Austerity? Government grant cuts? Front-line council jobs under threat? On yer bike!
Here in Croydon, under our flip-flopping Labour-lite council, we are spending nearly £150,000 of public cash for a couple of hours of sport next month.
Croydon town centre is staging a one-night cycling criterium event on Tuesday, June 2, with men and women pro cyclists racing around a tight, 1-kilometre road circuit which takes in North End, the High Street and Surrey Street (if it rains, the action could get very bloody). Roads will be closed through the afternoon, the tram network curtailed, and the council is hoping that thousands of spectators will turn-out to line the route for a glimpse of the star riders in action.
“Croydon is set to take centre stage when it hosts one of the biggest cycling events in Britain for the first time, with Olympic champions to race through North End,” the council’s press release states. Not for the first time, Croydon Council’s press office appears to have swallowed a bucket-load of its own propaganda bullshit and is spouting opinion as fact.
If you check out Cycling News’s listing of “the biggest cycling events in Britain” (© Croydon Council propaganda department), the Croydon town centre event isn’t listed whatsoever. So it must be beyond important…
The Giro d’Italia, which really does include many of the world’s top men’s road racers, finishes on Sunday week, just 48 hours before the Croydon race. So most of those riders probably won’t be rushing to catch the first flight back from Rome to make it on to the start line in south London.
There is mention in the Croydon press release that, “Britain’s top cycling teams will be competing including the new Team Wiggins, formed by 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins…”.
That, though, does not guarantee that the modern-day hero will be in Croydon. Wiggo will be in the final week of preparations for his high-profile attempt on the hour world record.
It seems that Croydon Council is using the public cash simply as a way of subsidising the race organisers’ costs.
According to one Town Hall source, “the money is re-cycled” from City Hall and Transport for London’s London Improvement Fund, so isn’t coming directly out of Croydon’s council budget. And in many respects, a day’s sporting activity – including events through the afternoon for local school children – has got to be preferable to the millions of pounds that have been squandered on the “Connected Croydon” project, where money intended as a Riots Recovery Fund has been spent on putting down crazy paving outside East Croydon Station.
Nevertheless, it looks as if Croydon’s councillors and officials have been mugged.
At the very worst, an event such as this – with our borough providing the organisers with their only race in London in a 10-event series – ought to be cost-neutral to the local authority, with the costs paid for by the tour’s sponsors who are grateful for a town centre circuit in the capital and the “exposure” that they will receive when the highlights are broadcast (albeit on ITV4 and Eurosport).
Dutifully, Croydon Council went out of its way to mention all the sponsors in its press release: “The race is being sponsored by Keltbray Group, Skanska Laing, AIG, Decathlon, EM Highways, Veolia… “.
Yes, that’s right – contractors who are paid to keep our streets clean, the builders who overcharged £145million for the Fisher’s Folly council HQ offices, and the company that has failed to hit virtually all of its targets for street light replacements, are using some of their profits from these public contracts to pay the cycle race organisers.
The council press release also listed a couple of other sponsors: “Croydon Council, Croydon Heart Town, Fairfield Halls and Transport for London.”
Note the absence, though, of any contribution into the staging costs pot from, say, Westfield. Or the Whitgift Foundation. Or Croydon BID. Or any of the other larger businesses in the town centre who might benefit most from the publicity and exposure presented by the staging of the race.
At least Labour’s council leader Tony Newman is reading from the script prepared for him with input from the race organisers: “We’re delighted to welcome The Pearl Izumi Tour Series and Matrix Fitness Grand Prix for the first time to Croydon, which will see the borough broadcast to a worldwide audience.” Of course, the last time that happened was on the night of August 8, 2011.
“This promises to be the start of a new cultural era and a great summer for Croydon, with the Ambition Festival to take place the following month,” Newman’s script stated.
“A new cultural era”? Seriously.
Of course, the total value of the public subsidy is less than the salary for council CEO Nathan Elvery that Newman agreed last year. But Newman – who is supposed to be a Labour politician, remember – is soon to implement Tory cuts and swing the axe on around 150 front-line council jobs, which makes this sort of spending seem all the more insensitive and ill-considered.
Thing is, regular cyclists, who take their lives as well as their handlebars in their hands on a daily basis on Croydon’s streets, are not that bothered by the race. “Not really interested in it, to be honest,” one prominent member of the Croydon Cycling Campaign told Inside Croydon.
“The £148,000 wouldn’t go very far, I know, but I’d rather they spent the money on proper road improvements to make our roads safer every day of the year, rather than on one night of bike racing.”
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