Council buildings across the borough were shut at close to no-notice yesterday, as Croydon went on a coronavirus lockdown.
The council propaganda department made the announcement hours after Inside Croydon had revealed plans to close the borough’s 12 public libraries.
The council decision came on the same day that the government ordered the closure of pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés, after its previous appeals for the public to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus had not been entirely successful.
Now, the Museum of Croydon and the buildings that house the CALAT adult education centres have also closed for what the council describes as “the foreseeable future”. The government had ordered the closure of all schools and colleges earlier in the week.
The council has also shut down its Access Croydon enquiry centre in the council headquarters building, Fisher’s Folly, with emergency queries and credit union emergencies the only exceptions. The DWP’s JobCentre Plus operation is moving its staff from Access Croydon into its other office next door in Mint Walk.
The closures represent a shift in council policy during the emergency, from offering some face-to-face contact to dealing with the public almost entirely online.
But Inside Croydon has been contacted by some living in sheltered housing to suggest that those who have no access to emails have had no contact from the local authority to advise them what services and additional help might be available during the covid-19 crisis.
It has also been suggested that the council sneaked out the announcement late on a Friday and tried to keep the news of its library and office closures under wraps, to avoid its staff being overwhelmed with residents arriving to make requests before the closure.
According to the council press release: “The council homepage now has a series of dedicated pages and links under a COVID-19 banner so residents can find out about how to get help from a range of council services during the restrictions, from advice on homelessness, welfare, council tax and help with utility bills. This will include updates on support for businesses.
“The council’s contact centre remains open via 020 8726 6000 between 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday. For separate phone numbers covering specific departments and services, visit the council website.”
The press release from the council was unusual in one respect, in that it did not include the smiling visage of some councillor or another, with a cheery quote, effectively to take the credit for this decision, nor did it attribute to any of the council’s six-figure salaried executive directors the responsibility for making these potentially life-saving decisions (albeit about a fortnight later than they might have done).
But the council’s increasing reliance on online communications are causing problems for some of the borough’s most vulnerable.
As one elderly Croydon resident contacted by Inside Croydon today said: “That’s no use to me or many pensioners like me at all. Have you tried to get through to the council by phone lately?
“I don’t have a computer or internet access, so unless you’d told me I will have seen none of this, and now the libraries are shut I can’t even use their computers to access all this supposed ‘help’ and ‘service’ that the council say they are offering online.
“People like me are feeling abandoned. I’ve had no information from the council since the emergency began, not a word, not a letter, nothing. I suppose my Council Tax is going up at the start of next month, though?”
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