I was struck last week by two totally contrasting meetings I had in the space of 24 hours about our wonderful borough of Croydon.
First, I spent an eye-opening evening with Croydon’s fantastic new Mayor Councillor Manju Shaul Hameed, listening to the many volunteers from across the borough, who told us about the work they are doing providing food banks. Their work is inspirational, but the really depressing fact was that every one of the food bank providers confirmed demand for their services is only going one way – and sadly that is up.
The fact that in the second decade of the 21st century, food banks have become something so many families depend on is deeply worrying, and further evidence that the current economic recovery is at best patchy and many families are seeing that despite often working longer hours, their household income is cut in real terms.
The discussion on food banks confirmed that as a council we have to do absolutely everything possible to ensure, as we said in our election manifesto, that all the people of Croydon benefit from the investment that is now seriously starting to flow into our town.
We have in our first 100 days in office taken some positive steps. For example, we have implemented a 30% affordable housing policy, so developers have to provide housing that is affordable and available for Croydon residents. Luxury apartment blocks are fine, but we also need homes that local people can afford to buy and rent.
We have also introduced the London Living Wage, so any contractor who works for us will have to pay this as a minimum, as the council itself now does.
We have started to change the council’s procurement policies to ensure more local companies get a real opportunity to bid for council contracts, and we are working with companies such as Westfield to encourage them to offer the jobs available in their new retail development to local people.
All of the above struck me as more important than ever as I left the second meeting I referred to earlier, which was with officials at the Greater London Authority at City Hall. There was rightly much exciting talk of the need to expand the Tramlink, increase house building and attract more companies and jobs to Croydon, all of which is absolutely vital to secure Croydon’s long term future.
However real success for all of us, whether working for the council or in the private sector, will only be achieved if we can look back in a few years’ time and say it was the residents of Croydon and many of our local companies and small businesses that have benefited from the current inward investment.
Equally for Croydon our long-term success will only be ultimately confirmed if those food bank providers tell us one day that the demand for their services, is at least beginning to decline and not continuing to increase.