Leader's blog

News and thoughts from Croydon Town Hall


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Improving economy and exam results – what’s not to like?

This week saw the publication of an authoritative national report declaring that Croydon had the fastest economic growth in the entire UK. While it’s true that any one report can be taken with a pinch of salt, when seen alongside the recent decisions by Body Shop and Superdrug to move their HQs to Croydon, and the government tax office also transferring 2,500 jobs to the town, it’s clear that something very positive is happening.

As a newly elected Labour council in 2014, we were determined that, along with cleaning up the streets, one of our key priorities was to be working alongside the private and voluntary sectors to drive forward Croydon’s economy to create quality jobs and training opportunities for local people. That this is not only starting to happen, but is picking up pace, is very encouraging – but there’s a long way to go.

With the great work of companies such as Croydon Tech City, Boxpark, Rise Gallery, Body Shop, our traditional retailers, Mott McDonald and many others – and, of course, with Westfield heading our way – there are grounds for believing the growth we are seeing is going to be sustainable.

As a council, we are playing our part by investing directly into a new Fairfield Halls, building affordable homes for local people, building new schools, and much more.

But perhaps the most exciting news of the past week, which did not get quite so much publicity, was the astounding achievements of our young people in their school exams. At both GCSE and A level, Croydon students out-performed the national average. For this, they and their schools should rightly be commended. For Croydon it really is another sign that all our futures can be placed, with confidence, in the hands of Croydon’s next generation to ensure the growth and success now going on all around us lasts long into the future.

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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Local people know best

I wanted to blog today about growth in Croydon and how we’re making our borough the great place you asked us to make it when you elected us as your Labour administration in 2014.

I’m inviting you to contact me with your priorities for how we can involve more local people in local decision making – because local people know best and I want to make your priorities our priorities.

As the leader of Croydon Council, I’m proud that our borough is now rapidly experiencing the growth and economic investment that other parts of London have already enjoyed – frankly, it is long overdue.

I knew, when we were elected just over two years ago, that our priorities had to be to start cleaning the streets properly, prosecute those that blight our borough with their filthy fly-tipping (council prosecutions now number more than 100, and we’re still cracking down), to have a true partnership with the Mayor of London (something we have done successfully, both with Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson before him) for the benefit of the borough’s residents, and send a big and bold message to both business and national government that Croydon is 100% open for business.

One of the early achievements of our Labour administration has been the signing of a major ‘devolution deal’ with national government that is linked to our town-centre growth zone and the way in which we invest business rates to support investment in local infrastructure, such as trams and roads. The government has signed a similar agreement with Manchester, but Croydon’s innovative approach has led the way in London and the south-east, something we are immensely proud of. However, there is a lot more to do to really ensure this investment benefits all communities across Croydon. That is why we, as a council, have taken a clear view that devolution of budgets and decisions must spread from the Town Hall and be taken, wherever possible, by you, the residents, in the communities where you live.

Our ward budgets initiative has been a great start to devolving decisions to a local level, and has seen councillors working in partnership with residents’ associations and community groups in the wards they were elected to represent. The amounts of money they have been spending may have been relatively small, but they have generated lots of local interest and commitment to renovating public spaces, improving children’s playgrounds, supporting local community groups, and much more. This year, we are getting bigger and better by increasing the ward budgets, but I want to go further still. I want to hear your views on how many more decisions could be taken locally, rather than in the Town Hall.

Should local environmental decisions on cleaning and litter be taken locally? Should our parks have much greater input from local residents in terms of what facilities they have? Could our libraries provide more IT support or child care facilities for local people? These are just a few thoughts; I am sure you will have many ideas of your own, so chat to me about them when you see me in your area. Alternatively, email me at tony.newman@croydon.gov.uk or write to me at The Town Hall, Katharine Street, Croydon CR9 1XW.

My job is to listen to you and, as I mentioned earlier, ensure that your priorities are our priorities. Together, we’re ambitious for Croydon.

Tony

Leader, Croydon Council


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City of Culture? Oh, yes!

Croydon – the UK’s next City of Culture. Unthinkable? Actually, it’s not as outrageous a proposition as many who don’t know our borough might have you believe.

Over the past few weeks, it has been my pleasure to visit Croydon’s brilliant award-winning Rise Gallery; see fine productions in The Spreadeagle Theatre; and attend several packed events in Matthew’s Yard in the centre of Croydon.

As well as some great bands at the renovated and now community-run Stanley Halls in South Norwood, and at Croydon’s fastest-growing music venue, The Oval Tavern,

I’ve seen the town’s first Craft Beer Festival at the Braithwaite Hall attracting a crowd aged 18 to 80. And, as the leader of the council, I had the privilege of announcing a major £30m renovation of the Fairfield Halls, to restore the building to its former iconic status.

