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.
· 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)
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.
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.
· 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.
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.
(1) Details about the Board can be seen here: https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2020/06/06/croydon-post-covid-sustainable-economic-renewal
(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.
See also: https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/croydons-growth-plan-ctuc-working-party-assessment
(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.
(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