So as another new year begins it’s always a good opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved and the challenges that lie ahead.
As the leader of the council I passionately believe 2015 will be the year of opportunity and change for Croydon. One of our challenges as a new Labour administration, still less than eight months in office, remains the same as we set out in last May’s local election, to ensure the maximum number of Croydon residents benefit from the new investment and growth that we are now seeing in Croydon. We have to strive to achieve this whilst continuing to provide good quality public services. This, despite the draconian cuts to Croydon Council’s budget by the Westminster coalition government that has seen a staggering £100 million pounds (approximately 40%) taken from the people of Croydon over the last three years.
However so many of the challenges we face rightly cannot be solved by money alone. Indeed, one of Croydon’s most precious assets is our diverse and vibrant communities, our many district centres and some fantastic people who literally make a difference every day to the lives of others. One of the real privileges about the job of being the council leader is the amount of local people I get to meet and the stories I hear about the work going on right across Croydon.
So, I wish a truly happy 2015 to our 150 community champions who have now joined our crackdown on fly-tipping in the borough. To the local residents of Thornton Heath who put up the community Christmas tree in December and helped clean up the fly-tipping in November, to all those who volunteer to help others across Croydon, to those who run Croydon’s residents’ associations, to those running the sadly much-needed food banks and those many full time carers of family or friends. The list could go on and on, perhaps that is why the survey of London boroughs last week, covered by many national newspapers, highlighted that the people of Croydon were recognised as the nicest in London.
For our part, in the Town Hall, we are hopefully doing our bit to support local residents. This year council tax will be frozen at last year’s levels, our streets are getting cleaner and the council now picks up 88% of reported fly-tips within 48 hours. In practical terms we are now building more affordable homes for local people, increasing the opportunities for local companies to bid for council contracts and supporting the arts and culture right across the borough.
Looking further to the future, how we continue to provide quality local services in tough financial times and how we continue to work with all those fantastic community groups and volunteers to benefit as many people as possible remains a real challenge. This is one of the reasons why we have asked Jonathan Clark, the Bishop of Croydon, to chair Croydon’s first Opportunity and Fairness Commission. Over the coming months, the Bishop and his team of volunteers will be keen to hear the views of everyone, whether as an individual or part of a wider organisation. This will be Croydon’s biggest ever conversation about our future so please join in, or let us know your views at http://www.opportunitycroydon.org and make sure your voice is heard.
So, as we start the New Year, I am confident that working with our many partners and communities we can continue to transform Croydon for the better. Even in these tough times we have to remain ambitious for our town and support the aspirations of so many, especially those looking for their first home, a job, training or further education opportunity. I am proud to say that working with our partners in the private and public sector we will build over 9,000 new homes and support a new shopping centre that will replace the outdated and tired current offer. My wish for 2015 is that it is the year of “Fairness and Opportunity” for all in Croydon.