Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Key Support For Green Economy Should Give Croydon Climate Change Commission More Confidence

The growing consensus about the need for greening the economy should give the Croydon Climate Change Commission more confidence in its proposals.

Yesterday’s Guardian is very useful if we link a number of the news and analysis articles. 700,000 job redundancies are predicted in the coming months. How many can we expect in Croydon, and in which areas of economic activity? How many businesses are involved in innovation industrial and technological design and manufacturing which would be capable of adjusting their activities?

There is growing consensus for greening the world economy: the International Monetary Fund, a report from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, and now the Confederation of British Industry.

The OECD report calls for a green economy approach based on the following principles:

·       Environmental sustainability

·       Rising well-being (rather than simply higher incomes)

·       Lower levels of inequality

·       More resilient economies

The CBI calls for creating jobs and saving energy by retrofitting houses and buildings to more energy efficient, developing sustainable aviation fuels, and creating a hydrogen economy.

Alternative Economic Strategy v. Free Market Principles

The Guardian’s economic expert Larry Elliott points out that the Government’s economic reaction to the COVID crisis owes ‘more to Tony Benn’s alternative economic strategy (AES) than to free-market principles.’ He draws attention to former Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’’ call for a green plan based on decarbonisation projects, that was part of the Labour General Election Manifesto.  

Elliott suggests that the way forward ‘is to harness the best of the market – its ability to adapt and innovate – with the power of the state in order to bring about economic transformation. Carefully nurturing the technologies and industries of the future needs to be part of the mix.’

Whether the Government will go far as far as this remains to be seen. In March it required BT to fulfil a Universal Service Obligation to provide everyone with broadband connection. Today’s Guardian exposes the enormous charges BT is making to isolated customers. This is an example of the failure of many businesses to be adaptive and innovative. Labour’s election promise re-broadband connectivity was derided at the time. Yet the COVID crisis has shown how important broadband connectivity is.

Changes Needed

If there is to be  partnership between private enterprise and the State then some changes will be need such as:

·       changing company law to build in the principles of sustainability and greening and long-term objectives rather than short-term shareholder gain; 

·       creating regional economic development  structures that learn the lessons of the problems of those under Labour;

·       re-training redundant workers to have the skills to be employed in green jobs;

·       funding research and development in Universities on green technologies.

Local Government

The way forward is also going to depend on a constructive partnership between central and local government, as delivery will be on the ground. That will require:

(1)    Fairer funding for authorities like Croydon

(2)    Meeting all authorities COVID action costs

(3)    Economic development funding

Surveying The Local Economy

Although it is facing a drastic financial crisis, the Council will need to spend money to better understand what is happening to the local economy.

It should survey every business from the high street and corner shops to the large employers about how they have been affected by COVID and the resultant economic recession, how they see their future economic prospects, and what help they need.

Such a survey should not be simply on-line as most small businesses will not know about it. They will all need to be visited and interviewed. This will require a large number of people to undertake it, and may be something that could be done using students in partnership with Croydon College, Roehampton and South Bank Universities. If a resurgence of COVID limits this then businesses could be interviewed over the telephone and via email.

Supporting The Unemployed

Having taken part in a Zoom discussion yesterday afternoon, it is clear that another challenge to be addressed is how can the unemployed be supported. Many of those living in Croydon will have lost jobs elsewhere in London and Surrey. Many of those who will have worked in Croydon will live elsewhere. They will become isolated due to the ending of daily contact with fellow workers, the fact that unemployment and universal credit is now largely undertaken on line not at Job Centre offices.

Trade unions nationally will need to find a way of allowing their unemployed members to remain members and to offer them support services or encourage them to transfer to Croydon’s Unite Community branch. Large numbers of the unemployed will not have been trade unions members. How can these be received and supported?

The Council’s Gateway services and the other organisations offering welfare rights advice and the food banks will need  to work even closer together to support the unemployed. Is a new welfare rights strategy needed for the Borough?

Strengthening Croydon Trade Union Organisation

Trade union organisation is also a barrier, in that there is no means by which the different branches in the same union in the same Borough can link together to ensure they know what each their problems are how they can help each other. During the COVID crisis this could be done through Zoom meetings of  branch officers. Such inter-linking should also mean that the information going into Croydon TUC will strengthen its role as the co-ordinator of several unions. CTUC should consider having a public newsletter on the issues it is discusses, the representations it makes and its activities, and the help different branches need.

Guardian articles:




John McDonnell:



Previous discussion:




Sunday, 9 August 2020

Truth & Memory: From the North East's Slavery and Abolition History To State Organised Racism


On Thursday 6 August I was a member of the panel for a Zoom discussion on 'Truth & Memory. History and Struggle Against State Organised Racism in Britain' organised in South Shields.

My introductory text 

It is an indictment of the way British history has been taught and the closed minds of large numbers of people that the white men who thought they were protecting Earl Grey’s monument in Newcastle did not know that he had been the Prime Minister whose Government passed the Act to abolish Britain’s direct involvement in slavery.

Deprivation Among BAME Communities

Back in 1995 Rene Webb, the President of the West Indian Ex-Service organisation said ‘A society that cannot look after its poor, cannot be expected to look after its black poor.’ This reminds us that state racism is also linked to class. Both the white and the black working class poor live in the so-called deprived neighbourhoods, many of which had been smashed by the Thatcher Government’s de-industrialisation.

