions for politicians of every stripe attracted praise and ill-advised attacks in equal measure.

But Bieneosa Ebite, presenter of Croydon Radio’s In The Loop since 2012, is moving on. While she doesn’t rule out a return at some point, In The Loop, a programme she built and turned into a must-listen for thousands of Croydonians, will not be gracing our Sunday evening airwaves for the foreseeable future.

Croydon’s local debate will be poorer without Bieneosa, and it’s my hope that she will remain publicly engaged in some way. On a personal note, I wish her the very best in whatever she does next.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • David Callam

    Civil Servants decant to Croydon. I agree, it would be good for the town, but I’ll believe it when it happens. Foot-dragging civil servants will use any excuse to stay in central London, including, perhaps, that Croydon’s office blocks are empty for a reason: that many of them are not capable of supporting the electronic systems required by today’s enterprises.
    On a different matter, may I echo your best wishes to Bieneosa. I too believe she has made a valuable contribution to the political life of the town and like you, I hope she will continue to do so in some capacity for many years to come.