All elections are important, of course. But the council elections on May 22 will shape the future of Croydon for generations to come.
“Ambitious for Croydon” is the title of Labour’s manifesto for 2014 and at its core is a commitment to give back as much influence as possible to local people and communities. A Labour council will reinvigorate our district centres and neighbourhoods and see the Town Hall work in real partnership with residents, our business community, the voluntary sector, trade unions and others.
The Tory plan is crystal clear: most services will be cut, those that remain will be handed to the private sector with no public accountability for the outcomes, and local communities will be powerless to influence their future. The town centre might still prosper, but dirty streets, fly tipping, and the running down of local services will continue to be the norm under the Conservatives.
So we have to look at how we provide services differently. The tired responses of some to the independent streets commission which reported last week showed people have become transfixed by a narrative that says if you want better services it will always cost you more. This is at best lazy thinking and, in a Labour-run Croydon Council after May, it will be unacceptable.
On street cleaning, for example, we will ensure all council officials from our street cleaning teams to the chief executive are equipped with the same, properly functioning IT kit to allow them to report fly tipping and other offences immediately, so that action can be taken by the response teams we will put in place.
We will also reinstate the mobile CCTV teams that have been reduced by the Tory-run council, to help to catch and prosecute those caught fly tipping. We will also empower residents’ associations to work together with local councillors with devolved local budgets for outcomes that really do work in local neighborhoods.
The idea that a council official, sitting in the £140 million luxury council HQ, knows best will need to change, when local residents can identify where to position some new litter bins, or to put in a park bench or site a recycling bin. Officers will work with local communities to reach the best solutions.
It would be nice to be able to say “money’s no object” as some political figures have done when they try to buy votes, but here in the real world, we know that’s not the case. It’s not always about more money. It’s about how to spend what we have got in a better way. It’s about proper choices and people’s priorities.
The money which the Tories have spent on the council’s luxury offices could have paid for 10 new schools in Croydon. But the Tories chose not to do this. Yet Croydon has the worst school places crisis of any council in the country. This local election is a matter of proper choices and people’s priorities.
Whoever wins in May, both Labour and the Tories will be operating within tight financial budgets. We are proposing to freeze Council Tax again this year, something which we have proposed for the last five years in oppositon.
Last year, Croydon’s Tories increased Council Tax by £26. This year, they say they will give back a one-off payment of £25. Some have called the Tories’ plan for the Council Tax a gimmick rolled out just in time for the elections. It looks to me like Croydon’s Tories are treating you, the electorate, with contempt.
So, if Labour is elected to run the Town Hall in May, we will trust the people and communities of Croydon to have a real partnership alongside the council, to work together to shape our future and to ensure that all parts of the borough and all our communities will benefit from the investment and prosperity coming to Croydon.
The alternative is the same old Tories, who too often walk past on the other side of the street, saying “it’s not our problem”.
And to those who claim that your vote doesn’t matter, or that all politicians are the same, let’s challenge that lazy thinking as well, because frankly it’s opting out. You may or may not agree with Labour’s plans to hand over power from the council to local communities, but as even Mike Fisher, the local Tory leader will tell you, it is a radically different proposal to the current regime’s position that believes that the Town Hall always knows what’s best for us.
I look forward to the debate in the three months ahead that will shape Croydon’s future for years to come. Make sure your voice is heard.
- Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, is a councillor for Woodside ward in Croydon Central
Coming to Croydon
- Mark Steel at Ashcroft Theatre, Feb 12
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 13
- Croydon Arts Network meeting, Feb 15
- Chinese New Year children’s event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 18
- This War! St Gertrude’s Theatre group, Feb 19-22
- Welsh myths children’s event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Mr Pooter comes to Croydon, Feb 20-22
- Warm and Well event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 22
- Stop the Incinerator fund-raiser, Feb 24
- Fairtrade Film night, Antenna Cafe, Haynes Lane, Feb 27
- Fairtrade event, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 1
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Mar 3
- Patchwork and quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 3
- Fairtrade stall at Food Market, Haynes Lane, Mar 8
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, Mar 15
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
- Croydon Half-marathon, Mar 30
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