Twelve hours to try to save what’s left of Croydon culture

Today sees the deadline for submissions to a Croydon Council consultation on spending cuts over the next two years.

One of the thousands of photographs in Croydon's archive, this from the Blitz. In 2013, the threat comes from much closer to home

One of the thousands of photographs in Croydon’s archive, this from the Blitz. In 2013, the threat comes from much closer to home

What do you mean, you were not aware of Croydon Council running such a consultation? After all, our council – motto: “Proud to Swerve” – would not dream of staging a public consultation and do just the bare minimum to publicise it and encourage the residents to take part. Would they?

Of course they would.

This latest consultation has all the hallmarks of the barely legal consultation on libraries conducted two years ago.

Regardless of public opinion, this latest effort is what Tim Pollard and his mates on the Tory group that runs the Town Hall intend to use to justify closing down the borough’s archive and local studies library, to remove a swathe of public football pitches from service, and probably to increase residents’ parking permit fees, the second hike in this stealth tax in just two years.

Inside Croydon was first to highlight the threat to the borough’s archive, when we also published Sean Creighton’s plea to maintain the service. The local studies library escaped the axe when Councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford tried to impose her Philistinism on the borough two years ago, when a 400-signature petition helped to save the day. But the service is under threat once more.

This would save around £100,000 per year – barely the cost of the councillor allowances to Dudley and Margaret Mead – but it would cause irreparable damage to the borough’s cultural fabric.

The proposal to shut the archive is in itself a wonderful example of how dysfunctional our council is: the proposal has been put forward because whichever Taberner House genius it was who drew up the bidding terms for the privatisation of the public libraries failed to include the archive in the tender (a simple addition which was readily done in Wandsworth).

Maybe Croydon knew that running a borough archive would be beyond John Laing Integrated Services? Or that there is just no profit margin in it for the much-preferred bidders?

And so what we get now is a shabby excuse for a public consultation, so that Pollard, the Meads and their mates can demonstrate that they have public support for their latest dogmatic destruction of the public sector in Croydon.

The online consultation document itself is a paragon of what is wrong about local authority communications. The document runs to seven pages and poses more than 100 questions, many of them written in fluent councilspeak, with no briefing paper or references, so that most ordinary people haven’t got a chance of understanding the majority of it.

For instance…

  • “Embed new model of youth offer at locality level”. Any idea what this might mean, in any detail? Or…
  • “Oracle licensing and hosting efficiencies through shared procurement”? Or…
  • “Development of the self directed support market for older people and longer term conditions service”.

As one leading light in one of the borough’s community groups has said, “That must mean something to the experts, but not to the average person in the street.”

Chances are, any residents who manage to find the consultation on the web, most will have mentally switched off or actually given up long before they reach some of the more fundamental propositions which the council is evidently trying to sneak in.

Such as:

“Outsource environmental response team (ERT) – reduction in service” – these are the people you call to report fly-tipping or when the neighbours in the flats above a shop have yet again left a bin bag full of soiled disposable nappies out on the street. “Outsourced” would mean a cut in the council’s immediate costs, and even dirtier, less-well-kept streets.

There are other proposals in the questionnaire where no degree of councilspeak is necessary, the meaning is plain:

  • “Reduce staff in voluntary grants programme”
  • “Removal of under-used football pitches”. So much for Croydon’s Olympic legacy. Maybe Laing will get to build on the playing fields?
  • “Reduction of maintenance of trees”

The whole thing is somewhere between a sham and a shambles.

Set aside a good 15 minutes before midnight tonight and undermine the whole thing by letting them know what you think (in no more than 300 words, naturally). The survey can be found by clicking here.

And make sure, also, that you email Tim Pollard directly with your comments: councillor@timpollard.co.uk.

  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
  • Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Council Tax, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Education, Environment, History, John Laing Integrated Services, Libraries, Margaret Mead, Parking, Tim Pollard and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Twelve hours to try to save what’s left of Croydon culture

  1. I have just sent the following e-mail to Councillor Tim Pollard, which I would like to share with your faithful reader

    Re Proposed Council Cuts Consultation
    I have two suggested areas of economy for you to consider.
    The first is the obscene level of councillors’ attendance allowances.
    I have no objections to meeting genuine and reasonable out-of-pocket expenses for you and your colleagues, but I fail to understand why the hard pressed people of Croydon should pay individuals double or treble the national average wage just for turning up and shouting the odds across the council chamber.
    The day-to-day work of the council is done, quite properly, by the chief executive and his staff, many of whom are professionally qualified to do so. As a former senior officer once reminded me: “Councillors come and councillors go; we run the borough.”
    The second area is the Fairfield arts complex, at which I understand you are throwing millions of pounds of our money in subsidy.
    Surely entertainment produced in performance spaces the size of those at the Fairfield is a commercial venture and the council’s financial involvement should be limited to the occasional hiring of the venue for municipal events.
    I hope to see you making substantial savings in these two areas, but I won’t be holding my breath.
    I have looked at the survey you are asking council tax-payers to complete, but I have not done so because I do not understand the questions. In future, if you really want to know what I and my fellow residents think, would you please ask us in plain English. Would you also give us room to do more than tick yes/no boxes.
    Sincerely,
    David Callam

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  2. adrianwin says:

    I completed, to some extent, the consultation document, but acknowledge that it certainly wasn’t designed to attract engagement from Croydon residents.