The good news continues with the announcement that our partner Boxpark will, next summer, be opening London’s coolest new location at East Croydon; and we are enjoying seeing the much-loved David Lean Cinema flourish.

Those achievements stand alongside an exceptional summer programme that included the excellent Ambition, Purley, Thornton Heath, London Road and South Norwood festivals.

Congratulations must be extended to Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation on 50 years of fantastic work in the community, giving young people access to drama and theatre activities to increase their confidence and life skills.

And now we end a year that started with Ben Haenow winning The X Factor, to see Croydon wiping the floor at the globally recognised Mobo music awards. Thornton Heath’s Krept and Konan led the Mobo charge with two awards, accompanied by fellow Croydon winners Stormzy, Faith Child and Section Boyz.

That City of Culture honour, I’m sure you’ll agree, seems quite attainable.

Of course, the headline-grabbing news around Croydon’s many new artists and venues will come as no surprise to local residents. We have all long been aware of the talent that exists across Croydon’s district centres and in our vibrant and multi-cultural communities.

The difference now is that, as Croydon’s recovery continues and our reputation goes from strength to strength, more of our performers and their achievements are getting the recognition they deserve.

The remaining challenge for us as a council is to ensure that all of these talented people have a venue to perform in that will do them proud. That is why we are determined to see through the planned transformation of the Fairfield Halls, Croydon College and surrounding area into one of the capital’s leading cultural and educational hotspots.

Season’s greetings and best wishes for a peaceful new year.


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Bridging the credibility gap

Politics today sometimes struggles to close that credibility gap between politicians and their promises, and the quite legitimate expectations of the public.

In Croydon over the past 10 months, as the still relatively newly elected Labour council administration, we have been trying to do something about this. Yes, by keeping our promises, but also by listening to what you, the public, think of our ambitious vision for Croydon.

So, as the leader of the Council, I am pleased to report we have, as promised, frozen council tax bills at last year’s levels, while protecting key frontline services. We have, as promised, begun the major task of cleaning up Croydon; 88% of reported fly-tips are now picked up within 48 hours (up from just 3% a year ago), and we have started to prosecute those caught fly-tipping, with more than 30 cases heading for the courts.

We’ve also committed the council to:

  •  employing more local companies when we offer contracts for tender;
  • paying the London living wage; and
  • building more affordable housing for local people.

But, equally importantly to delivering on our key election promises, I am proud that for the first time in Croydon’s history we published our entire budget several months in advance, so it was genuinely out for public consultation

As a result of that public budget consultation we listened and we made some changes, so Purley swimming pool will now remain open while long-term regeneration plans are discussed.

Additional money has been found to bring forward the implementation of 20mph zones, and we have been able to save some of the school lollipop crossing patrols cut under the previous council administration. Fieldway Family Centre will also remain open to serve local families.

So, as we rapidly head toward the forthcoming general election, let nobody tell you that your vote is not important, or does not count or make a difference. It does count and it can make a difference.

Clearly, I am biased toward the red team in May, but whoever you support, remember people gave their lives for the right to vote, so use it and help us restore some much-needed credibility to politics.


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The nicest people in London

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.


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Croydon – Our time is now

Following the referendum in Scotland, every other part of our country is now discussing what political powers and decisions should be devolved from Westminster and taken closer to local people.  In London we have an elected Mayor but, for a city of over eight million people, that is not good enough.  Croydon, London’s largest borough,  with a population heading towards 365,000, is effectively one of the 10 largest cities in the country.  And we too are rightly seeking more control of our own destiny from central government to allow us, together with you the local community and local businesses, to shape our future together.

It cannot be right that what happens to some of our older, empty offices is decided by faceless civil servants in Whitehall, and it cannot be right that public services are given  significantly higher funding  in inner London than in outer London boroughs such as Croydon.  It cannot be right that as Croydon plans to build more new homes than any other borough we are not allowed to keep more of the income those homes generate for the benefit of our own local economy.

So, six months into our Labour administration in Croydon we have taken a clear strategic decision; namely we will seek to be masters of our own destiny and not victims of central government diktats or funding cuts. Croydon is at the forefront of a new movement in urban revival, we are on course to see Croydon transformed from a sleepy suburb to a modern European city, with regeneration happening not just in our metropolitan centre but right across our many fantastic district centres as well.

Therefore, to help achieve our ambitions and deliver those new jobs, homes and opportunities, we are asking the current government, with cross party support locally and support from the Mayor of London,  to grant Croydon ‘Growth Zone’ status.  This would allow all locally generated taxes on new development to be retained by the borough, it would allow the council to borrow against this income and, in partnership with others, invest in much-needed infrastructure supporting housing, jobs, trams, roads and our commercial and cultural offer; all  improving our town and, of course, generating further much-needed jobs.

