Croydon’s latest exercise to “identify” publicly owned properties that can be handed over to John Laing as make-weights towards the £450 million urban regeneration project, which is delivering the splendidly palatial new council HQ offices, could see two children’s homes “sold” to the developer, the GMB union is warning.
The children’s homes under scrutiny are on Mickleham Way in New Addington and at Alverston Gardens, South Norwood. The homes provide places for up to 13 young people aged between 10 and 17 (eight in Alverston and five in Mickleham Way). The homes are not for long-term placements but are viewed as a rehabilitating step back to living back within the care of their family, placement with a foster family or independent living.
There are 18 permanent members of staff in Alverston Gardens and 16 in Mickleham Way whose jobs are at risk if the homes are closed, as the council eyes “savings” of £630,000 a year.
Yet even the council’s own officers acknowledge that closure of the homes, or their privatisation, could prove to be yet another false economy. “The closure of the internal residential homes will result in an increased reliance on the external market. There is a risk that alternative placements may cost more than projected,” says the paper submitted to the Croydon Council’s Tory-run cabinet.
But the paper also notes: “The sale of the homes will lead to a substantial capital receipt.”
To avoid any legal challenges over the closure of the homes, where the council provides a service as required by law, Croydon has to ensure a real consultation is undertaken with all interested parties while proposals are still at a formative stage. “Yet the council has already moved to stop new placements in the homes,” Eileen Theaker, the GMB’s Croydon branch secretary, said.
“This is part of the council’s move to privatise services, as it has done with elderly people’s residential care. The council is looking into developing ‘new commissioning arrangements with independent fostering agencies’,” Theaker said.
“The council says that ‘for the foreseeable future some foster placements will need to be purchased from the private sector’ and that the council will ‘be able to take a pro-active approach to procurement’. This means buying-in a service that the council provides, caring for some of the most vulnerable young people in Croydon.”
The GMB, which represents rank and file council workers, many of whom deliver front-line public services for Croydon residents, has seen massive job cuts in the past three years.
Meanwhile “executive” staff in Taberner House, many enjoying six-figure salaries under £248,000 pa CEO Jon Rouse, remain relatively unscathed, able to commission expensive consultants and frisbee-playing interim staff, some being paid more than £700 per day, while front-line services are being cut. As Inside Croydon revealed recently, Croydon Council spent £20 million on interim staff and outside consultants last year.
“The council is intent on pushing standards for Croydon’s most vulnerable and hard-pressed back to Dickensian times,” Nadine Houghton, GMB’s regional organiser for Croydon said.
“They want to wash their hands of any responsibility of actually caring for the needs of local residents, as was demonstrated when they privatised the provision of elderly residential care out to the company who would run the contract at the cheapest cost – Care UK.
“Last year we saw youth centres in some of the most deprived areas of Croydon shut down without a care in the world for what the local children would do with their time. Now we are seeing the closure of children’s homes.
“These homes provide a safe environment for children who have already been displaced from their family, with the hope of rehabilitation and a step towards a more normal life. The council wants to take this away,” Houghton said.
“They want to do this so that they can sell off the family silver and make a saving of £630,000 which pales into insignificance when compared with the amount of money spent on new council offices, consultants and senior management.”
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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- Croydon Council paid £20m for interim staff in 2011 (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon’s Budget (Part 1): We’re all in this together (insidecroydon.com)