Leader's blog

News and thoughts from Croydon Town Hall


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Standing united against hate

tony newman - feb 2017-2I’m proud to be the council leader in Croydon, the town I have lived in for over 30 years, and I’m proud of our record as one of London’s most diverse boroughs. So, like all of you, I was appalled at the vile and cowardly attack we saw on a defenceless young man, Reker Ahmed, last week in Shirley. An attack described by the police as a “hate crime”; an attack on a young man who was assaulted by a mob because he was in our country seeking asylum; an attack that was both vicious and mindless. An attack that has been condemned by all.

Local people, and those choosing to come here, tell me they live here because they love Croydon’s diversity and sense of community. That reputation is something we all celebrate, and we will not allow one attack, however vicious, to damage it.

Both Croydon and the justice system must send the clearest possible message – that hate will never be allowed to divide us. We are proud of our communities, proud of our diversity and we are proud of Croydon; our strength is our unity, and that is why we will prevail.

On your behalf, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our excellent local police and new borough police commander Jeff Boothe, both for the speed with which they responded to the original incident, and for the speed with which they have moved to make arrests and charge the alleged suspects. While, of course, due process must follow, I know I speak for the overwhelming majority in calling for the most severe sentences possible to be levied against anyone who is found guilty. Anything less would, in my view, be unacceptable.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Reker Ahmed at this time, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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The council delivers yet another value for money budget for Croydon

Despite a tough financial backdrop, I’m pleased that we’ve delivered a balanced Town Hall budget, and held, once again, a small increase in council tax to less than inflation at 47p per week for local services.

Because we’ve done that, work is well under way on the major £30m renovation of one of Croydon’s crown jewels, the Fairfield Halls. We’ll shortly also be in a position to announce who the halls’ new operator will be, ensuring that Croydon once again attracts the very best national and international stars to perform here in our town.

We’re also making big improvements to our local district centres, too. We’re building a new swimming pool and community centre in New Addington, restoring the old library building in Ashburton Park and, in Purley, we’re renovating the town’s major car park. Lots of improvements are being made in Thornton Heath and South Norwood, too.

That the council can make these investments even when times are tough shows that we have a firm grip on finances. We continue to protect and deliver value-for-money services to Croydon residents while keeping any increase in council tax for local services as low as possible. Indeed, I’m pleased that again, this year, we’ve been able to keep the council’s part of the charge to just 47p per week per band D household.

You may be aware of the urgent need to fund increases in demand for adult social care. As national funding doesn’t adequately address this pressure, the government now expects local councils to collect money separately to spend directly on these services. As our elderly and vulnerable residents are a priority for us, we feel that we have no choice but to add a 3% government precept to your council tax to help protect these vital services. This equates to 70p per week and will appear as a separate charge on your bill.

I recognise that a stable council budget with a small increase in council tax allows us to both plan and protect those key services that you have told us are a priority, protects the most vulnerable in our community, and allows those of you planning the family budget to do so in the knowledge there will be no nasty surprises with the council tax bill .

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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Power to you, the people

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.

Best wishes

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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Safeguarding your priorities

It is the time of year when, as a council, we get to set Croydon’s budget for the next 12 months. Our aim, even in tough economic times for the country, is to ensure that we continue to deliver the services you have told us matter most to you, and ensure we deliver them to the highest standard possible.

The money we spend as a council comes, in part, from the collection of council tax, while the rest is essentially government grant directly from Westminster. As you might have read in the local media, Croydon Council has been hit hard by the cuts to the government-funded part of our budget.

To make things worse, when ministers began receiving complaints from across the country about the damage their cuts were doing, they introduced something called a ‘transitional fund’, but that has not gone to the councils most in need. How can anybody justify Croydon receiving £800k while neighbouring Surrey received £24.1m? Utterly indefensible.

However, as leader of Croydon Council, I am determined that we will not allow Croydon to become a victim of the government’s cuts, and that we will protect those frontline services – such as libraries, leisure centres and improved street cleaning – that you have told us you value so much.

To achieve this, and honour our commitment to keep council tax affordable, has, to be honest, involved some tough choices. As a council, we are doing more with less as we continue to have to lose staff and some services. One such casualty is the green garden waste-collection service; it has been necessary to introduce a small charge to those wishing to continue to have the service, amounting to £1.12 per week.

