A truly frightening budget

By - Monday 6th March, 2017

Conservative council group leader Tim Pollard has strong words for Croydon’s Labour council

Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon Council’s headquarters.
Photo by Tadle88, used under Creative Commons licence.

On Monday 27th February, Croydon Council voted to pass a truly frightening budget. The highest council tax increase in London this year. The highest council tax ever paid in Croydon. The biggest mountain of debt ever seen in Croydon. The worst departmental overspend ever seen in Croydon.

On Monday evening, we heard howls of protest from Labour about areas where changes in national funding formulae have not been in Croydon’s interest – but predictably nothing whatsoever about the areas where Croydon is going to come out well. To give just one example, next year we move to a national funding formula for schools. London as a whole has not done well on this change, with more money going to schools in the shires. But Croydon has done rather better, having one of the very biggest rises in per-pupil funding. Under the new formula Croydon schools will get £12.5m more in 2019, over £5m more than 2018. Did we hear anything positive about that on Monday from councillor Newman? Of course we didn’t.

And that’s because Monday night’s budget was all about spin and misinformation, designed to pull the wool over residents’ eyes. There were attacks on the government to try to deflect attention away from the mounting spiral of local debt. Labour does this every time it is in power, nationally or locally. With the nation still groaning under the weight of debt bequeathed it by the last Labour government, Croydon taxpayers are in for a bit more of the same.

Risks are being taken with the public’s hard-earned money

The irony, of course, is that the reason that the government is still bearing down on public spending today is because of the enormity of the national debt left to it by the last Labour government. This Labour administration has committed the council to nearly doubling the council’s debt, to over £1.4 billion. Debt that is spiralling out of control.

We have a commitment from the council to lend getting on for half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly-owned housing company. The Labour cabinet approved the so-called business case for its quango last week. This business case contained almost no analysis of future income streams and no credible analysis of the risks being taken with the public’s hard-earned money. How is that responsibly governing for Croydon?

Because Brick by Brick doesn’t have to pay for the land it is almost impossible for it to go bust, at least in the short/medium term. But that does not mean that Brick by Brick can’t destroy value if it gets things wrong, although it will take years to find out whether the gamble has paid off.

Labour simply isn’t listening

And residents’ protest groups are springing up around the affected sites in the borough, where the council proposes to build on car parks, precious green spaces on estates, community centres and youth clubs. Yes, we need more housing – but not at any cost.

The fact is that on this – as with so many other issues – Labour simply isn’t listening.

Labour didn’t listen when 11,000 residents told it they wanted Fairfield Halls kept open for the duration of the rebuilding works. Councillor Newman turned his deafest ear in the direction of the public and told them that the council couldn’t afford the additional sum he claimed it would cost. This budget makes it quite clear that it was actually perfectly affordable, the council having been gifted a £14 million contribution to the project cost by the government. Yes, that’s the same government that councillor Newman is always telling us has it in for Croydon. But it’s too late: Fairfield Halls is closed, and it’s hard to see any evidence that much is happening there.

This is an administration whose priorities are all wrong

So this administration may not be good at much, but it has proved that it is absolutely fabulous at not listening. It didn’t listen to the 11,000 residents who asked it to keep the free garden waste service, the 12,000 residents who opposed the local plan, the 8,000 who asked it to reduce the size of the 17 storey Purley skyscraper, the 4,000 Shirley residents who asked it to keep some protection on their open land or the thousands now objecting to 20mph speed limits and brick by brick developments.

This is an administration whose priorities are all wrong. On so many subjects it talks the talk, whilst failing completely to deliver. The state of our streets is a great example. In spite of all the money that it is spending on posters and t-shirts, every resident knows that the streets are getting dirtier and dirtier. If you listen to the hype, you could eat your dinner off of our pavements. But if you don’t want to do that, in most wards you’ll find a full set of dining room furniture dumped on our streets to eat it off!

Before the last local election Labour told us that the streets in northern Croydon were dirty because the Tories didn’t care. But on Labour’s watch there are more fly tips than ever. Only a few months ago, Croydon Conservatives sent out teams to every ward to find and report fly tipping. We found a staggering 1,300 fly tips, mostly in wards with Labour councillors, in just a few hours. So where’s the money in this budget to proactively find and clear the mess?