Under Tony Blair’s Government the Social Exclusion Unit analysis revealed that 70% of BAME residents lived in the most deprived neighbourhoods. Blair said it would take 30 years to turn this around. The Tories abolished the policies and delivery agencies seeking to ensure that turn around. Tory austerity has made the situation worse. I am not saying that this was done for overly racist reasons, but it does suggest that the impact on race equalities was not considered.

Today's State Racism

Today the most public examples of state racism are the Windrush Generation Scandal, and the abuse of stop and search powers by the police. The only reason we know about the latter is because back in 1994 the Community/Police Consultative Group for Lambeth, of which I was Secretary, persuaded the Labour Opposition and the Government to require a Code of Practice, which included the requirement to keep statistics.

Alongside state racism is the institutional racism embedded into a large range of organisations. There was a massive failure to use the themes of the recommendations for the police in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report to examine racism in those organisations, something I did when I worked for the British Association for Settlements & Social Action Centres.

The COVID Crisis And Black Lives Matter

The COVID crisis and the Black Lives Movement have starkly illustrated the link between the higher incidence of the virus among BAME communities linked to deprivation, and of the extent of the experience of racism. The challenge is massive and a key problem is the way in which British history has been taught in non truthful way, neglecting the Black contribution and downplaying the way in which the British slavery business enriched the wealthy of this country at the expense of the enslaved, and here in Britain the agricultural and working classes. Turning this round has been something activists on Black British history like Hakim have been working on for decades.

Work On North East Black History

As I had already been involved in this work I provided  information on North East’s Black History in the early 2000s to the Director of the Shiney Row Resource and Advice Centre, who was concerned at the growing racism in response to the rehousing of refugees. Then I was support worker for the 2007 Tyne & Wear Remembering Slavery and the 20010-13 North East Popular Politics projects.

The former led to the publication of John Charlton’s book Hidden Chains. Because it is out of print I have put together a series of pamphlets on the 2007 project, the slavery business involvements, the abolition movement, the support for emancipation in the USA and the contribution made by people of African heritage. 

(These are available as free PDFs downloadable 

from the following blog posting:


Racism in the North East

The incidence of racism in the North East was starkly revealed by David Olusoga’s emotional turmoil in his documentary re-visiting Gateshead where he grew up suffering from racist abuse and racist attacks on his home. Racism continues to be a problem around the country from the testimony of young people about their school experiences, including in the North East, as been featured in The Guardian on 30 July.

The mass unemployment grows in the wake of the COVID economic crisis so could be fertile ground for racist and fascist organisations. It is crucial that there needs to be a major change in schools in the way British history is taught, and a lot of work in every community. Those of us who give talks on slavery and abolition and Black History know that many people say that they have to rethink British history.

The North East Slavery Business Connections

The 2007 project discovered a wide range of links with the slavery business, involving landowners, industrialists  and politicians. It started with the many North Easterners who helped colonise North America and the Caribbean. There was investment in plantation ownership and buying enslaved Africans, such as by the Delavels in Florida. There were North Easterners directly involved in slave trading. The Crowley ironworkers at Winlaton made shackles and hoes for the plantations. Coal was shipped to the islands. Robert Carr imported tar from Trinidad. Blocks of sugar came in for processing.

One of the key figures was John Graham-Clarke, an important industrialist, who built up his ownership of plantations and had his own fleet of ships to and from the Caribbean. He also became guardian to the children of Jamaican slave owners. His daughter married Edward Moulton-Barrett of Jamaica, while his son James married the daughter of the wealthy Jamaica plantation owner Leonard Parkinson, who had been born in Kirklevington.

There were many awards of compensation awarded to North EastEnders or on their behalf, including. There were Anglican priests like William Smoult Temple, and Rev Edward Cooke, who acted as trustees and executors, and the former Durham vicar who became Bishop of Exeter. There was even  ‘a coloured’ woman living in Startforth from Demerara.

You can see the full details of compensation on the database of the Centre for Research into British Slave-ownership.

Abolition Campaigning In The North East

On the abolition side Granville Sharp, who initiated legal action against slave owners in London, worked with Olaudah Equiano the leading black campaigner, and was involved in founding the colony of Sierra Leone. Sharp’s father also supported the movement.

Key to the movement were the Quakers and the Unitarians, the latter led by Rev William Turner. The movement received a boost with the appointment of Shute  Barrington as Archbishop of Durham, who supported a number of abolitionist Anglican vicars in the Region. Northumberland’s Charles Grey was a committed supporter from the 1780s, working with Richard Milbanke as Durham County's MP, to achieve the 1807 ban on British involvement in the slave trade. There was mass petitioning and campaigning through to the end of slavery in 1838.

The Quakers, especially, the women, were key activists in the support for emancipation in the USA, raising the money to buy the freedom of Frederick Douglass, supporting William Wells Brown when he campaigned on Tyneside, and employed Henry Highland Garnet to help set up branches of the Free Produce movement to promote non-slave made products. Joseph Cowen who had spoken against slavery at his Scottish University continued to support the cause and was a key figure in the campaign that prevented the British Government recognising the Confederate States.

Obviously a lot more can be said but time does not allow. So a few names from later on: Pablo Fanque, the circus owner, James Durham of the Durham Light Infantry, Arthur Wharton the footballer, Celestine Edwards, the anti-racist campaigner, Charles O’Neal, the Bajan doctor, and in the modern period  Ivor Cummings born in West Hartlepool who became a key figure in the Windrush story, and Chris Millard, the community relations activist.