Despite these tough conditions, we intend to deliver value for money where we can. To achieve this, part of the council’s new headquarters building is to be let out to the private sector, more of our services will be accessible online, and we will continue to cut waste and red tape wherever we find it.

With regard to our council budget, we are proposing a council tax increase of 53p per week (band D property) following last year’s freeze in council tax bills. This is equivalent to 1.89% on your bill but, I hope you agree, it’s a relatively small price to pay to protect those vital frontline services from the cuts. Having said that, I am acutely aware that the council tax bill is still a major part of many household budgets and I give you my word we will do everything we can to keep delivering value for money, and keep your council tax bill as low as possible.

Croydon is on the up – we are now officially London’s Growth Borough. Companies like Body Shop are relocating hundreds of their staff and corporate HQs here; Westfield’s new retail centre will soon be on site; and Fairfield Halls is set for a major £30m refit with a new college for Croydon being built alongside it.

As you can see, there is much to be excited about, but we also have to ensure that, as our town is transformed, we protect those vital frontline services. That is the job of myself and my colleagues, and we will not let you down.

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council


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Summer of Ambition

As I write this latest blog post, I am reflecting on Croydon’s first Ambition music and arts festival, which took place last month – and what a stunning event it was. Alongside up-and-coming young talent from Croydon, it featured international stars such as Soul II Soul, and nationally recognised comedy names, as well as theatre, dance and much more. But, more than anything, the festival proved to be another event putting people and local communities at the heart of celebrating art and culture across Croydon.

And when positioned alongside this summer’s already hugely successful Purley, London Road, Crystal Palace and South Norwood festivals, the arrival of the iconic Rise gallery, and fantastic announcement of Boxpark Shoreditch coming to our town next summer, it proves beyond any doubt that Croydon is changing forever.

No longer a sleepy outer London suburb, it is a vibrant, modern borough with an array of fantastic district and local town centres, a truly diverse population, and new job and training opportunities being created in numbers we could only have dreamed about a few years ago. And that’s all before Westfield/Hammerson’s new world-class retail centre opens in a few years’ time.

However, Ambition and growing success bring their own challenges, so that is why, as a council, we are proud to be delivering a number of new schools for local people, ensuring thousands of new homes are being built, and introducing a licensing scheme for private landlords to improve the standard of accommodation for those who choose to rent.

Also, we are campaigning to further improve Croydon’s fantastic public transport provision, which is rapidly becoming a victim of its own success with buses, trams and trains often running near, or at, capacity.

It is, in fact, with the pressures on public transport in mind that I, as council leader, have launched Croydon’s campaign to convince national government and the Mayor of London that the proposed Bakerloo line Tube extension should continue on from its proposed route to Lewisham and then cut through south-east London to Croydon.

I hope you agree that the Tube would be a good thing for Croydon; if you have a moment spare, do let us know your views.

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and if you have children, do ensure you take up the offer we are repeating from last year of free swimming for young people in borough leisure centres.

Tony
Leader, Croydon Council
@CllrTony


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A home of your own

“A home of our own” is now a fading dream for so many people. It had formerly been the very bedrock of our society that drove the post-war consensus that if you studied, worked hard and “did the right thing”, going on to own your own home would be part of the “deal”. This is a dream that now lies in tatters for so many.

It is also equally true for many of today’s generation that they have lost the choice of being a proud tenant of a house the council built. Council homes in too many areas across the country are available only for those in most dire need – not as choice, or as part of a wider housing offer.

For too long and in too many areas, supply has completely failed to keep up with demand. In other areas of low demand and market failure, plans to demolish entire neighbourhoods have proven not to be the answer. In these areas, the creation of new employment opportunities has been painfully slow.

It therefore seems incredible that, with the general election dust now well and truly settled, the government apparently intends to press ahead with its scheme to force housing associations to sell off their homes. If this was not outrageous enough, to pay for this the government also intends to compensate housing associations by dramatically reducing the already depleted supply of council homes by forcing councils to sell their most valuable properties.

