One hundred days in, and the honeymoon could be over for Croydon’s Labour council, as confronted with a £92.8 million “funding gap” over the next four years, they face having to cut up to 500 jobs at the local authority.
Immediately after Labour won the local election in May, Mike Fisher, then the outgoing leader of the council, now the ex-leader of Croydon Tories, seemed to try to taunt his political rivals by boasting that his administration had left behind a “black hole” of debt.
With further reductions in funding to come from the Conservative-led central Government, that presents Croydon Council with some painful arithmetic.
The funding gap and job cut figures were discussed at Tuesday night’s scrutiny meeting, in which item 7 considered the Budget process. The new chairman of the committee, Labour’s Sean Fitzsimons, dismissed some of the dozen “key elements” and themes offered in the report by saying, “David Brent could have done better than that.”
It is not certain exactly who Fitzsimons may have had in mind as Croydon Council’s “David Brent” figure.
Croydon Council has cut more than 400 jobs in the past four years, making savings of £98.8 million. Having already cut so deep into the organisation in the interests of the Tory-led government’s “austerity” agenda, there is understandable fears that there are no “easy” cut-backs left to make. And Labour councils applying Tory cuts have frequently led to bitter political fall-outs.
The report was submitted by the council’s director of finance and assets, Richard Simpson. One of the Tories on the committee, Councillor Jason Cummings, asked whether the figures could mean 500 jobs being cut in the next round.
“That is not a bad estimate,” was Simpson’s doom-ladened response.
The mood of staff throughout the council after four years of austerity is very low, according to Simpson, who said that it is difficult for morale to improve “when you think you’ve got to look for another job”. Clearly, the move into the £140 million Fisher’s Folly council HQ building has done little to cheer the few staff who remain on the council pay-roll.
Questions were asked about the amount of the council’s revenue budget that is having to be used to service the debts built up under Fisher’s Conservative Council. According to officials, in 2005-2006 – when Labour was last in control of the Town Hall – 3 per cent of council revenue was committed to paying off debt. Today, that figure is closer to 15 per cent, with £36 million being used to pay down debts accrued, such as the £80 million borrowings on Fisher’s Folly.
Labour councillors have some suggestions to improve the council’s finances. Councillor Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, told the meeting that he is “desperately hoping” that Roehampton University will take floor space in the benighted Bernard Weatherill House (as it is also sometimes known), bringing higher education to the borough and some much-needed rental income to the council.
Many of the council’s contracts are to be revisited, with the intention of bringing back in-house services which have previously been outsourced, often to varying effect but rarely delivering true value for the Council Tax-payers’ money. Smaller bids for council contracts will be encouraged, to encourage more companies based within the borough to benefit from doing business with the council.
In the chair, Fitzsimons was scathing of the 12 “themes” which were offered by the officials’ report, David Brent-style, as key elements of the council programme.
These included the likes of…
- “Digital by Design – This will apply agile digital solutions to help reduce the cost and way in which we do business, transforming both the customer experience and our internal services so we are fit for the digital age”
- “Eyes and Ears – this will maximise the impact of our visible presence, with multi-skilled teams focused on the entire Challenge not single silos”; and
- “Asset Management – this will focus on creating a platform for growth through the key levers of skills, infrastructure, investment and innovation to accelerate delivery of jobs and homes for our residents, as well as looking to sweat our assets”
“It’s so much jargon and cliches,” Fitzsimons said, dismissively.
If cutting the crap is one of the first cuts Labour makes, maybe some things are changing for the better at the Town Hall.
- Read the budget process report submitted to the scrutiny committee this week here: Council Budget report to Scrutiny – Sep 9 2014
- For the other reports at the meeting, click here
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Coming to Croydon
- Tell Me About Your Ex, Spread Eagle Theatre, Sep 9-13
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Police question time, LNK at Centrale, Sep 17
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Remembering the Great War, Sep 18
- The Complete History of the BBC – Abridged, Spread Eagle, Sep 19-20
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Ukrainian choir concert, St John’s Shirley, Sep 29
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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