Councillor Louisa Woodley has clearly completely lost control of the adult care budget

Yes, there is some capital investment in street sweeping equipment. Doubtless in a few months councillor Stuart Collins will proudly tell us that he’s brought down the cost of the street sweeping contract, whilst forgetting to mention that all he has done is reduce the cost by gifting the equipment to the contractor, rather than because he’s actually buying more efficiently.

But that won’t do anything to shift the mountain of fly tipping that we are now seeing up and down the borough.

The most alarming evidence about the finances spiralling out of control comes from the People Department. Particularly in adult care, councillor Louisa Woodley has clearly completely lost control of her budget. Every year she tells us that they’ve got a handle on it now and that this year it will be ok. Every year that turns out to be wishful thinking. Why should we have any faith that it will be ok next year?

This is a budget of missed opportunities

In 2017 Labour has actively chosen to max out the amount that it can sting the taxpayer for – any more and it would have to hold a local referendum. Residents haven’t forgotten the 23% rise in 2003 and we just have to thank our lucky stars that this government is preventing councils from imposing that sort of rise on their residents. The only group seeing any reduction is council tenants, who are getting a cut in their rents, and for that they have to thank the Conservative government that has insisted on that, against the wishes of Croydon Labour.

We have an administration which is great at spin but rubbish on delivery. They talk the language of financial competence whilst piling up the debt. They hurl insults at the government whilst letting their own spending snowball. And they impose their own pet ideology on the people whilst ignoring any resident that doesn’t agree with them.

That’s why I’m proud that all 30 Conservative councillors opposed this budget, and why I’m so sad that all Labour councillors supported it.

The people of Croydon will rue this as a budget of missed opportunities where the taxpayer, as usual, has to bail Labour out of its financial incompetence. It won’t be forgotten.

Tim Pollard

Tim Pollard

Tim has lived in Sanderstead for twenty years and has been working hard for local residents since his first election as a Councillor there in 2002. Tim is the Leader of the Conservative Councillors on Croydon Council. The Croydon Conservative manifesto for the 2018 election can be found at http://croydonconservatives.com/manifesto/.

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  • trypewriter

    Ah, I wondered why so many Conservative councillors were cleaning the streets at weekends – now I know. Altruism? On the above evidence I hardly think so. Being even handed – Labour, you are an absolute shower. Just as bad as the previous council. Both sides, take a look at yourselves, Croydon deserves better than councils consisting of pottery-selling, name calling, points scoring wasters.

    • Mario Creatura

      50 volunteers, residents all, were out reporting fly-tipping with three teams of 20+ cleaning three locations across Croydon. We do it to help the Council in their ambition to clean our streets and support community activism across our borough. We have done it for many years, and we will continue to do it.

      It has nothing to do with the election, it’s right we do it and I’d encourage more residents (of all parties and none) to take the initiative and do it for themselves.

      The above article is well-founded in evidence, and is not speculation. Would you rather the Opposition didn’t hold the current administration to account and remained silent about their flaws? The Opposition is there to scrutinise the Administration’s policies, encourage them to do better for our borough and highlight weaknesses to the public so they can make the most informed choice possible at election time. That is our job, and that is what we’re doing.

      • lizsheppardjourno

        I received a day’s worth of tweets from the ‘supporting community action’ day of litter-picking on Saturday. It consisted of no constructive suggestions at all – just Conservatives sniping and point-scoring at the current administration, which whilst failing to address the seemingly intractable problem of fly-tipping and litter, has still tried harder than your lot did.

        The residents of west and north Croydon don’t need pictures of mattresses and bursting bin bags from elected representatives – we look at them on a daily basis. I concur wholeheartedly with the ‘plague on both your houses’ sentiment expressed by Mr Trypewriter, and consider the ‘day of action’ to have been little more than a political stunt.

        • Mario Creatura

          Surely a group of concerned residents reporting fly-tipping to the Council (as we’ve all been requested to do) and multiple groups cleaning our parks and green spaces should be applauded and not derided, whatever their origin?

          Perhaps yourself, John and Mr Trypewriter could organise your own ‘non-partisan’ group of residents to do a clear up? I’m sure it would be a great example to all, help to promote the message that we won’t tolerate this kind of behaviour, and if you’d have me I’d be more than happy to help with the organisation or simply attend.

          • John Gass

            You keep suggesting that those of us who have the temerity to criticise councillors’ party-political bickering and grandstanding should do the job ourselves. If that is your reasoned and considered response, you merely demonstrate that there really is no justification for such juvenile, counterproductive behaviour.