In my work over the last few months with Durham University staff, I have recommended they set up two projects: one to explore the links with Sierra Leone’s Fourah Bay College, and with the music of the British black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose music was championed particularly in Sunderland, and whose great nephew George was a student activist at the University around 1960, and who went on to be a senior Sierra Leonean diplomat.

Where next? 

A possible key is to start using the history of the mass support in the North East through the petitions in dozens of towns and villages against the slave trade and then the slavery system, the welcome to the African-American abolitionist campaigners, and the role of North Easterners in the campaign to stop the British Government supporting the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

Other ways could be through art and culture, including using Thomas Bewick’s kneeling slave image, the 1825 painting showing the Bajan British army soldier Loveless Overton in Newcastle, the poems of James Grainger and others. While work on Black history is an all year activity, the challenge is how to ensure that events in Black History month reach a much wider audience and are solidly based in history, and The International Day on 22 March and Windrush Day on 22 June, and International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on 23 August.

You Tube Video Of Discussion 


Some previous blogs on related subjects:





Black History and Black Lives Matters News

coverage is posted on my bog site




Monday, 27 July 2020

Welcome Start To Protest Song Project


It is good to see that the Arts & Humanities Research Council is funding a project on the history and politics of the English protest song since the 17thC, based at the University of East Anglia.

The University  is now looking to recruit a Senior Research Associate. For details, see:

This will be fascinating project and I am sure that there will be a large number of political activists and performers of protest songs who will want to see how they can assist.

There is a rich literature that will frame the context including about the Diggers, the Radicals of the turn of the 18th/19thC, the songs inspired by the Peterloo Massacre, Chartism, the socialist and labour, and peace and anti-war movements. Then there are the lives of individual performers and song writers such as Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger,  the work of people like Roy Harper and Dave Harker, and the activities of the Workers’ Music Association and socialist choirs.

The researcher will need to explore archives around the country particularly in collections of ballads and broadsheets, such as those at Newcastle Central Library’s Local Studies, many of which were listed in the North East Popular Politics Project (2020-13).   How many songs used in election campaigns in the 19thC can be regarded as protest songs? The research team may want to explore this with the team running the English elections project based at Newcastle University.

There are  studies of individual songs like of The Powtes Complaint’ by Todd A. Borlik and Clare Egan in “Powte”: The Authorship, Provenance, and Manuscripts of a Jacobean Environmental Protest Poem.

Specialist Archives, Libraries & Museums

There will be relevant resources at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and the People’s History Museum in Manchester. On 1 August the Museum is running a workshop for mothers and toddlers ‘My First Protest Song’. 


It  will be worthwhile the researcher talking to Stefan Dickers, the archivist at Bishopsgate Institute, and look at the material held at the Central for Political Song at Glasgow University.

The team may wish to build up its own library. If it does it will need help to advertise this so that individuals can contribute material collected over the years, like the song sheets of Battersea’s Panto Politica group in the 1980s, who penned their own songs about the Wandsworth Tories, Thatcherism and the attack on the GLC. 

How Popular Were/Are Protest Songs?

A key question to be asked is how many people in the past knew the protest songs and sang them, and how many today.  My own research into the political and social use of song shows that many activists mention the songs they sung in their autobiographies, or are referred to by their biographers. e.g. Tom Mann and Harry Pollitt.  My research into a wide range of aspects of the labour movement in the 19thC and early 20th Centuries has illustrated how reports of demonstrations, meetings, fundraising concerts and dinners shed light on protest/political songs.

Looking Backwards And Across The Atlantic

Another way to look at the songs is to take the repertoires of current singers and trace the songs they sing back in time. Of course it will need to be remembered that many protest songs used in 20thC England have come from the United States. While the research focusses on England the role of the protest song in Ireland, Scotland and Wales cannot be ignored, and the interplay between the protest movements and cultures across Britain’s internal borders. Five new protest songs have for example been composed in Wales.

For readers who want to know more about the history of protest song the following site on the Internet will help.

What is a protest song?

A key question is what is the definition of a protest song, and what is its relationship with political songs, such as The Red Flag.

Nicky Rushton, a local singer,  working as protest singer in residence at Durham University, defines a protest song as:

'It is a protest from the masses or a protest from an individual, for change in society and those words are put to music. Most lyrics call for direct change while others use humour, irony, a soulful Ballard, all of these forms can make a point. A protest is to stand up to the rights of people who look or can be different to you, to unite together to amplify our voices as one. A statement put to music is a powerful tool. There are many obvious well-known examples of Protest Songs. One from the black protest movement would be “we shall not be moved”; Joni Mitchell wrote big yellow taxi in 1967 about climate and change, looking out of her hotel room in Hawaii “paved paradise, put up a parking lot” and Pulp wrote about class and education in “Common People”.

A protest can relate to equality of everyone or the equality of an individual. All my favourite songs have a message.'

Rushton has been commissioned by the Department of Sociology to write four songs ‘that communicate what research we do to a wider, non-academic audience.’   He has been working with four research groups (health and social exclusion, violence and abuse, higher education and social exclusion and communities and social justice), to write the songs.

