The proceedings of the Council meeting have very little influence outside those present at it, unless you happen to listen to the Croydon Radio podcast or read the scanty coverage in the local papers. Both Parties used the meeting to begin to set out their approach to the forthcoming local elections in May. The Tories won hands-down in projecting a positive image of what was happening in the Borough that they claimed to have achieved, with a continual underlying attack on Labour’s record up to 2006 particularly in respect of the rises in Council Tax.
Council Leader Fisher had had a graph produced which Cllr Pollard held up at various stages in the meeting, showing the rises under Labour (marked BIG – annual average 9.11% 1995/6-2005/6) and under the Tories (SMALL – 2.11% av 2007-8 to 2013). (CQ061)They are clearly going to suggest that Labour will push up Council Tax and spend for the sake of it. Reality is of course very different from May. Labour inherits the reduced Tory budget for 2014-15, and will have to make further cuts thereafter under ConDem Coalition requirements. And there is a cap on Council Tax rises.
Labour failed yet again to defend its record and its critique of the Tories is very shallow. The Tories will continue to rubbish the Labour record up to 2006, but what percentage of residents were actually living here under Labour. In other words what Labour may or may not have done years ago may not be relevant to a lot of voters.
At least both sides, Labour begrudgingly, agreed a Tory resolution that stated: ‘This Council agrees with the response to the Croydon Advertiser survey that “there are too many good things about Croydon to choose just one best thing”. It gave the Tories the chance again to list their achievements, while Labour argued that things would be even better if it had not been for Tory incompetence. Labour will also stress that the Tories do not care the harm they do to the residents at the bottom of the pile, although Labour Leader Newman recognised that given Cllr Mead he did care he was in the wrong party.
So what are some of the issues emerging for the election from the election?: the lack of sufficient affordable housing, the proposed incinerator, the performance of schools, street litter and fly-tipping. New Addington and Waddon Wards look as they will be hotly contended between the two parties.
The proceedings started with silence to remember Nelson Mandela and a former Councillor who had died. Both parties announced who their Mayor would be if they win the elections.
The paperwork runs to over 460 pages. Most can be seen on the Council website at https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/users/public/admin/kab14.pl?operation=SUBMIT&meet=18&cmte=COU&grpid=public&arc=1. The tabled Public (PQ) and Councillor Questions (CQ) are not on the website. So among all this mass of information what struck me as important, interesting and useful?
Council supports Gatwick Airport case for second runway. (Council pack. P. 227)
Fairfield Halls and Riesco Sale
Lease to the charity under review. ‘These discussions take into account a number of complex considerations including the Fairfield’s position as a charity and the obtaining of Charity Commission consent to any surrender of the Lease.’ Aim to agree new lease by February. (Council pack p. 230-232)
Proceeds of Riesco sale to be allocated to the Halls refurbishment. Ditto)
Fisher: ‘the Council incurred no costs for the sale of the 24 items’. (CQ031)
Pollard: In 2006 there were 230 items. Now 206. 17 items sold at auction in Hong Kong on 24 November. The other 7 were sold afterwards. Sold items listed. The valuation was between £8,653,735 and £13,542,615. The reserve price was £7,065,227. Sales income £9,545,338. (CQ052)
Pollard: Not ‘disappointed’ at the outcome. The £9.5m+ ‘is sufficient to cover nearly a third of the cost of the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls.’ (CQ83)
Pollard: ‘There are no tax liabilities for the Council as a result of the sale of the Riesco items.’ (CQ054)
Bashford: Council funded Fairfield Halls £3,906,000 (2010/11-2013/14). (CQ062)
Parking Revenue Penalty Charge Notices
There are three kinds of penalty charge notice which raised £7,171,316 (2012-13), £7,390,474 (2011-12) and £6,939,008 in 20110-11) (PQ005).
Revenue from PCNs: 2010-11: £6,029,930; 2011-12: £6,447,735); 2012-1: £6,411,320. (CQ068)
No ward analysis. (ditto)
Revenue spent on range of public transport and road matters, including the Freedom Pass. (ditto)
Over 16,000 households were affected by the ConDem attacks on welfare benefits: council tax support, benefit cap and under-occupancy.
13,798 residents were affected by changes to Council Tax benefit rules, the highest % of the total being 1,080 (8%) in Broad Green, 1,028 (7% in Selhurst), 923 (7% in South Norwood) and 910 (7% in Woodside. 82% are making payments in line with their instalment plans. As at 16 January, 2,572 accounts had progressed to a court summons for non-payment.