    Even the rare examples of plain speaking ideally require more detailed and often specialised knowledge just to state “yes” or “no” . E.g. regarding “Reduction in maintenance of trees”, how many respondents would have any idea what the current tree maintenance budget is, what the saving might be and how damaging the consequences would be?

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  3. baw30s says:

    Plain English is indeed required.

    Does “prioritise efficiencies” in a given area mean (as I would assume) that one wants it to bear a relatively high proportion of the cuts, or the opposite?

    I am wary of how my answers will be interpreted, so like David Callam I will not answer individual questions, but I will use section 6 to support the Local Studies Archive.

    The council should appreciate that this archive supports lecturers and writers who give huge and often free support to the town and education through the talks, presentations and publications they produce relating to its history.

    Furthermore, the archive is of considerable value in making available to developers information about the previous use of Croydon’s land, some of which has been made highly toxic by industry and power generation. The Borough might have to pay large sums in compensation in the future if it misleads property buyers and users when they make searches or ask pertinent questions; there might also be avoidable victims of poisoning.

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  4. Following on from David Callam, I submit my response to the consultation also copied into Eric Pickles, Minister for Local Government:

    Dear Messers Pollard and Pickles,

    I would like to draw to your attention the Croydon Council consultation that can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/budget-engagement.

    It has hardly been publicised by the Council. When you open it, it is a childish offering, with an overwhelming number of badly worded questions. I can see from this effort why the Right Hon Michael Gove is so concerned about education standards in the UK. It is:
    a. A very badly designed survey that breaches the most basic rules of the craft;
    b. It is completely inadequate as a form of consultation;
    c. It is evidence of the level of contempt that Croydon Council hold the electorate in.

    The residents of Croydon are desperate to rebuild a thriving, prosperous society following on from the riots of 2011, how are we supposed to do that when we are subjected to such poor levels of management and accountability at a local level.

    Yours sincerely,
    Charlotte Davies

    Chair
    South Croydon Community Association

    Like

  5. ndavies144 says:

    I have difficulty believing this is serious. My first suspicion was that a couple of business studies students from Croydon College got assigned it as a project and it somehow got loose, but experience tells me such people are seldom so creative. My reckoning’s on a couple of Taberner House staffers bashing if out on a Friday afternoon after a couple of hours in the George and never imagining it would get past the grown-ups sight unseen.

    More seriously it really is shocking. “Consultation to” rather that “consultation with”, but that’s par for the course these days across the public sector. By the way should you have the emotional energy (maybe a couple of hours in the George would help) you can answer it as many times as you like, it doesn’t seem to plant cookies or anything: which makes it even more unprofessional.

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  6. catswiskas says:

    I have just visited and completed the survey via your very useful link and confess to feeling very, VERY weary. I advise a stiff drink before taking a peek and completing. (PLEASE DO have a go because the council will be relying on our apathy and resignation and this survey is designed to encourage more of the same).

    Someone must have swallowed a dictionary before they set up this ‘consultation’ document. I have spoken English as a first language all my life and consider myself well-educated but this survey with its infuriating councilspeak left me feeling stupid and inadequate. I am now questioning my grasp of the English Language in a way I haven’t since I first encountered ‘Janet and John’ (remember them, fellow children of the ‘Sixties’?)

    Imagine how the many Croydonians who might speak English as their second language must feel when faced with this survey! ‘CouncilSpeak’ serves no one. It is designed to disengage and alienate the man on the Croydon street at a time when we should be coming together to work for the good of our community. One particularly grating example: ‘risk stratification/preablement.’

    PREABLEMENT! I have never ever heard this word spoken (and I have been around a long time). Does anyone outside the council know what ‘ICT system applications’ means? Trawling through, I had to read, then re-read, then re-read again before leaving several boxes unticked because, like David, I just couldn’t grasp what I was actually agreeing/disagreeing with.

    Re: threatened closure of Croydon’s archives and local studies library:
    A pride in one’s local community comes from a sense of ownership and shared history. The archives promote this sense of ‘ownership’. Croydon’s inhabitants are diverse in so many ways: ethnically, religiously and culturally – so PLEASE don’t deny us access to the one thing we all have in common!

    Another point: the archives do a great, free PR job for Croydon and are good for the town’s self-esteem at a time when we have lost so much (our late, lamented music festival, the Mela, Braithwaite Hall, Warehouse Theatre, David Lean Cinema etc. etc).

    Another point: I have been to some excellent local history talks and walks given by our local historian, John Hickman during the South Norwood Arts Festival and I am sure these might not have been possible without John’s regular use of the archives.

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