The aspiration for many people to own their own home remains as strong as ever. It is that desire that current government proposals exploit by reigniting the right-to-buy debate in terms of housing associations, and doing little to address the ongoing decline in the supply of new homes across all tenures. For previous generations, renting in the private sector while saving for a deposit to buy a home was the norm. Today in London, where average rents in the private sector have just topped £1,500 per month, that plan is clearly no longer feasible for the vast majority.

So, at best, this policy is a diversion that will do absolutely nothing to address the housing supply crisis, and, at worst, it is a deliberate attempt to attack the role of affordable social housing in society.

The vast majority of those who have looked at the detail of this policy, including those from all sides of the political spectrum and the housing industry, agree that it will do nothing to address the growing housing supply crisis we face. Under these current government plans, Oxford could lose 25% of its social housing stock and Southwark could lose 30% at the rate of 500 homes per year. In essence, over time and in areas of high demand and high value (including inner London), only those earning salaries significantly higher than the average will be able to live there. Dame Shirley Porter herself would be proud.

However, as with so many other policy areas, we no longer have time to look to or wait for Whitehall to come up with the answer. So, as the leader of London’s largest borough I am proud that Croydon is committed to building more than 9,000 new homes within the next five years, that we are working in partnership with the Mayor of London, and that the Treasury is to deliver Croydon’s Growth Plan. I am also proud that the first policy decision this administration took in June 2014 was to increase the affordable requirement of developers in Croydon to a minimum of 30% and that we are on course to deliver.

Whether it is a more flexible and local approach to right to buy, greater fiscal devolution or increasing the Housing Revenue Association borrowing cap, housing policy and delivery is surely somewhere we can turn the devolution debate into reality and let local government and our partners get on and deliver the new homes our country so desperately needs.

Cllr Tony Newman
Leader, Croydon Council
LGA Labour Group Housing Lead


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On your side

One of the key commitments of our council administration – which took office just over a year ago – was to serve all of Croydon, and accelerate the borough’s economic growth as a matter of urgency, while ensuring that as many local people as possible benefited from that growth.

So, for once, I have a list of positive stats and facts that reflect the progress we, together as Croydon, are making and, in so doing, turning those ‘ambitious’ plans into a reality.

  • Office vacancy rates at less than 10%, falling from 55% in 2011.
  • A 49% rise in the now-flourishing ‘tech sector’ since 2011.
  • 1,800 new homes being built, and 1,053 affordable new homes completed.
  • Imminent start of a major commercial development on the prestigious Ruskin Square site.
  • Box Park pop-up shopping mall at East Croydon set for the summer of 2016.
  • Work about to start on transforming the Fairfield Halls into the Southbank of Croydon.
  • District centre improvements under way in South Norwood and Thornton Heath, with others to follow shortly.

What all of the above illustrate is how fast we are now turning around Croydon’s economy and truly making it London’s most exciting and vibrant borough. Taken along with events such as this summer’s forthcoming Ambition Festival and the recent hosting through the town centre of a major international cycle event, we are, once and for all, ending the cheap jibes we once saw aimed at Croydon. Instead, we are reinforcing the view that Croydon is the place to be, the place people are moving to, and the place new jobs are being created.

However, with growing success comes a new set of challenges that together we must address.

East Croydon station is no longer up to the increased demands being placed on it and must be modernised – so, come on Network Rail, let’s get on with it. More trams, and tracks to run them on, are needed urgently, so we will be lobbying the Mayor of London, whose responsibility this is, as a matter of urgency.

More schools are needed and council, with partners, is building them; and we need the government to approve the planning process that will allow Westfield/Hammerson to get on and deliver the much-needed and talked about new retail centre.

Finally, as council leader, my job is also to ensure that, even as Croydon is being transformed, as a council we remain focused on delivering high-quality local services such as continuing to improve our street cleaning, increasing recycling, keeping your council tax bills as low as possible, and much more.

We are making good progress on all these fronts, but, as ever, if you have any problems or ideas about how we can further improve services, do not hesitate to let me know directly at tony.newman@croydon.gov.uk

Best wishes

Tony

Leader LB Croydon

@Cllrtony


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Standing up for Croydon

The 2015 General Election has seen our country arguably more divided than ever and voters in Croydon turning the Croydon Central parliamentary constituency into the third most marginal seat in the country. A week on from this momentous event it is more important than ever that this council has a clear focus on ‘putting Croydon first’.