          • lizsheppardjourno

            Firstly, Mario – what John Gass said.

            Secondly, I’m a member of the entirely non-partisan Campaign for a Cleaner, Greener and More Beautiful Croydon. This group was founded to seek solutions to the litter problem, rather than to take pictures of a problem we already know exists and blame others for it. Here’s a link to a report on a meeting of the group which was attended by Councillor Stuart Collins. https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/community-bands-together-stop-croydons-litter-epidemic/.

            Thirdly, I’m secretary of the Friends of White Horse Park, a group which is seeking to bring a neglected green space back to life to the benefit of the neighbourhood I live in. Click again for more info. https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/founded-friends-white-horse-park/.

            Fourthly, here’s an article I wrote about the Friends’ first day of community action last December, tidying the park. https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/founded-friends-white-horse-park/. Nobody blamed, nobody sniped, we all worked hard. It was great.

            I think that’s the way to do it.

          • Ian Marvin

            I would also include Thornton Heath Community Action Team as a non partisan group active in cleaning up the area. Two days of it last weekend for example with more planned.

          • trypewriter

            Mario, no one is suggesting that the litter picking is anything other than laudable – whoever does it. However, a consequence of it is that the twittosphere is then fly tipped with tiresome party political blamecasts, when both parties should be working together so that the onerous litter watch doesn’t have to be undertaken at all. At the moment BOTH parties look as if they have self interest at heart rather than working together for Croydon. Neither have a good recent record, and were I a cynic I would be moved to suggest that whoever the Croydon electorate vote for they get the same council.

          • lizsheppardjourno

            This comment is generous. The reaction of a political litter-Twicker to finding a blackspot is close to gleeful… yippee, an opportunity to fire a snarky tweet at cleanstreetsstu! Oooo – not looking too good, is it? Haven’t sorted this one out very well, have you?

            This is what was going on last Saturday and I’m certain I’m not the only one to have found it distasteful. Don’t even try to pin the ‘community’ label on it.

      • John Gass

        How many more people would have volunteered to help with this street cleaning session had it been led by a cross-party group of councillors? You claim a moral victory but are clearly angling for political Brownie points.

        • Mario Creatura

          Personally I’m angling for nothing more than helping my borough and I claim no victory. The only way this improves is if we all pull together.

          I am slightly concerned that there’s an assumption that a group of party members trying to do good can do no good without being attacked for it – a real shame you’re not encouraging social action.

          If you feel it will always be partisan if we do, will you perhaps organise a group of residents to do it? I’d be more than happy to attend and support if you did.

  • John Gass

    I started to watch the webcast of the council meeting held on Monday 27th February but quickly realised that I’d end up watching probably two and a half hours of party political mud-slinging from both sides, making it impossible to focus in on the thirty minutes of meaningful business. As I tweeted to the leaders of both sides, they need to stop trying to slap each other and start fighting for Croydon.

    If anyone wants to see it for themselves, here’s a link: https://croydon.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/274969

    In the light of my disillusionment, here’s a suggestion: if councillors are so hell-bent on contributing to the dire cesspool of naff reality TV, at least introduce a viewer vote, so we can get rid of the worst offenders.

    • Mario Creatura

      There were 12 speeches given on the local budget last Monday evening, I’d suggest watching them all. If you listen there were many very good ones (on both sides). It’s easy to label all public servants as party political mudslingers but that demeans their often detailed and specific contributions.

      Watch the speeches, read the articles, argue and debate with them online and in person. Then make a judgement in 2018 about who you feel is best qualified to represent you and guide our borough in the future.

      That’s why you watch all the speeches – they all serve a purpose. If you don’t like it, run yourself!

      • John Gass

        Many local residents care for Croydon but despair at how narrow political party interests pervade and distort what should be public service. No company I’ve worked for would ever tolerate such outbursts as I saw in the last council meeting – the sniping is inevitably counter-productive and a gross waste of time that should be used to plan for a better Croydon.

        And are you seriously suggesting everyone sieves through three hours of mud in the hope of finding an occasional glimmer of something worthwhile? If you all want to bicker, do it after the meeting, not during.

        • Mario Creatura

          The speeches are all contained in the first hour, so no sieving required.

          What narrow interests are you referring to?

          In all seriousness – why don’t you consider running for a seat?