He has also been  working  with students and groups both inside the University and in Durham City/County ‘to encourage protest song-writing as individuals and/or groups about issues of social justice that we feel passionate about.’

International Comparisons

For readers who want to see how protest song can be researched and written about in another country may wish to read the PhD Striking a Discordant Note: Protest Song and Working-Class Political Culture in Germany, 1844-1933. University of Southampton Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences School of Humanities. DPhil Thesis. 2010.

How Many Hidden Protest Songs Are There?

It will a be necessary to look at songs which are not necessarily regarded as protest songs, for example in the world of pop, rock, garage, grime, etc. The Specials’ Ghost Town, for example, is regarded by Abigail Gardner (2017) as: ‘a haunting 1981 protest song that still makes sense today’.

The Relationship Between Protest And Political Songs

A lot of songs sung in the labour movement are classified as political songs. Are they also protest songs?

Back in 1991 the Labour Party Conference sang We Shall Overcome. James Naughton in the previous Sunday's Observer had asked which dragons still need to be slain. Roy Hattersley wrote replying:
'Until that moment it had never struck me that we - the army of the comfortable, in size as well a circumstance - were singing about ourselves. I imagined that, in our sentimental way, we were anticipating victory over prejudice and poverty. If we looked ridiculous, we were absurd in a good cause.

We also sang in praise of our past - in celebration of campaigns already fought and battles bravely won....

The Red Flag, also featured on the last day of the conference, explains in its second verse what political singing is really about. It recalls a time when "all around was dark at night" and  - on the subject of the flag itself - reminds us that because "it witnessed many a deed and vow, we cannot change the colour now". The language is ponderous but the message is clear.

When we sing We Shall Overcome, we are in part giving thanks for those who overcame in the past. We sing about civil disobedience in the south, the lone black student signing the college roll in Montgomery, tent city around the Washington monument, and Lyndon Johnson beginning to redeem "the hundred year promise of emancipation".' ('Endpiece' column headed Songs to make the party swing, The Guardian, 12 October 1991)

Can Spirituals Be Seen As Protest Songs in England?

Another question that could be explored, particularly given the Black Lives Matters campaign, is at what point does the singing of  African-American spirituals in England become protest. They were made popular in the 1870s by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and went on being popular. Henry Wood helped popularise them in his Music of the All Nations part-work magazine, in which he published many of the arrangements by H. T. Burleigh. They were a key feature of  Paul Robeson’s concerts in the UK (see my Politics and Culture. Paul Robeson in the UK).      

What Next?

So potentially a big agenda. The project team may well need to build up links with local historians and activists who are interested in carrying out research in their local area.

Note. I sent project team member Professor John Street at East Anglia  the draft of the above. In thanking me he says that the blog ‘makes a number of very important points and gives some very useful steers. We hope to be as inclusive as possible, within the limitations imposed by geography (i.e. England) and ‘song’, so yes, it would be good to find a place for Alan Bush and Pulp. We also want to engage with as wide an audience as possible. The grant provides support for a mobile exhibition, two concerts and a song writing workshop.’

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

The need for creativity in job creation in Croydon

The Chancellor’s package of funding for youth training and jobs is welcome. Concerns are being expressed across the country about the mistakes of the youth employment programmes of the 1970s and 1980s, in the hope that they will not be repeated. It is important that in Croydon  (and elsewhere) a re-look at the detail of what happened in the past is undertaken and a creative approach is adopted. 

The Creativity of Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in Lambeth

One of the most creative organisations in the field of job creation in the 1970s and early 1980s was Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in North Lambeth. From the early 70s its work had three themes, responding to local concerns: employment, housing and democratic participation.

Many new initiatives were started – Kennington Cleaners, Lambeth Tiles, House of Lambeth, Lambeth Industries in Norwood, the Co-op Centre, Roots & Shoots and All Sewn Up - see details below. It also supported setting up housing co-operatives particularly for immigrant communities.

The 1980s Onwards

Jeffe Jeffers, the Director  at the time, reflected on this period in 2008. ‘The watershed to the high wave of activity was the steady weakening of the UK economy resulting in the arrival of Thatcherism - a philosophy which saw a diminution of interest in community activity and steady reductions in the role of  local authorities as instruments of social change.

Lambeth Council set out to oppose this rigorously.  Organisations such as LMHS were caught in the crossfire. Much work already underway, particularly employment projects for those with learning disabilities found their funding withdrawn. LMHS struggled to keep these going and severely depleted its resources in the process.’

Key projects such as Roots & Shoots went independent. ‘The Settlement was again close  to bankruptcy with large debts.

The Settlement's near demise coincided with the continued retreat of the local authority as a provider of local services and as a possible partner in activity. Instead the local Council retreated from the estates, even trying to cease to be landlords. Government equally lost confidence in its ability to intervene constructively. Often dressed  up as the need to let markets operate, this was no more than a loss of will and the ending of the wartime consensus in favour of equality.’

Roots & Shoots still operates.  All Sewn Up did close, but was re-started and still operates as a Settlement Project. 

Perhaps the most significant project the Settlement was involved in was South Bank Techno, a partnership with Prudential and South Bank University, developing  225,000 sq ft new build to house new start technology businesses. Jeffe and the Polytechnic Director John Beishon recognised the importance of developing a city base for new technology businesses. One of these businesses developed a computer design programme for architects, which was so successful, that as it expanded it had to move to Guildford.

