Many years ago, strange as it may seem, Croydon was a quiet London suburb that most people thought of as part of Surrey, rather than London. It was at this time, all those years ago, that civil servants in Whitehall – who had the job of deciding how much of national government money in the form of local government grant each London borough received – made decisions that stand to this day.
Since then, Croydon’s population has increased significantly; the health, transport and educational needs of the borough are radically different, and Croydon is, in many places, every bit as much a London borough as any other – and proud to be one. So much of this change is, of course, great news, more jobs for local people, new affordable housing, an enviable tram system, a 24-hour train service, the soon-to-be Westfield shopping centre, and our wonderfully diverse communities. All of that means Croydon is really starting to feel like a modern European city, and not that sleepy suburb of all those years ago. That should be nothing but good news, however…
The day after our new Labour administration took office, back in June, I asked officials to take me and colleagues through the Town Hall finances and, frankly, it was a shock. Not only did we inherit the self-confessed multi-million pound budget ‘black hole’ our Conservative predecessors had left, it was also confirmed that the historic underfunding of Croydon was worse than ever. Then, perhaps most depressing of all, we realised the true effect that the current coalition government’s draconian cuts to local government were having on some of our most valued local services, such as youth provision, street cleaning and schools. To be blunt, in some areas these services had been cut to the bone.
Now, as a new council administration, we have made a clear choice – we are not going to allow Croydon to become the victim of other people’s wrong decisions, nor of this or any other government’s cuts. We are going to stand up for Croydon, demand our fair share of financial support and, in the meantime, focus on delivering services well, albeit a smaller number.
So, in the months ahead, while more council services will be available online only, they will be available, not cut. Improving our street-cleaning service will be a top priority, along with declaring war on the increasing number of fly-tippers that we’re now catching. We will seek the maximum fines possible for this offence and, for repeat offenders, even tougher sentences. We will also continue our schools improvement programme, and make sure that, by working alongside the police, we continue to see reductions in crime.
And we are looking hard at how, by working with partners and community groups, other key services continue to be provided. How we do that is something we also want your views on, so do look out for our Fairness Commission, to be launched later in the year. This independent body will be taking evidence at meetings, online, and from as many as you as possible as local residents. It will seek to ensure we deliver, in the years ahead, the services that are really important to all of you as fairly as possible, right across the borough.
Croydon is in good shape and our local economy is starting to grow, so if I, with my team, have two main jobs, they are to ensure we deliver high-quality local services, and to lobby, represent and persuade others that Croydon really does now deserve its fair share of financial support from national government to deliver those services.
We will not let you down.