As the Labour leader of London’s largest borough I am absolutely committed to ensuring we get the very best deal for our town. This means working with local businesses, the voluntary sector and politicians of all parties. However, we should also be clear that as locally elected politicians we will robustly oppose any plans by national government to make further cuts to public services in Croydon. This involves placing particular focus on protecting the budgets of those services which support our elderly and vulnerable.

We are currently seeking greater devolution of decision making and budgets to Croydon from central government and will now work with the newly elected Government, namely the Treasury and the Mayor of London, to immediately reopen our discussions and make the case for further investment and support for our much-needed infrastructure projects. This investment from central government is essential if we are to accelerate the economic growth that is already apparent in our town. Extensions to our trams, better train services, zone 4 travel status, improved cycle routes and much more will be campaigned for, because these are all improvements that the council cannot deliver alone.

I am proud, though, that in the first year of our council administration we have not only made the creation of local housing and jobs a priority, but that we have delivered on those commitments and have done so together, as a council.

We will see new homes being built across Croydon in the coming months and a significant proportion will be both affordable and available for local people. On the provision of local jobs, we have ensured our procurement practices now make it easier for smaller and hopefully local companies to bid for council contracts. In addition, we have pledged that Croydon will be a London Living Wage borough, thus supporting the principle that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.  

Despite all the serious issues we have to deal with, Croydon is a fantastic place to live and work. As such, I hope you will find time this spring and summer to attend our forthcoming ‘Ambition’ music festival in July, the Pearl Izumi Men’s Tour Series and Matrix Fitness Women’s Grand Prix – two of Britain’s biggest professional cycling events that we’re hosting on 2 June – or to simply relax in the sunshine in one of our many wonderful parks. Personally, I will be doing all three!

Tony


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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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A white ribbon borough

Rachel Slack, Maria Stubbings, Katie Summers, Casey Brittle, Clare Wood – young women who should now be in the prime of their lives. Instead, all have, in recent years, lost those lives as a direct result of the hate crime that is domestic violence. Many other women, as the excellent coverage of this difficult subject in this week’s Croydon Advertiser highlights, have suffered horrific experiences but have escaped with their lives and are now looking to better and more secure futures. In Clare Wood’s case, her death led to the creation of Clare’s Law which allows women who may have reasons to be suspicious about a partner’s behaviour to check police records to see if there are any previous convictions.

Our Labour administration in Croydon made it clear when we took office in June that tackling the ever-increasing number of reported cases of domestic violence and abuse would be one of the council’s top priorities – and it is. That is why we are committing to becoming a White Ribbon borough and we will be formally launching this on International Day Against Violence against Women on 25 November. White Ribbon status will formally recognise that Croydon is making the tackling of domestic violence one of the key borough-wide priorities.

I am proud that it was a previous Labour administration in Croydon that put in place Europe’s first Family Justice Centre (FJC), in 2005. This is where all the public services – such as the police, NHS, social services and others – are under one roof, so that somebody who is a victim of domestic violence can immediately access all the support services they will need, and don’t have to repeatedly tell their story to different public agencies in different locations. However, we again need to strengthen the FJC, and then go much further than before in really coming together, right across Croydon, to state clearly that domestic violence will simply not be tolerated.

So, as part of our journey to achieving White Ribbon status, we will launch more education programmes within our schools, ensure that everyone who works in public services, such as the NHS and police, are trained to the very highest standards in terms of spotting the symptoms of domestic violence and have the confidence to make early interventions that, in some cases, will save lives. Alongside this, we will run high-profile poster and social media campaigns reminding the public that this is a crime that will not be tolerated, and offering helplines for those who might need them.

The ongoing increases in incidents of domestic violence in Croydon are completely unacceptable, so it is time to collectively redouble our efforts and ensure we are the generation that says loudly and clearly: “Enough is enough and the time to act is now.”

If you need help or advice, call:

  • 24-hour domestic violence helpline – 080 8200 0247
  • Croydon Family Justice Centre – 0208 688 0100

Councillor Tony Newman
Leader, Croydon Council