Alongside his career with Settlements and in science park development projects, Jeffe was a Councillor in Wandsworth  from 1978-86. In 1981 he initiated a discussion on the need to strengthen the local economy and restructure the Council to be better able to meet local needs and challenges.

Economic Development

Suggesting that the chief problem facing local Councils trying to generate jobs was money - access to it and lack of control over it, Jeffe proposed:

·       The creation of an alternative base for capital attraction in the Borough

·       the use  Council resources in a more dynamic way.

·       The creation of a powerful worker controlled, Council led, employment sector in the Borough which can be an expanding sector in both services and manufacturing.

·       The establishment of a local bank, backed by the value of Council assets and in which residents can invest locally.

Croydon & Social Enterprise

Croydon has used the co-operative/social enterprise solution for some aspects of its services: GLL managing the Leisure Centres, BHLive Fairfield Halls, and Octavo running educational support until taken back in-house. Although it  economic strategy is supportive of the role of social enterprise, it does not seem to have had much success in supporting any significant ones. The idea of a Croydon Bank has been recommended by the Croydon TUC since its analysis of the Council’s Growth Plan in 2014. It does not appear that the Council has examined this idea, which would be much stronger if the NHS organisations, Croydon College,  local businesses, and community and voluntary organisations would agree to support and use the Bank.

Council Structural Reform

Jeffe also proposed the creation of an open democratic accountable and accessible Council system which would  encourage participation,  provide a platform for socialist ideals and practice, and be efficient without a loss of humanity, but without attendant bureaucracy.
This restructuring would be based on Area Based Services pushing decision making and accountability down the ladder.  ‘It would be vital to improve local involvement in the creation and implementation of programmes’ through area advisory panels led by Councillors.
Croydon Council and Devolution
Croydon Council has made some tentative steps in the direction of such devolution, and a working group of Councillors is working on the next steps. See my three part discussion starting at:
The Settlement Influence
Through its extensive networks of people involved in charities and businesses, some of the ideas developed by the Settlement were taken up in other part of the UK, including in science park development and the Ulster Community Investment Trust. In Scotland there is the North Lanarkshire Municipal Bank.  
From the early 2000s the Settlement developed a project proposal for turning the Beaufoy Institute building on Black Prince Rd into a vocational artisans skills training school supported by businesses to provide job placements. Instead of supporting Lambeth Council chose to sell the building off to a Buddhist organisation. The Settlement was also involved in the 2000s in exploring creating a cultural quarter in Kennington. The plans for Damien Hirst to create his gallery in the area was seen as a key part of such a development.

Settlement  Projects in the early 1980s

Lambeth Tiles. Factory reproducing tiles from the 18th century Delft period of the Lambeth Pottery. Employed people with leaning difficulties. 

House of Lambeth. Reproduced the Dolls Houses from the Bethnal Green Museum for the American Market. Made furniture for Habitat.

Lambeth Industries. Former Marconi factory complex in West Norwood converted using trainees into new start businesses workspace using trainees. 40 businesses were housed. As a condition of its funding support Lambeth Council required the freehold to be transferred from the Settlement it. The Council has since sold the estate. 

Roots and Shoots. Training Project for those with learning difficulties, literacy, numeracy and horticulture. It became an independent organisation which still operates.

Gypsy Hill Garden Centre.  Distribution point for produce from sheltered workspace. 

The Mushroom Factory. Organic mushroom production for Harrods etc. 

The Bean Sprout. Specialist unit providing fresh bean sprouts for China Town.  

Insul flow. Collecting waste paper, shredding it, coating it with fine retardant and using it to insulate pensioners’ roofs in partnership with S.W. Paper Ltd. 

All Sewn Up. Training Programme City & Guilds in high quality sewing skills. This project was closed later due to the frequent problems of the Settlement over funding. It was re-established by the Settlement in the early 2000s and operates at the Lambeth Co-op Centre. 

Lambeth Co-operative Development Agency. This developed the Co-op Centre in Mowll Street to house new start workers co-operatives – 26 co-ops. The Centre was then incorporated as its own organisation, which continues to provide office space for community and voluntary organisations and small businesses. 

Kennington Office Cleaners. At its height it employed 150 women. As with other projects this did not survive. The Settlement attempted to revive it in the early 2000s.  

Lambeth Toys. It made small wooden toys for Habitat, kitchen utensils, and large play toys for nurseries.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Can Croydon’s Economy Survive the COVID-19 Shockwave?

This is the big question facing not only the Council and its partners on the newly established Croydon Sustainable Economic Renewal Board (1), but every employer, every worker, every trade union branch, every community and voluntary organisation whether they employ staff or not.

The crisis across the UK has shown:

·       The extent of inequalities and the particular adverse effects on the low paid and BAME communities have suffered most.
·       The Government’s job retention support scheme has only supported 25-30% of employees. (2)
·       That a big increase in working from home and digital team conferencing
·       An increase in the one use plastic e.g. in the increase in home deliveries.
·       An increase in on-line shopping which may continue adversely affecting the viability of retail.
·       Inadequacy of Universal Credit.
·       The scale of the digital divide.

Many large businesses are going into administration, sometimes like shopping centres INTU due to previous problems exacerbated by COVID. Smaller businesses, particular small shop keepers on low profit margins are likely not to reopen. There is a threat across the country to the future of theatres, concert halls and museums.

