The way forward

By - Monday 12th March, 2018

We’re often told that we face challenges of a scale unseen since the war, so what can we learn from then and apply to now?

We’re in a bind – the result of much foolish gaming carried out on our behalf up to 2008 and, well before that, the easing of credit granted to those of us who had little notion of the cost of borrowing. The pump is broken and will need several more years’ priming. Personal and public debt remain roadblocks to economic recovery. We now live in a very different world to the one envisaged by Sir William Beveridge, when he sat down to draft his famous report on the future welfare of the nation in 1942. Roiled as we are in Brexit and chronic uncertainty about our future direction of travel, we may view our prospects with a particularly sullen gaze. But what if we attempt to write a Beveridge Report for a 21st century Britain? Something which is nothing less than radical, bold and robust for this age – where we all have some skin in the game – to relieve us of our anguish in the face of this pitiful muddle.

In 1945 this country had no further use for the rousing orations of Mr Churchill. The war was won, but the peace was not to be achieved without further sacrifice – it called for the moderations of Mr Attlee. The plans that he laid have been the bedrock of our state and our security ever since. The great welfare reforms that he unrolled were designed to meet the real needs of that age of austerity, needs that we must recognize and respond to now if we are to recover that solidarity which will allow us to restore a sense of common purpose. These needs for Croydon are manifestly and chiefly the following:

Community: the need to revive the impulse and initiative to gather people together to foster co-operation and encouragement of the young, in particular, and to counter the prevalence of marginalisation of the elderly; to acknowledge the Christian ethos at the heart of our national story. If the ‘Big Society’ is to mean anything, it means voluntary work in the space between the family and (local) government to provide those amenities essential to social cohesion like Neighbourhood Watch, newsletters, sponsorship, fund-raising, litter clearance, mentoring, the U3A, sports coaching and shelter for the homeless. Direct action is currently undertaken by groups such as Croydon Best Start in support of families with children under five and by Croydon Voluntary Action as family navigators through the trials of finding assistance with mental health issues in deprived areas. Croydon schools encourage pupils to take part in the National Citizen Service, another vital initiative for young people to learn about others’ lives and to strengthen their sense of personal identity and collective purposes. Poverty and deprivation are much aggravated by austerity and recession, as people are rarely, as often previously assumed, arbiters of their own hardships. There is a widening disparity in wealth, which calls for closing the gap if we wish to dispel widespread political disaffection, protest, strikes, youth unrest and Croydon’s notoriety as a knife-crime hot-spot. George Orwell had it right when he claimed that people should be paid far less unequally; otherwise the mass will continue to feel in thrall to a class of faceless public bureaucrats, oligarchy and privilege, based on power rather than money.

High culture is no longer the preserve of the privileged few

Culture: the need to understand the tumultuous sea change which the country has undergone in the past half-century. High culture is no longer the preserve of the privileged few. The citadel has long been stormed by those yearning for a richer life of the mind, aided by great seminal works such as Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy. The people have entered society, and society has been entered into in turn by all those who have sought sanctuary and a better life here, challenged with reconciling their beliefs and laws with ours. In Croydon, inter-faith dialogue has gone a long way towards reconciling differences between communities. Last year’s inaugural Croydon Literary Festival, which got off to an auspicious start from small beginnings, will become a catalyst for local writers, actors and speakers to frame and give further definition to the vital role and place of literature and the creative arts in the area.

Competition: the need for intense creativity and innovation in the face of challenges from the rising powers in Asia. The production of high-end goods and services will be the mainstay of our economy in the years to come. The Croydon Tech City initiative as a hub for IT startups has spearheaded this drive and needs every encouragement from local and national government.

Care: the need to mobilize local volunteers to recognize and meet requirements at both ends of life – to provide affordable childcare so that mothers may be free to work, and social care for the elderly, in part through the volunteer-retired aged 65+ engaging with those aged 75+ to provide recreational activities and to alleviate the distress caused by loneliness and dementia.

We need to urge people to take pride in the public domain in Croydon

Education: the need for Croydon schools to instil global awareness in the young; an understanding of historical and economic contexts; critical thinking; literacy and numeracy; ICT; respect for faith schools; foreign language skills and exchanges; presentational skills.

Energy: the need for Croydon to tap into renewable energy sources of power for industry, commerce and domestic use, including solar, wind and water power; to facilitate the introduction of electric vehicles.

Environment: the need to continue the campaign to prosecute littering and fly-tipping and to urge people to take pride in the public domain while Croydon is at risk of becoming ‘scuzzy’ and run-down; to recycle materials; to sanitise waste disposal; to curb pollution; to cut the use of plastics to prevent further damage to the natural world.

