Leader's blog

News and thoughts from Croydon Town Hall


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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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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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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


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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


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Let local government get on with the job

Tony croppedWriting today’s blog in a mild state of shock as, like the rest of the world, I’m still digesting last night’s amazing world cup match that saw the hosts, Brazil, lose by a staggering seven goals to one to Germany; a result which will resonate down the generations.

Global events, whether sporting or otherwise, clearly can still make an impact even in today’s fast-moving, often cynical twenty-four hour news cycle. Local government and what your local council is getting up to on the other hand, if we’re being honest, rarely troubles our regional TV news let alone makes the national headlines.  Perhaps that’s as it should be, but increasingly I’m not so sure.

In Croydon we’re blessed with a vibrant and inquisitive local media that holds both the council and other public sector bodies to account, and for that we should be grateful.

However, many of the decisions that affect our quality of life in Croydon are still, wrongly in my view, taken by faceless, junior ministers sitting in Westminster, who assume they know best.  They don’t, and we need to see these decisions devolved to us both as local people and as local councillors.

Croydon, like all councils, still only raises a proportion of the money we need to pay for local services from council tax. The rest is provided in the annual so-called ‘financial settlement’ from central government, and in Croydon’s case this amount is now woefully short.

The latest example of ‘Westminster knows best’ policy-making is seeing more and more people forced to move from central London to, in relative terms, more affordable places such as Croydon.  This is however, placing unplanned and unfair pressures on our local services and we are seeing no extra financial support from national government to help pay for the demand that their policies, not ours, have created.

Our new council administration is ambitious for Croydon and we’ve made it crystal clear that we will work with anyone who shares our goal to see our town and district centres renewed and regenerated.

However, much of this work is often slowed down by the red tape and dead hands of Whitehall and Westminster.  So, as strange as it may seem, the best thing national government can do in the absence of providing fair funding for the people of Croydon, is to get out of the way and let us get on with the job.

Perhaps the innovative solutions local councils like Croydon are coming up with do deserve more national media attention. But clearly in the final week of the World Cup that’s not going to happen. As Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool manager, once said: “football is not a matter of life and death it’s more important than that”