In Croydon we know very little about the economic effect of the crisis on the range of mainly small and medium size businesses, and the effect of the crisis on inequalities. We need some very fast analysis of:

·       the experience of every business in the Borough which will require surveying and their views on their future;
·       the adverse effects of known existing inequalities. (3)

The latter will need to include the post code analysis of COVID cases and heir link to housing conditions. Whether there is a correlation with multiple occupation, high density, lack of gardens, and small room sizes, and repair conditions.

As part of the Growth Plan the Council is developing a framework to gauge and monitor the social impact of the town centre regeneration programme, and to build evidence towards social infrastructure objectives, particularly in relation to the engagement and outreach required to develop the Clocktower and Town Hall refurbishment project, and for testing proposals for new community spaces and children’s play provision. In the light of the COVID crisis’s particular adverse impact on North Croydon, a similar study should be carried out on the planning and redevelopment being undertaken in its various districts.

The 2021 Census will provide important evidence as to the nature of the growing population and its diversity which will be able to underpin development of social infrastructure from about 2013.

CTUC Working Party 2014

Back in 2014 a Croydon TUC (CTUC) working party, which I chaired, analysed the on the new Labour administration’s Council’s local economy Growth Plan. (4)

The Working Party was concerned that while the Vision in the Plan was admirable, a set of contradictions was likely to prevent it being achieved. It was particularly concerned that forces outside the Council’s control such as private developers, rental and sale prices, the increasing role of private landlords, the continuing effect of the austerity measures, would simply increase the inequalities and largely benefit newcomers to Croydon rather than existing residents who have a wide variety of needs which are not being met.

It recommended:

·       in-depth analysis of social disadvantage and the barriers to overcoming it;

·       the establishment of a University Centre for Croydon Affairs to provide independent robust research evidence to underpin future policy and strategy development;

These remain relevant today. The proposed Centre could be set up as part of the South Bank University operation in the Borough.

The Council never engaged seriously with the CTUC. After being challenged at the Whitgift CPO Inquiry about this the main officer, now Chief Executive reluctantly agreed to a meeting, but declined to comment on the recommendations. In a follow-up email the CTUC suggested that ‘The main challenge is how to reduce inequalities without driving those experiencing them out of the Borough.’ (5)

The Financial and Funding Crisis

In its creative response to the crisis the Council has spent much more money than it is receiving back from the Government. This means that its budget for 2020/21 is now being re-looked at, with the likelihood of cuts to services and staff in order to meet the legal requirement for a balanced budget. The easy targets will be those areas of expenditure which the Council does not have to legally provide, such as culture (inc. libraries). However, it is these services which are important for people’s health and well-being, and cultural activities are an important part of the local economy. Recent research has also shown that Labour controlled Councils were more adversely effected by Government funding cuts from 2010 than Conservative controlled ones. There is talk that some may go bankrupt. It is to be hoped that this does not happen to Croydon.
While the Prime Minister has announced that the economy will be re-built by infrastructure projects, such as school buildings, hospitals, roads, transport, housing and tree planting, the sum of £5bn is tiny when it is spread across the country, when we remember that the original Westfield scheme was costed at £1bn.

Other Funding Uncertainties

Croydon faces further funding uncertainties:

·       The London Mayor is having to consider major cuts to his budget. This could mean that funding for schemes in Croydon may be ended. Will he safeguard the money for Borough of Culture 2023 which will play such an important role in not only economic recovery but in well-being and health and optimism for the future. (6)

·       Transport for London has lost a major amount of revenue and will continue to do so. Will its funds for schemes in Croydon be cut?

The Need for a Croydon Bank

Even if there are Council cuts it has a massive revenue flow. The NHS, Croydon College, the Academies and Free Schools, local businesses, national and international firms operating in Croydon collectively generate a massive amount of income. Back in 2014 the CTUC recommended the creation of a Croydon Bank to pool that money, retaining much private sector money working inside the local economy rather than being sent elsewhere and using its profits to provide finance for Borough projects. It is urgent for this to be considered and set up.

The Growth Plan as at February 2020

Since 2014 there has been creative and lateral thinking in the development of the Council’s Growth Plan local economic strategy, as set out in the report to the Cabinet meeting on 24 February as part of setting the Budget for 2020/21.

The report provided a lot of detailed information on what had happening over the previous last year and how things were being developed especially in relation to culture, especially in the Town Centre.

Although there will always be legitimate debate about the relationship between to-down/bottom-up, engagement and partnership as programmes develop, the report had much in that was welcome. (7)

The Context

Since 2012 Croydon has seen an 8% growth in population; 11% increase in under-16s; 20% increase in over-65s; BAME residents are now over half of Croydon’s population. This means that a large percentage of the population will not be economically active, and will need education, cultural, play and health services. This poses serious funding challenges. The population will continue to grow over the next 20 years as new homes are built to meet Government and Mayor of London targets.

The Economic Realities

The Growth Plan report to the Cabinet in November last year painted some of worrying economic realities.