There is a need to raise corporation tax, lower personal allowances, raise income tax for earners over £80,000 p.a.

Exercise: the need to upgrade and make optimal use of Croydon parks, especially Lloyd Park and Park Hill Park for football, rugby, running, walking, tennis (to restore the grass court in Park Hill Park), bowls and cycling; to ensure provision of fitness centres, ideally with swimming pools; to encourage greater use of the Croydon Arena for athletics meetings; to ingrain the habit of maintaining mobility through middle into later life and to explain the consequences and the cost to people themselves and the state of not doing so. The thunderously syncopated punchbagging at the Boxpark is a good start.

Fiscal: the need to contain the rate of council tax in the face of ever-increasing utilities and transport costs; to curb rent-seeking through excessive parking fines; to canvass at the national level for reduction of the budgetary deficit – more effective means would be to raise corporation tax, lower personal allowances, raise income tax for earners over £80,000 p.a., and raise levies on pollution, sugar, tobacco, and other harmful substances.

Housing: the need to identify new sites for local housing to accommodate incomers in brown and some green field areas of the borough; to use rent controls to assist those unable to afford to buy property.

There is a need to sell Croydon harder to attract new capital and employment to the area

Infrastructure: the need to work in close concert with Transport for London to upgrade and extend existing rail over- and underground links as well as tram and road networks; to improve transit to both Gatwick and Heathrow airports; to achieve faster broadband connections.

Investment: the need to sell Croydon harder to attract new capital and employment to the area; to capitalize on existing foreign commitments and persuade investors to champion Croydon to other companies as a base for their UK business, given the place’s obvious logistical and skilled worker potential (a cardinal principle in negotiation with the Chinese, for instance, is that of reciprocity); to continue to press for the NHS to be adequately funded; to this end, for those earning over £60,000 p.a. to pay for all, or a portion of, their treatment to offset the cost; for those working over pension age to continue to pay National Insurance contributions.

Recreation: the need to maintain and restore the range of local amenities for which Croydon is justly renowned – the closure of the Fairfield Halls and the Ashcroft Theatre has pulled a pall over a great entertainment venue. (The hoardings surrounding the re-building works bear the name ‘the Cultural Quarter’. This is an ironical misnomer – a more honest and accurate name would be ‘the Cultural Vacuum’.) The town centre remains in a state of suspended animation. When will the Warehouse Theatre find its rightful new home? Pop-up performances at the Spread Eagle and Matthew’s Yard provide an engaging but inadequate stop-gap in a town which has had an illustrious history and variety of theatres. The revival of the David Lean Cinema is a great example of concerted voluntary organisation.

Most important of all is a sense of humour

Technology: the need to sell Croydon Tech City (the idea, not the sadly defunct organisation) as a springboard to new jobs; to alert people to the imminence of automation in the workplace and the application of AI and its consequences; to collaborate in curbing the abuse of social media. Each country has to contend with how the younger generation works with technology in every area of life. This is the most critical and volatile arena of all.

Values: the need to stress to Croydon citizens old and new the primacy of the rule of law, democracy, liberty and mutual respect and tolerance (of different faiths and beliefs) as the cornerstones of British values; for all comers the need to strengthen fundamental notions of fair play, honesty (and an abhorrence of corruption), justice (as a matter of faith), free speech and (most important of all) a sense of humour.

Churchill’s rhetoric had its day. But now seems to be an appropriate time to say, again: “Let us go forward together”.

Barnaby Powell

I'm a former development banker (in Europe and East and South-East Asia) and a Croydon resident for over 25 years. Currently I write and speak (mainly to schools and universities) on China and the impact of its rise on the rest of us. I'm also a school governor at Archbishop Tenison's School and a leader of the Croydon U3A China Group.

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  • Robert Ward

    Thanks Barnaby. Much to agree with here on where Croydon needs to go but not that national high tax solutions are any path to success, indeed a recipe for failure.

    Point of information:-
    Beveridge was commissioned and report delivered under a National Government led by Churchill. Atlee’s government lasted six years following which Churchill was returned to power.

  • Anne Giles

    People earning over £60,000 are already paying more in tax, so should receive NHS care free, as the rest of us do. Nor should those working over pensionable age have to continue paying National Insurance. My husband is aged 71 and is still working, for fairly low pay, I might add, and I worked as an adult education tutor till I was 70, one or two nights a week. We need our green spaces, so green field areas should be left alone.