Fairness Commission report recommends Council Tax rise

Croydon’s Labour-run council should take full advantage of Tory Chancellor Gideon Osborne’s recent decision to allow a 2 per cent increase on Council Tax towards paying for adult social care. That’s a key recommendation in the final report of the Croydon Opportunity and Fairness Commission, which is published tonight.

Job done: Croydon's Opportunity and Fairness Commission

Job done: Croydon’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission

The endorsement of a Church of England bishop for a local tax rise just a few weeks before that tax has to be set for the coming year is the sort of thing that local politicians usually can only dream about.

That’s what has happened in Croydon, where council leader Tony Newman appears to have got some return for his investment of political capital – and considerable public funds – on his pet project. The Commission was chaired by the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Jonathan Clark, an Anglican churchman who quotes Gandhi.

The Commission’s 72-page final report, which you can read for yourself here in pdf format, was formally launched this evening in front of an audience of nearly 200 people at Croydon College. The report, which took more than a year to compile and cost the council £200,000, includes 28 key recommendations across six categories.

The report recognises that it is “fairness of opportunity, rather than fairness of outcome” which is important, and which matters to most residents. “What the least well-off lack as much as money is the connections and support networks to get on in life and to bounce back from hard knocks,” the report states.

“Croydon and Britain have a social mobility crisis.”

Disappointingly the published report, although slightly more substantive than its preliminary predecessor which was produced in the autumn, includes many of the same short-comings. The overall sense of superficiality remains, with no hard data and no methodology for measuring unfairness, perceived or otherwise.

Bishop Clark says that the Commission took an “editorial decision” not to publish an annex of data, statistics and tables, because they didn’t want to bore the report’s readers.

And there’s an overwhelming feeling of melancholy about the inevitable conclusion of the report, such is its focus on somehow getting the voluntary sector to take up the slack from local authority services, which have been cut back so savagely.

Bishop Clark: not raising Council Tax to pay for adult social care would be far worse. Picture by Lee Townsend

Bishop Clark: not raising Council Tax to pay for adult social care would be far worse. Picture by Lee Townsend

Thus, you get very American-style suggestions that the council should allow its staff at least three days per year to go off on a voluntary project to “set an example of best practice”.

“Blue Labour” ideas, such as Asset-Based Community Development projects, should receive “support”, the Commission says, and there should be “negotiated devolution” to neighbourhood centres.

Residents in 22 of Croydon’s 24 wards might be disappointed at how much the Commission has focused on New Addington and Fieldway, to the exclusion of other parts of the borough.

Bishop Clark says that is because the area suffers from so much social deprivation; in fact, areas of Broad Green, Thornton Heath and Waddon now exhibit equally bad, or worse, signs of poverty. Sadly, the Commission’s report failed to back-up its findings with any data…

A Croydon Employment Charter is recommended, to seek to reward businesses who adopt the London Living Wage by considering them for council contract programme. And a job brokerage programme, linking in local schools and colleges with employers, should be provided by the council – though Bishop Clark was unable to say whether the Department for Work and Pensions will allow such a scheme to operate inside Job Centres, as it will surely need to do if it is to have any chance of success.

In an exclusive interview with Inside Croydon, which we will be publishing tomorrow, the Bishop was adamant that the work of the Commission was not in any way steered by the borough’s Establishment to achieve a desired outcome. This despite the commissioners including someone from shopping centre developers Westfield, a representative from the Croydon Voluntary Action organisation, a recently retired deputy CEO from the council, and a councillor from the same ward as council leader Tony Newman.

“We were not played,” Bishop Clark said, emphatically.

The biggest single departure from the preliminary report is the recommendation for an increase in Council Tax.

“The Government has made it possible for councils to put a couple of per cent on Council tax to pay for adult social care,” Bishop Clark said. “Interestingly, it would seem that an awful lot of local authorities are going to be doing that, including quite a lot of Tory ones.

“We think it probably has to happen, otherwise adult social care will almost disappear, and that would be much worse.”

Would 2 per cent be enough? “Possibly not,” Bishop Clark said, “but it’s what’s allowed.”

In fact, for 2016-2017, the council could increase Council Tax by the 2 per cent for social care, plus up to 1.99 per cent more towards the costs of providing other services. And this year, for the first time in a decade, Croydon will not be paying a chunk of money to City Hall to pay for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Indications suggest that no firm decision has yet been reached by the council leadership. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Newman and his finance colleague, Simon Hall, use the backing of the Bishop and the Commission to seek a 3.99 per cent maximum Council Tax increase when they announce it in March.

Labour leader Tony Newman: could have election success guaranteed, regardless of his performance

Council leader Tony Newman has just read the Fairness Commission report where it says he should increase Council Tax

In his introduction to the Commission’s report, Bishop Clark writes: “The scale of the task is immense. As the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation confirms, the map of the poverty in Croydon looks remarkably similar to that of 30 years ago, with the north of the borough much more deprived than the south and areas like Broad Green and Selhurst containing some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country.

“Croydon’s house prices, like those in the rest of London, have increased to the point of unaffordability for many workers. At the same time, government welfare changes and the even higher cost of housing in inner London are forcing many of the poorest families to move out of central London and into outer London boroughs like Croydon.

“Public services too are under pressure. By 2019-2020, the council’s budget will have been cut by 74 per cent. And the borough does not receive its fair share of funds, just £378 per head compared to £637 per head in Southwark or £586 per head in Lambeth…

“The arguments we have consistently found most convincing have been those that focus on people-led change,” Bishop Clark writes. “Ideas like the Living Wage have come from the ground up… Pressure and persuasion are making the difference.

“As Mahatma Gandhi once put it, we must be the change we want to see.”

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
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12 Responses to Fairness Commission report recommends Council Tax rise

  1. Croydon Band D is £1,466.39
    Wandsworth Band D is £704.57

    When I lived in Wandsworth I didn’t notice a huge difference in the service I get today. Can anyone explain why there is such a disparity between 2 close London boroughs?

    • The answer is simple: Wandsworth gets a settlement from central Government for an inner London borough, although it has few of the issues many inner London boroughs face. The per capita funding figures for Lambeth and Southwark from the Bishop provide examples of the scale of the difference to Croydon’s grant.

      Croydon, despite having many areas with inner city issues, receives a grant from central Government which does not reflect its full population numbers, and is in line with other outer London boroughs. The difference between the borough’s costs and the income is made up in some part through Council Tax.

      All three of the borough’s MPs should be lobbying the Government for fairer funding. You need to ask yourself why they won’t.

  2. markrlsamuel says:

    “Indications suggest that no firm decision has yet been reached by the council leadership.”

    So who or what was I talking to on Monday then?

    From Mr Mark Samuel
    Councillor Tony Newman
    Leader of the Council
    Question No.
    What is the leader doing to get the people and businesses of Croydon through the
    ongoing financial crisis and enable our Council’s ability to provide statutory services?
    Increase council tax or reduce councillors’ allowance?
    I thank Mr Samuel for his question.
    The cuts imposed by the present Conservative Government have indeed made it
    extremely difficult for local authorities to fund provision of a range of services that are
    lifelines for many people.
    Here in Croydon this Labour Administration has ensured continued delivery of vital
    services for local people through prudent financial management and embracing the
    use of digital technology to deliver improved services with less staff.
    We are delighted that our approach has enabled us to keep Council Tax frozen along
    with member’s allowances.
    I would add that being a business friendly Administration we work very closely with
    businesses of all sizes to ensure that Croydon is a great place for business and I am
    very pleased that since the last Council meeting Body Shop have announced a
    commitment to locating their headquarters in Croydon.

    Supplementary question asked about confirming freezing both councillors’ “allowances” and council tax, answered in the affirmative!

    • Actually, Mark, your supplementary was not “answered in the affirmative” at all.

      In fact, it wasn’t answered.

      Newman simply referred to what his administration had done. Not what it intended to do. Maybe he is not as stupid as you think he is.

  3. I would like to cut through the soft language of the report to two central isssues ( for me)

    American Society has collapsed,with the elites in ghettoes and the poor in prison.The careful analysis by Robert Putnam in
    Our KIds, The American Dream in Crisis:


    shows how close we are getting to the same problems,and our coming bottom of the OECD league table for literacy and numeracy should send a shiver down any politicians spine.