(1)    There is a dearth of major employers with over 250 workers. While the number of businesses in Croydon rose 33% from 2013-18 to 14,675, 93% are classified as micro-businesses, and 99.7% as small and medium-sized enterprises SMEs.’
(2)    The main employment sectors are retail, business & administration and health & social care, of which retail, hospitality and health & social care that pay low wages.
(3)    There is a ‘disparity between the earnings of residents living in Croydon and working outside of the Borough, and the pay rate of jobs in the Borough. Those working outside of the borough are likely to earn more than residents living and working in the borough.’
(4)    ‘The unemployment rate in Croydon is the third highest in London at 7.2% (Annual Population Survey). Many of those who are workless have multiple and complex barriers to work and have significant challenges to accessing and sustaining work.’
(5)    There is a high level of in-work families in poverty.
(6)    25% of those in work are being paid below the Living Wage.
(7)    16,600 families were in work and claiming tax credits.
(8)    ‘Borough-wide data masks the extreme differences between various parts of the borough and sometimes between neighbouring wards.’
(9)    ‘The impact of Brexit is yet to be fully felt on the economy in Croydon. It is likely to have disproportionate impact on sectors where EU nationals fill high volume vacancies including construction, retail and hospitality and health & social care.’
Before the COVID-19 crisis happened it was questionable whether the updated growth strategy approved by the Cabinet in November was capable of meeting these challenges, especially with the mothballing of the Westfield shopping development. The COVID crisis will have aggravated most of these challenges.

The Climate Change Crisis

One of the advantages of the COVID lockdown has been the reduction in vehicle emissions and a significant fall in air pollution. This is likely to rise again as lockdown eases. Given the limitations on the use of public transport more people will have to use their vehicles that they might have before the crisis. Yet the climate change crisis has enormous economic implications. This is why the Council recognised that making a contribution to tackling the crisis was urgent.
CTUC welcomed the embedding of the climate change emergency into the Growth Plan strategy. The Council says that its ‘plans for growth and regeneration will incorporate improvements that can have the most impact on reducing or mitigating future climate change. In particular this includes a focus on investment in more sustainable transport, improving sustainable energy supplies and networks and achieving high environmental standards in new construction and refurbishment projects.’

CTUC has also welcomed the report of the Council initiated Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, and the establishment of the Climate Change Commission, although it regrets the absence of invitations to trade union members to take part. Hopefully the Commission will assist in producing creative ideas for strengthening what the Council can do in the future.

Property Development/’Regeneration’

The ‘whole process of urban redevelopment is regressively redistributive and it is contributing, possibly on a very significant scale, to wealth inequality.’ (Peter Ambrose and Bob Colenutt. The Property Machine. Penguin Special. 1975. p. 142)

Although that quotation was 45 years ago it still resonates today.

Reliance on property development (so called ‘regeneration’) still seems to be the Council’s preferred main economic driver. It has no control over developers as evidenced by the Westfield fiasco.

The context in which the economic strategy has to be implemented has changed dramatically even before the COVID crisis with the final decision to leave the European Union this coming December and the priority that needs to be given to the climate change crisis.

The COVID-19 Crisis

Since the Growth Plan update in February Croydon’s economy has been through a period of shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis began, with large numbers of employees being furloughed, some made redundant, some unemployed and some working from home. The continuation of basic economic activity: food retailing, shopping and other goods home delivery, refuse and street cleaning and above all the NHS and care homes have shown how dependent the majority have been on low paid workers, a large percentage of whom have been from the BAME communities, and who are those most effected by inequalities in their lives.

As a direct result of the COVID crisis other blows to the local economy have included:

·       the putting of Fairfield Halls into hibernation until next year
·       the liquidation of the operator of the Council owned Croydon Park Hotel.

Added to:

·       the continued uncertainty as to the Westfield shopping centre development, whether new plans will be submitted and whether the Council will see its own alternative plan;
·       the closure of Debenhams in Centrale run by Westfield’s partner Hammerson.

Other Uncertainties

In addition to the likely cuts in services and staffing by the Council because of the costs of dealing with COVID crisis, other uncertainties facing Croydon include:

·       The possibility of future funding cuts by the Government.
·       The collapse of many small and medium size businesses reducing business rates income.
·       An increase in un/underemployment resulting in reduced Council tax and more people on benefits.
·       Increasing homelessness as more residents will not be able to afford their private rents.
·       The decision of the Government to further loosen control over planning by Councils meaning that new developments are even less likely to meet the economic, housing, environmental and social needs of Croydon’s residents.
·       The possible migration back to Europe as the implications of BREXIT take effect from next January.
·       The potential migration into the UK from Hong Kong following the Government’s reaction to the new law by the Chinese Government has imposed on the island.
·       The knock-on effects of deteriorating world economic and environmental developments that had started even before the COVID-19 crisis.

Is There a Way Forward?

Since every crisis opens up new opportunities there could be a positive way forward to revive the Croydon economy. Given the thousands of Croydon based organisations and individuals involved in running the local economy, there is a real challenge to working with them so they are taking the necessary actions. Central to this must be:

(1)    Measures to create a resilient, diverse economy, based on
a thriving community and voluntary sector, strong civic engagement, a strong public sector, a diverse finance sector, high levels of diversity in the economy, effective public services, closer integration of land use planning with economic development, and strong provision for young people. (8

(2)    The further development of the Co-operative Council model, involving a leadership and an enabling role rather than a command and control one, especially given the ever decreasing revenue funding it will have available. (8)
 (3)   The greening of the economy through an emphasis on developing green jobs such as in recycling and repair for re-use, market gardening, tree planting (including on tracks of unused land between railway tracks into East and West Croydon land, energy efficiency and insulation, solar panel installation, the development Combined Heat and Power schemes to supply energy to neighbouring buildings, and any additional measures identified by the Climate Chance Commission.
(4)    The protection of the green environment from building development not associated with the use of those areas as green spaces or for food growing.
(5)    A reduction in reliance on motor vehicles.
(6)    Further development and strengthening of social economy organisations. (8)
(7)    The establishment of a Croydon Bank. (8)
(8)    The strengthening of the existing devolved role of the existing neighbourhood forums comprising Councillors and local community, services organisations and where possible businesses, by giving them a meaningful budget, requiring all specialist officers to report their scheme ideas for the area, and the establishment of forums in other parts of the Borough.
(9)    Every large employer and medium sized business should be asked to consider its own green and climate change programme, to publicly announce in Croydon what that is in relation to its activities in Croydon, including switching any vehicle fleets to electric, energy efficiency and insulation measures to its buildings.
(10)  The Council should ensure that it develops schemes to collect recyclable waste from businesses.
(11)  Businesses involved in repairing thrown away goods for recycling and re-use should be encouraged to work in partnership with the Council’s waste and recycling sites.
(12)  Private landlords should be put under greater pressure to improve energy efficiency and insulation in the houses they own.
(13)  All community organisations with buildings should be encouraged to adopt an environmental and climate change plan.
(14)  Every public sector organisation with buildings in the Borough should be requested to undertake a climate change audit of their buildings.
(15)  Every office based employer should be asked to consider how it will use and adapt its office accommodation in the post-COVID environment, taking into account the advantages of office based working, working practices to increase employee engagement, job satisfaction, retention and productivity (9)
(16)  Every employer should be asked what essential skills needs to has for the future, and how they can help to train low skilled workers and young people. (10)
(17)  That every employer should be asked to ensure that the work under (15) and (16) includes examination of the issues of diversity. (11)
(18)  CTUC should encourage all its affiliated branches to report on the effect of the COVID- crisis on their Croydon work places, and their concerns about future employment at them.
(19)  CTUC should analyse the ideas developed by the TUC, individual trade unions, the Labour Party New Green Deal, and the Green Alliance work with trade unions to assess their relevance to the particular nature of Croydon’s economy, environmental and climate change challenges, and prepare a brief for its affiliated branches operating in Croydon based work places, and for submission to the Croydon Sustainable Economic Renewal Board and the Climate Change Commission.


(2)    Stefano Scarpetta, Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD. In Future of Work supplement. The Guardian. 30 June 2020. p. 2
(3)    The joint report of the Asian Resource Centre Croydon and Big Local Board Green shows what can be done. See https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2020/06/27/croydon-update-at-27-june
(4)    CTUC. What Kind of Economy do we need in Croydon? Croydon Council’s Growth Plan and District Centre Investment; Growth For All. A Commentary with Recommendations.
And also:
(5)    The CTUC’s follow-up email also stated:
‘Despite what you said about the improvement of District Centres being a political priority we are unconvinced that the Council is able to do enough to bring real quality of life changes to existing residents, other than the possibility of improved high street environments, particularly given the restrictions on key planning issues, such as the range of retail offer in high streets. In particular we are concerned that the growing articulation of concerns about the decline of many neighbourhoods are based on issues which cannot be addressed by money such as noise, insecurity and congestion which we tried to capture in … the commentary on the Growth Plan.
Particularly in respect of District Centres and smaller neighbourhoods we consider that a priority should be to strengthen the alliance between the Council and local residents through using some of the mechanisms in the Localism Bill, such a neighbourhood forum (or District Committees as we called them in the commentary).….
We remain unsure that there is full understanding of the loss of jobs in the past few years, current and potential jobs (by sector) is properly understood, and unconvinced that enough is being done to protect employment sites from residential redevelopment.’
‘Our overriding impression from the meeting is that the thrust of Council policy and action is over-whelming pro-developer with no guarantee their schemes will substantially help current Croydonians. We are concerned that if employers transfer their office bases into the Town Centre this will simply increase the number of commuters, unless there is an agreement of offering vacancies to local people. We fear that many jobs will be in low wage sectors. While there will be an unknown number of construction jobs created in addition to the Whitgift scheme (if the CPO is approved), and while training is being set up, the problem is going to be how to persuade Croydonians to take advantage of that training or those formerly in construction to return. It is difficult to conceive of enough locals being recruited and trained, therefore requiring building workers from elsewhere to commute in.’
The working party also said that there was so much going on that it was probably urgent for the Opportunity Area Framework which included the Town Centre and the various smaller district plans within were up-dated. There was a strong case for doing this as part of the current Local Plan Review.’ Since then Council has appointed consultants to review the Framework.
(6) See:
(7)    See:
(8)    This was included in my three articles on what kind of economy we wanted published in Croydon Citizen in January 2104.
(9)    Stuart Templeton, Head of UK Slack; Darren Fields, Regional Vice-President, UK & Ireland, Citrix; David Price, CEO and Wellbeing Expert, Health Assured; Robin Brodie- Cooper, Senior VP, The British Council for Officers; in The Guardian Future Jobs supplement. 30 June 2020. pp. 3, 4, 5, 7 & 8
(10)  Nicola Inge, Director, Employment & Skills, Business in the Community. Ditto. p. 6
(11)  Derek Irvine, SVP Client Strategy & Consulting, Workhuman. Ditto. p. 9