Croydon woke up this morning as a less cultured, greyer place. As if that is possible.
And to think that there are those working in Taberner House who are spending their ratepayers’ funded time in trying to improve the image of the borough: Sisyphus had it easier.
Last night’s council cabinet meeting, run by a majority of Conservative councillors, passed a set of proposals that will see Croydon’s cultural beacon, the Clocktower arts centre, closed, the annual Mela Summer Festival axed, Stanley Halls, Selsdon Hall and the David Lean Cinema all shut, just for savings of about £1.5 million a year.
This from a council that thinks nothing of paying £11,000 per month to a temporary head of department, which has voted through an increase in expenses and allowances for senior Tory councillors, and which is carrying on regardless building its £450 million palatial new council offices.
One major snag with the Tories’ wide-ranging arts cuts passed last night is that plans to close the Museum of Croydon could end up costing us nearly £1 million, as the Heritage Lottery fund, which provided a £933,000 25-year grant in 2005 for the museum’s refurbishment, may want its money back.
And if the Tory council says it listens to residents and acts on public consultation, let their cultural vandalism last night be a lesson on how they willfully ignore people’s views, even when an overwhelming majority are against their dogmatic policies.
The council spent more than a month consulting the public on various options to reduce its arts offerings. Even in the report submitted to the cabinet ahead of last night’s meeting, it said, “The consultation identified the Clocktower and David Lean Cinema, Museum of Croydon, Local Studies and Archives, and the Arts participation programme as areas of the service that were particularly valued.”
Some 75 per cent of the 1,500 people consulted opposed the proposals.
And guess what gets cut?
The 30 or so staff affected were informed at the end of last week that their jobs are to go. This, remember, days before the decision was formally passed last night. Classy.
These latest arts cuts come on top of proposals to axe six of the borough’s public libraries – another consultation process where opponents of the council plans may wonder if their views will be acted upon.
The ruling Tories on Croydon Council pass the buck on their cuts, saying that they are forced to axe the arts programme because of £90 million reductions in grants from the Government, run by … more Tories.
Following last night’s meeting, Croydon will be negotiating with the Heritage Lottery Fund over how to avoid having to refund the thick end of £1 million of a grant that was supposed to help towards the running costs of the Museum of Croydon until 2030.
The council’s own report records that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has “written to the council regarding their concerns about the future of the Museum of Croydon and protection of the value of their investment in the light of the Service proposals.
“HLF recognises the difficult circumstances that the council is operating in, and the extent of the cuts it is having to make, but their clear preference is for the Museum of Croydon to remain open and continue in some form in what they perceive as its excellent service to Croydon residents…
“HLF will take a view about whether to agree a change in the Approved Purposes of the grant to the council, and/or to require repayment of all, or part of the grant.”
Even this did not deter the Philistines in Croydon’s ruling Tory group, who chose to ignore the recommendations of their own consultation which had found that “93 per cent of consultees indicated that a reduction in funding to the service would have a moderate or severe impact on them as individuals, or groups.
“Consultees indicated that there would be a negative impact on community cohesion, local pride, quality of life and perception of Croydon.”
Thirty years ago, it was the patrician former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who accused his Thatcherite successors in the Conservative party of “selling off the family silver” in their cavalier disposal of national assets. Today’s Croydon’s Tories appear determined to prove their Thatcherite credentials by showing that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.