As the leader of Croydon Council, I have been determined to ensure that we not only take decisions in an open and transparent way, but that we also seek, wherever possible, to devolve power and decisions from the Town Hall to local communities.
One of our early successes has been the ground-breaking Local Ward Budget scheme, given to councillors across Croydon to spend on community schemes in partnership with local community groups. This has resulted in a number of successes, ranging from improvements to children’s playgrounds and community clean-ups, to support for young people’s involvement in sporting activities funded and delivered locally.
Such has been the success of the scheme that, next year, we will be increasing the budgets; at £12k per ward, the sum remains relatively small, but it will allow further opportunities for local control. For example, the funds could be used to give communities a real say in how their local park is run, or what extra facilities the local library might provide. The days of “the Town Hall knows best” are over. You, the borough’s residents, and local communities are part of what makes Croydon so great, and that is increasingly where the powers to take decisions should lay – with you, the residents.
Further recent examples of how we are increasingly devolving power away from the Town Hall have been the fantastic responses – into the thousands – that we have seen in the local debates over the proposed 20mph zones for residential roads, and the borough-wide engagement on the issues of how to ensure we continued to deliver the garden waste-collection service. Both resulted in decisions being made that, of course, not everybody was going to agree with. The fact is, however, that we had at least taken into account as many views as possible from the residents that would most immediately be affected.
Looking to the future as council leader, I know that my key jobs are to continue to keep the streets clean and safe, protect vital frontline services and keep council tax as low as possible. Beyond that, increasingly it will be to ensure you have the greatest say on what’s good for your local area, working with your locally elected councillors, residents’ associations and community groups.
Democracy is a fragile and imperfect system but it is something we should be proud of and something we should ensure works best for us at a local level.
Leader, Croydon Council