8/8 ONE YEAR ON: ANDREW PELLING in his Croydon Commentary reviews of year of inaction, protection of vested interests and massive missed opportunities for the post-riots borough
While the Mayor of London promotes his challenge to David Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative party by getting strung up 20 feet up in the air on a zip wire, Croydon traders and residents hurt by the riots that took place a year ago today have been left dangling, too, abandoned in mid-air by broken promises by the country’s high-profile politicians and a scandalous lack of vision for Croydon.
Inside Croydon‘s 8/8 series is telling a story of the tremendous fortitude of Croydon traders and residents finding the determination to re-build through shared self-help.
The consistent message that comes from readers, contributors and community workers is that it is no thanks to the politicians.
As so cruelly exposed by Karl Mercer on BBC London yesterday, our dangling Mayor is so out of touch that he thinks that the £70 million fund to re-build London’s riot damaged communities has been paid out. The appalling truth is that, a year on, not a single penny has been disbursed from that fund.
Croydon’s red-faced leader, Mike Fisher, on the same BBC programme, had to come up with some kind of explanation and had to resort to saying the council was consulting people before spending the £23 million promised to the borough. How long does it take to consult someone who has witnessed their business being trashed, denying them their living, or had their home torched, putting them out on the streets?
Grand promises were made to Croydon traders in a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron directly after the riots, when they were told in plain words that money would be found to get businesses up and running “within months”.
Twelve months later many businesses are still waiting for the Riot Damages Act compensation to which they are entitled. Some are being offered just 7p in every pound that they have claimed for.
The Police also assert that any donations by the public to help businesses must be deducted from any compensation – a disturbing contradiction to Cameron’s promotion of the merits of a giving “Big Society”. How can it be that Britain in the 21st century so callously penalises charity and community spirit?
Some businesses have just given up and the entrepreneurs, typically South Asians in their late 50s or early 60s with insufficient capital to start again without Riot Act Damages compensation, now find themselves unwilling as a drain on the state as they are on the dole.
Those who have compromised and taken small settlements either face being crushed by punitive hikes in their insurance or join others who just aren’t properly insured.
The £23 million fund for Croydon is a pittance compared to the monies that could have come from the Enterprise Zone status that the Fisher-led Croydon Council turned down, to the amazement of Conservative Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell. To use a favourite Barwell piece of vocabulary, it was just “bizarre”.
The £23 million is also modest compared to the £70 million axed LEGI re-generation fund for Croydon cancelled by the ConDem government and the 28 per cent cut in government grant to our council.
Unhelpful interventions over parental control
In a move that has corroded proper analysis, politicians have down played ethnicity and its link to the riots. No fundamental review has taken place in reaction to the oft repeated remark by black parents to Inside Croydon and other media after the riots that the state does not allow them to discipline their young children, with unhelpful interventions by social services departments that discourage a firm approach.
There has been no debate, with the worthy exception of the police force itself, about how an element of the riots was a revenge by young blacks who feel completely aliented by the policing practices. Is it significant that 39 per cent of convicted rioters are black?
Locally, it is regarded as quite reasonable for the Conservative-run council to axe funding for a Croydon Saturday school that deals effectively with disaffected black youngsters. The mantra of Tory councillors is that white children are doing badly so we’ll axe funding for black children in difficulties as well.
One year on, there has been no proper, Scarman-type review of the events of 8/8.
Perhaps when, as Inside Croydon reported, the out-of-touch Croydon Mayor dismissed the events of last August as not being a riot but only mindless criminality and opportunism, the Conservative message was that 8/8 was not a warning of deeply ingrained problems within Croydon society that need addressing.
What is impressive is the mea culpa basis of the police’s own report into their failures in London last August.
Knowing where they went wrong has left the police in a much stronger position to take action in the event of any future troubles.
This transparency is in stark contrast with the continuing obsessive secrecy of the regime at Croydon Council and which along with the local MPs is failing disastrously in making the case for much more public money to repair a much damaged Croydon.
This inquiry seemed determined to put the blame on the police and did not seem interested in where the council’s chief executive went that fateful day, or what was so important that he should leave his office in mid-afternoon.
Despite disturbances in Croydon involving 200 youths on Sunday, August 7, the Barnett inquiry did not seek to discover why no executive councillors went to the security Gold Meeting on the morning of August 8. Nor did the judge with close connections to the hugely wealthy Whitgift Foundation, with its property interests in central Croydon, bother to ask why the local MP drove away from his constituency to watch events unfold on television as central Croydon burned.
Following that whitewash, our complacent council now seeks to direct riots relief money away from the areas hardest hit in the riots – many with large ethnic minority communities – to spend it instead on goodness knows what, such as the hidden costs of their new Council HQ.
The £23 million Mayor’s Fund is going to areas away from the riots, like improved pedestrian facilities on the Wellesley Road, wasteful PR company contracts and transport hub improvements that were due to have taken place anyway.
When the BBC came to see what had been done post-riots they alighted upon the excellent Matthew’s Yard new business of Saif Bonar. Were they directed there by a council press office, in the knowledge that Croydon CEO had personally intervened to see that this business was given advice and help on start-up grants?
That business offers the prospect of a different offer for Croydon; a coffee house perhaps for the local intelligentsia and chattering classes. But Italian coffee machines are far from a complete solution to Croydon’s severe challenges.
Real money and transformative vision is needed. Margaret Thatcher is often decried on the left as some kind of blind political theorist with a hatred for society. In reality, she was often a pragmatist and, advised by One Nation Tory Michael Heseltine, her premiership saw a huge amount of money spent in riot-hit areas like Brixton and Toxteth to tackle joblessness, poor education and a declining inner-city environment.
No such vision is being shown by our somewhat less aware 21st century politicians.
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- London riots one year on: Police still no closer to Croydon father-of-four’s murder put up £20,000 reward (standard.co.uk)
- £20 million: Croydon’s planned spend on consultants this year (insidecroydon.com)
- Shrink-wrapped: council’s costly errors on consultations (insidecroydon.com)