  • Mike

    Well said Tim. At last someone who is prepared to say what we all know. The vast budget deficit and the poor services of Croydon council are linked. As usual Labour’s ineptitude leads to a terrible service for all.

    I personally am waiting for waiting for a council tax refund for over 2 months now after moving out of the borough. It has been impossible to get hold of anyone at all. The level of incompetence at the council is unlike anything I have seen. It needs a change of leadership urgently.

    Please, voters of Croydon, vote this Labour joke out of office. It’s a dangerous downward spiral. We should be run as well as Wandsworth or Westminster. Everyone benefits.

    • trypewriter

      Would that be based on the gerrymandering model?

  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article, Tim and so true!

  • Matt Miller

    The current Labour administration has made some serious errors of judgement. If you want the Fairfield Halls to be financially viable when it reopens you don’t turn the underground car park into an urban art gallery ! What people need is cheap parking and easy access to the Fairfield Halls if they need to drive there. That car park was always packed with cars before the last Labour Administration sold it off in the late 1990s. Nobody wants to park there now because the prices are extortionate ! Extortionate parking prices in Croydon Town Centre was one of the reasons Allders went to the wall along with competition from online trading. I am fortunate that I live nearby and can walk to the Fairfield Halls but there are many people in the borough who need to drive particularly the elderly and the disabled. I also can’t understand why the current administration is wasting so much money on introducing “twenty is plenty” driving zones when the transport budget is needed for other things such as reopening the Blackhorse Lane road bridge (a key route) which is shut for 18 months and creating access to the new pedestrian footbridge at East Croydon station from the Cherry Orchard Road side.

  • Robert Ward

    Tim’s article was about the budget (about which I do not have deep knowledge) but the comments have veered into two subjects that I seem to find irresistible: flytipping and political posturing, so here are my two cents.

    Flytipping is a council political football because it is of high interest to the people of Croydon and it is controlled by the council. Having laid the issue at the Tories’ door in their 2014 manifesto, Labour have found that the nut is a lot harder to crack than they thought. To their credit Labour publish statistics but these show that the problem is not solved, in fact it has got worse.

    This has brought a classic politician response: Denial, blame the opposition, shrug the shoulders and say it’s happening everywhere so nothing to do with me guv, we are trying really hard, etc. Anything except admitting that what they are doing isn’t working. Whether you buy this depends on your political persuasion. It is however the job of the opposition and in their own electoral interest to point this out.

    That said it is the responsibility of all of us to see what we can do about it. Picking up litter is one, and I understand there were plenty of such groups about of all political persuasions. I do it all the time. I myself combed Addiscombe for flytips and reported them. I am not in the least embarrassed about that. If you think I should be please explain how me walking by on the other side of the road is more public spirited.

    Come the election in 2018 the people of Croydon will have to make a choice on who will run the council. At that time it should not be a surprise to see mournful faced pictures of opposition Councillors standing next to flytips, just as their Labour counterparts did in 2014. The electorate then need to judge the record of each party and their plan to address the problem as part of their decision on who they vote for.

    I actually thought some of the speeches on the budget were rather good. This is a set piece event and I think we got what we should expect. My complaint on posturing and failure to answer questions are much more at Cabinet, Scrutiny, etc. But that’s another story..

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hi Robert – having read down this far, I regret not posting my ‘snarky tweets’ comments to trypewriter here instead. I found Saturday’s party political gloating on Twitter over litter in the streets – something which blights thousands of people’s lives, including mine – most unpleasant. If you’ve gone out to pick up litter, pick it up. Don’t send ‘ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ tweets to opponents about it.

      Labour has failed to make an impact. What they’ve tried hasn’t worked. But people who would have done what they have done (at best) – or most likely done far less – are scarcely in a position to criticise.

      • Robert Ward

        Hi Liz,
        I don’t recognise your gloating characterisation from anything I saw. I have reported flytips and they are now reported as gone. Good. Having done this before (and not tweeted about it) it continues to surprise me how often I find flytips that have clearly been there for some time (including dangerous ones) yet they have not been reported. If they are not reported, they are not cleared.

        This was a national campaign day. There were litter picking teams too but flytips are different. You don’t pick them up and pop them in a nearby bin.

        But you are indeed correct, Labour has failed to make an impact. That is the root of the issue.

        P.S. You mentioned the non-partisan Campaign for a Cleaner, Greener and More Beautiful Croydon. I have offered to present thoughts on solutions to that group twice. As far as I am aware it only ever had one meeting.