1,026 Council tenants were affected by under occupancy (bedroom tax). 414 are behind with the rent payments and 423 in credit. Fieldway has the highest number in arrears at 92. The next highest is New Addington at 39. Rent collection rate in December 99.1%. 43% of under-occupancy tenants in rent arrears at 6 January, compared with 37% of all Council tenants.
(CQ011; see also CQ022)
Bernard Weatherill House
Total moving costs £3.143m. (CQ059)
Furniture and fittings £2,506,635. (CQ070)
The CAB has had to be re-located from two of the office buildings (one in New Addington and Strand House) emptied as part of the Council move into Bernard Wetherill House. (CQ008)
Broadband in Croydon
Croydon is one of six Boroughs to pilot the Government funded Super Connected Cities Voucher Scheme (CVS). The aim is to fund 200 businesses to increase their broadband capability by 1 March, on a first come first serve basis. www.connectionvouchers.co.uk. From 1 March the funding is open to all London Councils. (CQ092)
JSA claimant numbers down 27.3% on previous year at 21 December to 7,210.
JSA claimants count for 18-24 year olds down 36.5% to 1,505.
Tories say this partly the result of its Pathways to Employment Partnership approach, and that the situation will improve with the major investments planned for the Town Centre. (CQ100)
Council Tax Collection
The amount uncollected in 2005 was 6.49% reducing to 3.78% in 2012. The accumulated debt outstanding (excluding the current year is £25.2m. The Council does not have policy to write-off debt but pursues all debts ‘whilst it remains financially viable to do so’. Over the last 3 years £13.4m has been collected in old debt. (PQ013)
Pollard: ‘As part of the TUPE transfer and prior to the contract starting ’library staff were informed’ by JLIS now Carillion IS, ‘of their intention to restructure the service following their transfer.’ ‘JLIS notified the staff in writing by letter that there would be a restructure that might include some redundancies.’ (CQ071)
Pollard: ‘there are no plans to end or change the Home Library Service to vulnerable and elderly people who cannot visit a static library.’ (CQ030)
Nightwatch Soup Run
Fisher denied that he had ‘asked officers to remove the Nightwatch soup run’. ‘What we would like to see is an alternative way of delivering this work.’ The concerns about its location is about anti-social behaviour and it being ‘an unsafe environment for both workers and service users.’ He referred to alternative ways of providing food by the Westminster Drug project, and the Salvation Army. (Full explanation in CQs 053 & 102)
Child Poverty in Croydon (CQ041)
Under 16: 28.3% Aug 2007 down to 25.2% in August 2011 compared with England from 22.4% to 20.6%.
All under 20: 27% down to 24.6% (21.6% to 20.1%).
Youth Provision (CQ042)
Pollard admitted that ‘these is less direct provision of universal youth services’. Investment continues in the 5 youth hubs. Voluntary sector an increasing provider.
Cutting the Arnhem Grant (CQ059)
Fisher justified the cut to the grant for twinning with Arnhem ‘Given the dramatically reduced funding available for local services, we are working with the Arnhem gallery to help it become community based, localised and autonomous rather than council led. The reduction in funding is a step forward in achieving this ideal.’
Both parties interpret the statistics differently: things are good and improving (Tories) and that things are very worrying (Labour). (CQ009 sets out Key Stage 2 results)
Borough ranking for per pupil funding in 2014-15 Croydon is 28 out of the 32 London Boroughs. In 2014-15 Croydon will receive £4,559.18 per pupil compared with Lambeth at £6,384.03. (CQ091)
With reference to discussion at a community meeting where it was ‘agreed’ that there was no education strategy in Croydon, Cllr said this was ‘not true’. The School Improvement Strategy had been updated in September. (CQ098)
Government given Council £47m for improving school estates.
Government has approved Harris Federation as provider for new 2FE primary school at Haling Rd and secondary on London Rd. Oasis Community Trust has been approved for a sports and science secondary school at the Arena. Glyn Learning Foundation will run the Westway primary school off St. James’ Rd in Broad Green, and Step Academy Trust will run the primary next to Spices Yard in South Croydon. (Pollard In Step Bulletin p. 3 & CQ065)
The top end of Highbury Ave Playing Field is for the proposed Advance Academy free 3FE primary school. Design work is still being undertaken. (CQ077) The Council is negotiating to buy two plots of land to add to the school site. (CQ078; see also CQ106)
Residents recycling rate (CQ085)
2005/6: 16.2%; 2012/13: 44.3%.
More detail on re-cycling in CQ94.