The leadership of Croydon’s Labour-run council is considering moving to a schedule of residential refuse collections of every three weeks as a way of saving money from a borough budget that faces losing £90 million from its grant from the Conservative government.
Tory Chancellor Gideon Osborne is poised to deliver his Budget next week, and he is widely expected to revel in announcing another round of dogma-driven “austerity” measures.
This includes passing the political buck for cuts down the line to local authorities, including Croydon Council where the annual grant from central government is set to be reduced even further, despite the borough’s growing population and increasing demand for a range of locally delivered services.
Council leader Tony Newman is taking his 39 Labour councillors off on a group “awayday” tomorrow – only as far as Heathfield House – to discuss the unappetising options available to them as they struggle to make the borough’s budget balance.
According to a very senior Town Hall source, someone who is close to the leader, these measures include reducing the frequency of domestic bin collections to once every 21 days.
For a group which won the local elections in May 2014 on an “ambition” to make Croydon cleaner and greener, reducing bin collection frequency can hardly be a palatable option, but it is on the table now because of the sheer scale of the cuts forced upon them by the Tory Government.
After fulfilling their election pledge of a first-year freeze, another measure likely to be discussed tomorrow is an increase in Council Tax, up to the 2 per cent limit imposed by government ministers. It seems unlikely, though, that Newman – who presided over a 27per cent Council Tax increase a decade ago when he was previously in charge of the borough’s finances – will appreciate the political damage he will suffer as a result of implementing another increase, which in any case is likely to yield less than £5 million in extra revenue.
As Inside Croydon reported last December when Labour revealed its first Town Hall budget since taking office, Newman and his finance chief, Simon Hall, deferred much of the pain of dealing with the £100million “black hole” which they inherited until after the General Election. It was a noble, but ultimately futile, gesture on behalf of Ed Miliband and Sarah Jones, who missed out on winning the Croydon Central seat.
And it means that the cuts required between now and 2018 are that much greater.
Croydon went from weekly to fortnightly bin collections under the previous Tory-run council. With recycling rates steadily increasing, in theory the need to collect refuse destined for landfill – or the Beddington Lane incinerator – should decrease.
But with residents’ wheelie bins regularly overflowing and spewing out their garbage over the borough’s pavements, even the suggestion of reducing the frequency of bin collections would be a deeply unpopular measure for the Labour council. If they were to adopt the measure, it would undo any of the credit they may have built up by, finally, beginning to deliver prosecutions against fly-tippers who have been blighting the borough’s streets.
Having made the cleanliness of Croydon’s streets a key election issue last year, Labour are likely to be very sensitive around the issue after the less-than-smooth introduction last month of a new borough-wide schedule for contractors Veolia, with a number of disgruntled residents complaining of no collections for three weeks or more.
A less politically damaging alternative being considered is to provide different levels of bin collection service determined by the demand of a particular part of the borough. This could see areas such as Coulsdon and Selsdon – wards which would never elect a Labour councillor any way – move to collections once every three weeks, while more densely populated areas, with lots of multiple occupier buildings, as in Labour-voting Thornton Heath and Norbury – would continue to have their bins emptied every fortnight.
“We’ve got to find some way of reducing our costs,” said the source, “and there are parts of the borough where we could reduce the service.”
But cuts are likely to impact almost all aspects of council services: just this week, the operating hours for the Town Hall’s telephone lines were reduced by another hour per day, so that they are now available only from 9am to 4pm (weekend services vanished years ago). Cuts have also been made to the grant to the Upper Norwood Library, which is run jointly with Lambeth, and other cultural services could also be pared back.
Whether Croydon opts to pull its multi-million contributions from large-scale construction projects, such as the Purley Way flyover which is due to be jointly funded with Transport for London, really depends on how courageous Newman proves to be in facing down private developers to defend public finances. There’s not been much evidence of that so far. For example, since taking office Newman has performed a U-turn and refused to investigate the inexplicable £140 million price-tag from the council’s joint venture “partners”, John Laing, for building the council offices at Fisher’s Folly. Raking back some of those costs, and the over-priced £18 million New Addington swimming pool, would make all other decisions much easier.
“The shortfall has to be sorted by the budget issued in February 2018,” a Katharine Street mole said.
“It means that the cuts are likely to be highest in this budget for next year – politically, it is the least sensitive year with only the London elections coming up, and Newman and his councillors don’t care about the GLA very much, and it is still well away from 2018 and the next Town Hall elections.”
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