While the paper says that economic development policy cannot be based on ‘business as usual’, the big question is whether it sets out a sufficiently new pathway which does not rely too heavily on the property development world.
Support for the Whitgift/Hammerson redevelopment of the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres seems to remain a centrepiece. It avoids the question of the quality and pay levels of projected 5,000 jobs. There is no reference to the administration’s commitment to see Croydon as a London Living Wage Borough. The Council will be unable to require retailers and employers in the new Centre to implement the wage, and Westfield says it cannot require the businesses it will let to do so either. So are the 5,000 projected jobs going to be based on low pay, minimum wage and zero hours contracts, further underpinning the deprivation in the Borough rather than contributing to its reduction?
Consideration needs to be given to what action the Council will need to take in stimulating other economic development approaches if the Westfield/Hammerson scheme either does not go ahead, or is not completed on time.
The report is based on an assumption that the average monthly private rent level in Croydon was £890 last September. This may already be out of date and now stands at £1,056 (www.home.co.uk/for_rent/croydon/current_rents?location=croydon).
The implications of increasing private rent levels be analysed.
While the target is the 30% pledge in the election campaign, there is no discussion on whether so-called affordable homes are actually affordable.
There should be an analysis of the rent levels charged on so called ‘affordable’ homes over the last two years.
Para 3.6. District and Local Centres
An important change is the new emphasis on revitalising the district and local centres. While there is talk of consultation there is not mention of the need to have district and local centres committees of Councillors and local people steering the plans, the expenditure and the implementation.
Discussions should begin with residents and other organisations in Norbury, South Norwood and New Addington with a view to establishing joint committees of them and local Councillors to oversee the planning and implementation of expenditure on local regeneration.
The more demand for modern office accommodation is satisfied it is likely that commercial rents will increase, adversely affecting the affordability for SMEs and start-up businesses.
Consideration should be given to using any Council owned empty or underused office blocks to provide affordable accommodation for SMEs and start ups, especially in the tech sector.
The report contains no reference to travel to work statistics; both inward and outgoing. Improving travel access in and out of Croydon could mean a significant number of the expected new jobs will not be filled by Croydon residents, leaving a continued pool of unemployed in the most disadvantaged parts of the Borough.
A travel to work analysis should be undertaken on the numbers of people coming into Croydon to work and the number of Croydonians going out of Borough to work, the analysis to include ward level so as to ascertain whether there are particular problems facing people living in the more deprived wards.
Pathways to Employment
There is no estimate of the number of jobs in Croydon that the Pathways to Employment programme may help local people fill.
An analysis should be published on the number of types of jobs it is anticipated will be filled through the Pathways to employment including likely wage levels.
A University For Croydon
There may well be many advantages to attracting a major UK university to set up a campus in the Borough. However, consideration will need to be given to the nature of the jobs that will be created, especially as so many University support services are now contracted out, especially those jobs at the lower pay end of the market. There may also be added pressures on the local private rented housing market from students wanting to live in the Borough.
The negotiations with Universities should include the issues of the nature of jobs that will be provided and their pay levels and student demand for housing.
While it is important for the Council to lobby for improved infrastructure there is no discussion on the challenges faced by the digital divide and how reducing it can contribute to improvement pathways to employment.
The next phase of analysis in developing the Growth Plan should include ways in which the digital divide can be reduced.
The report rightly emphasises the importance of SMEs and start-ups, especially in the tech sector, which helps towards creating a diversity of employment opportunities, and the growth of some into larger scale businesses which might wish to stay in the Borough if the office accommodation is appropriate to their expanding needs. The importance of encouraging mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises is welcome, but like the tech businesses these need to grow organically from below, rather than be solutions forced on employees under pressure to avoid their firms collapse or redundancies.
Council’s Purchasing Power
The recognition of the important role of the Council as purchaser is welcome in being able to give priority to local businesses. This will require a detailed analysis of what it purchases, where it currently purchases from, and whether there are local businesses which can offer themselves as suppliers. There may need to be assistance to help existing local businesses adapt to supplying the products the Council needs, and setting up new businesses that can act as suppliers. It may be that some businesses will need to be encouraged to manufacture the goods the Council needs. However, there will be limits to the Council’s role as its purchasing power decreases given the further cuts it will have to make in the next three years.
A purchasing power plan should be drawn up listing the purchases and their value, where they are currently sourced, whether there are local suppliers who can meet the Council’s need, or whether action will need to be taken to assist the development of local suppliers.
The Revolving Investment Fund
Is the Fund an alternative to creating, or something that would complement a Croydon Bank?
The above analysis is a preliminery one.
A news report on the Growth Plan report can be seen at: