Are Croydon’s high street retailers, pubs and cafes being asked to cough-up extra cash under a street trading licensing scheme when the council doesn’t have any staff to enforce it?
Sources working in Fisher’s Folly certainly believe so.
Council staff working in Croydon’s head offices have been in touch to highlight the back story over the recent fuss over the “Sunshine Tax”, where one or two people behind a struggling cafe business, egged on by their mates in the local Tory Party, came up with wildly exaggerated claims about the charges which the council wants to impose on traders who utilise the pavements outside their premises.
Yet again, the Labour-run council came in for a kicking largely because it mishandled the presentation of the policy. Huge percentage increases in licensing charges to businesses who were occupying public space made the council seem to be out to make a fast buck. The argument was as good as lost before senior councillors got to state the case that traders had for years been getting a cheap – if not entirely free – ride for their use of Croydon pavements.
Now the petition has quietly been forgotten and the morally outraged frenzy on social media has died down over the perceived threat to turning Croydon into some sort of Rive Gauche, the real story behind the charges for using public space may have begun to emerge.
Certainly, Croydon’s proposed charges only bring it in line with other outer London councils (neighbouring Bromley charges nearly £3,000 per year to traders who want to have extra table spaces on the pavements outside their pubs or restaurants), after our borough’s system charged so little, it was costing Council Tax-payers money just to collect the fees.
The new policy is from the council’s “Place” department, so is another initiative from Jo Negrini, the executive director with the close working relationship with Westfield. And as with so much that comes out of that particular department, there’s suspicion of an agenda which favours big business at the expense of long-standing Council Tax-payers…
Croydon Council claims that the cost increase in fees for using parts of the pavement is required to cover the £200,000 cost to enforce the rules.
But at the start of this year, Croydon Council was down to its last street trading officer, and she was recently granted voluntary severance under the latest round of staffing cuts, so that position has to be deleted to comply with employment law.
“So what is the £200,000 for, as that post will cease to be?” asks our bemused mole in the council offices. “There will still be a licensing enforcement officer, although he is close to retirement and bit of a loose cannon – frequently complained about as he has a habit of shouting at local shopkeepers.”
They suggest that there may be another council re-organisation on its way – the early retirement of Paul Greenhalgh, the executive director of “People”, has already been announced.
Is Negrini soon to be given yet more power?
There’s an alternative take on the reasons behind the new licensing fees for Croydon’s streets, and it ties in with proposals to impose a PSPO, or Public Spaces Protection Order, on a large part of central Croydon.
PSPOs are essentially a privatisation of the policing of town centre areas, allowing the council to hire bounty hunters to patrol the streets , doling out £120 fines to kids on skateboards, anyone who drops a fag end and to make sure that buskers are moved on so they don’t lower the tone around Hammersfield’s £1 billion shopping mall, if it ever gets built…
The increased street trading licence fees are another aspect of that same policy, and can be applied more speedily, potentially to sweep from the streets any businesses which might offer competition to the likes of Boxpark, which the council is subsidising and is due to open later this year.
“The licence fee hike could be another excuse for a sort of social cleansing of the high street,” according to a Katharine Street source. “The licence fee will deter some businesses. Others will be driven out by the increase in rents which is bound to come in the new shopping mall.
“But above all, the licence gives the council more power to pick and choose what businesses operate where, because by withholding a licence, it can put pressure on the smaller cafes and bars that the council, or its developer mates, don’t want to get in the way.”
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