In conclusion, national government cannot have it both ways. Having cut funding to local councils more than any other public services, they have, in my view, nothing less than a responsibility to support our innovative approach here in Croydon to generate our own growth and help deliver a strong, sustainable future for London’s largest and fastest growing borough.

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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Standing up for Croydon

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.


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A day in the life

As is the case at all the political party conferences, the real work is done away from the TV screens and main conference hall. Monday, for me as Croydon’s council leader, was such a day.

8.30am – It’s a conference breakfast discussion on the key role of retail in helping to drive regeneration. A lively roundtable discussion hosted by Tony Travers followed, and there was much discussion about training and employment opportunities, as well as changing shopping patterns. Thanks to the excellent John Lewis Partnership for hosting the event.

10.30am – I have now been joined by Croydon cabinet colleagues Alison Butler and Mark Watson for an excellent meeting with the housing charity Shelter. We discussed the housing supply crisis affecting affordable housing as a result of government cuts, Croydon’s scheme to license private landlords to ensure affordable and decent accommodation for all, and much more. It was great to hear Shelter’s support for our Labour administration’s early decision to increase the supply of affordable housing in Croydon to 30%.

11.30am – We have now moved on to a really positive meeting with one of the country’s leading housing associations, to hear about its ideas on how to increase the supply of affordable housing in Croydon, so that those on average incomes might get a foot on the housing ladder. The need to increase the supply of housing of all types is one of Croydon’s biggest challenges, and one the council has a key role in helping to deliver.

1pm – Lunch with some Croydon colleagues sitting outside in the square next to the magnificent Manchester Town Hall. These types of pedestrian-friendly spaces are something we definitely need more of in Croydon.

2pm – It was great to get some time to pop into the main conference hall to hear the speeches from jubilant Scottish colleagues, rightly celebrating the victory last week to keep the UK together. In my view, the setting up of a false border between us and our Scottish friends, if the referendum had gone the other way, would have been an appalling outcome.

4pm – A cup of tea

4.30pm – A meeting with Labour’s brilliant parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, Sarah Jones.

5.00pm – Back to Manchester Town Hall for discussions with leaders of other London councils.

7.30pm – I am speaking at a housing debate, along with some other council leaders, and Labour’s shadow housing minister, Emma Reynolds MP. The commitment from everyone involved to really ensure that a Labour government makes tackling the housing crisis one of its main priorities is great to see.

10.00pm – Call a taxi, back to the hotel and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.

Tony Newman
Leader, Croydon Council


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A tale of two meetings

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.

Tony Newman

Council Leader

@Cllrtony


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A summer of parks, swimming and cleaner streets

TN5aWell, I hope everyone is enjoying the long hot summer here in Croydon and taking full advantage of our many green parks and spaces. The sun also shone on some great community events across Croydon this past weekend, including the South End Food Festival, West Croydon carnival of cultures, South Norwood Arts festival and Grangewood Park community event. It was great to see and meet so many people taking part and celebrating the wonderful community spirit we have right across Croydon.

So, as our children look forward to the school holidays and their parents wonder about how they can occupy them, I am delighted to confirm that our new Labour administration has immediately reinstated FREE SWIMMING over the summer holidays for all children in our borough aged 16 and under.

The free swimming offer, when set alongside our other decisions taken after May’s local elections – to end the council’s pension fund investing in tobacco shares, and to encourage healthy eating in schools – are part of a drive to ensure we improve the health of our young people right across Croydon. If we can achieve this, not only will people live longer healthy lives, but the demands on our National Health Service will also be reduced.

Managing the demand for all public services, including those provided by the council in tough economic times, is one of the key challenges myself and colleagues face. That is why it is so important to get right our Don’t Mess with Croydon campaign to clean up our streets and end the borough’s fly-tipping epidemic.

Clearly, right now we need to put in significant extra financial resources to clean up our town but, in the long term, this is not the complete answer. The only way we will keep Croydon’s streets clean permanently is to ensure that, as so many residents do already, we all take responsibility for, and pride in, our own local streets and neighbourhoods. This will send the clear message to those few who continue to fly-tip or drop litter on our streets that this is something that we as the residents of Croydon will simply not tolerate anymore.

And keeping Croydon clean is one of the reasons we are consulting on a licensing scheme for private landlords, to ensure that landlords who let out their properties right across our borough, also understand they have a responsibility to keep their properties and their gardens in a clean and tidy state, just as the rest of us do.

Another benefit of the licensing scheme is that it will also guarantee decent homes for those increasing numbers of people who are relying on the rented private sector as rising house prices make buying a home more difficult than ever, especially for so many younger people.

So, as the leader, I will do my bit to ensure the council provides the highest possible quality of services, even in these tough financial times. But, to ensure the quality of life in Croydon continues to improve, we all, as local residents, landlords and businesses, have to play our part in keeping all our neighbourhoods both clean and safe.

Enjoy what remains of the summer.

Tony