    The notion of reversing the exclusion and alienation of the primary school generation only SOUNDS trivial…but it very important…but games and outings together as well as READING HELP SUPPORT, especially for working class boys (don’t let the middle class steal everything ,as usual)
    is vital.The Dog Whistle politics of Blair and Cameron (“special schools” as close to grammars as possible with tight exclusion zones)have failed children and employers miserably.

    The second,very serious issue,is only approached by the multiple deprivation map.Where was the input from Communiy Health,or Public Health (now a local authority responsibility) to show the geographical overlap with every single poor health statistic you could think of.Letting them get away with hiding behind their white coats and stethoscopes “OF INVISIBILITY” is a major strategic error.There has not been a government of any colour that wants the maps of deprivation and poor health publicly available and discussed…because it shows up the utter emptiness of their rhetoric.Thatcher suppressed the 1987 BLACK report,and the trend continues…let the poor smoke,drink and eat themsleves to death and our dividends roll in…that’s the spirit..Freedom!

    (I write this as a retired child psychiatrist who worked in Croydon at a time when its educational achievements were identical to Liverpool’s !)

  4. jamie10000 says:

    We shouldn’t bother comparing Croydon to inner London boroughs with different funding streams. Instead let’s look at other outer London boroughs with similar demographics and geography. Ealing and Lewisham are 2 good examples – Ealing is slightly bigger than us and Lewisham slightly smaller. Both have council tax which is much lower – by about 10%.

    If they can do it so can we. Even if they raise council tax by the maximum 3.99% they’ll still be charging less than Croydon. Clearly there is scope to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Working out how to do that will be difficult. Raising council tax by the max seems like a cop-out. All that will do is push the problem onto residents…

    • So we shouldn’t make a comparison when it doesn’t suit your argument?

      How about we shouldn’t make a comparison with an outer London borough because it is not an outer London borough? Lewisham is, and has always been, one of the inner London boroughs, and receives a much better funding settlement than Croydon, just like Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth.

      So that explains how Lewisham has managed to keep its Council Tax lower.

      You compare Ealing to Croydon in terms of geographical size. But the real comparison is in population terms, and Croydon now has the largest population of all London boroughs. The level of grant per capita is the fairest comparison, and by that measure Croydon’s council – as the previous Tory administration admitted – is dealt a very unfair hand.

      • jamie10000 says:

        Thanks for that. I always thought Lewisham was classed as outer, but i can see the error of my ways.

        Ealing has a very similar population, and a larger electorate. The distribution of properties is similar as well, as is the spread of their new development, which is what leads me to believe it is the best comparison for our borough.

        The point i was trying to make is that when you compare Croydon to other boroughs, with the same funding streams, it is then possible to compare the policies and the justification for council tax increases (and the like). Comparing like with like. I still think that’s a point worth making, as it clearly shows that sometimes Croydon still has something to learn from these other boroughs, who face similar problems with similar budgets, but have found a different path.

        • Yeah, compare like with like. How about like with like with social inequalities and demands, where Croydon has more similarities to what are still regarded as “deprived” inner London boroughs which, over the last half-century, been gentrified beyond recognition, forcing out poorer residents (to outer London boroughs), but yet still receive significantly higher grant levels from central Government.

          Ealing has 20 per cent less population than Croydon (305,000 to 370,000, by a 2015 estimate), so again, your chosen comparison falls down somewhat.

          If Croydon got a fair settlement on its central Government grant, chances are that you probably would be paying less Council Tax. Why don’t you take that up with your MP and let us know what they say they’re doing about it?

  5. Romans 13
    1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

    6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

    The Bishop is a true Christian.

    Credit should be given to Cllr Newman for not increasing the council tax by 27%. Just 2% rise is required to keep paying the allowance for councillors. This will also allow councillors from all parties to contribute towards their election campaign expenses.

  6. davidjl2014 says:

    Why do people in the church continually get involved in politics but when politicians get in involved in religion they get their cassocks in a twist? Hypocrites and Ignoramuses. I’ll leave you to work out which is which.

  7. If, like Patrick, you are into quotes then try this pithy and very accurate one: “Religious truth, government truth and corporate truth are names for more sinister things”
    ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom

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