EXCLUSIVE: The Town Hall leadership is spinning to giddying levels to pin the blame for the council’s parlous financial position on covid-19, the Tory government… indeed anyone but the people responsible: themselves.
But it is now emerging that the council started to make job cuts months before the pandemic lockdown, as STEVEN DOWNES reports
After working tirelessly for the past three months to help Croydon continue to deliver its regular services, and more, during the coronavirus crisis, next Monday around 175 council staff will be handed redundancy notices.
The move is part of Croydon Council’s response to the £62.7million black hole in its budget caused by extra spending and reduced income during the covid-19 lockdown.
The council’s £220,000 per year chief exec, Jo Negrini, wrote to staff earlier this week and confirmed that she will be seeking to make 15 per cent cuts.
Croydon and other local authorities have had to break the bank and bust their budgets to keep services running through the coronavirus emergency.
Since late May, Croydon has been undergoing an urgent financial review, conducted by outside auditors and finance directors, and – as exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon – is making the 15per cent cuts to its operations in order to make good the funding gap between what it spent during the first two months of the covid-19 lockdown and what it has received so far from government.
A fortnight ago, in an article published by the Local Government Chronicle, Negrini said, “This year has hugely affected all of our lives, but we have a plan to move forward. It’s built on the council, people and partners working together to make a difference.
“I know that Croydon will rise to the challenge. But we can’t do it alone – we and other local authorities need fair funding from central government.”
In the article, Negrini also let slip that her council had been making cuts since before covid-19 arrived in Britain.
“Despite their pledges in March, ministers have yet to fairly compensate us,” Negrini wrote.
“That said, local government was already underfunded before covid-19 and most councils had savings plans.”
And in her email to staff on Monday, as well as confirming the target of 15 per cent cuts, Negrini wrote that, “… we’ve been able to keep the numbers of potential staff cuts as low as possible,” because, she explained, “We’ve been working to save money through the recruitment and agency controls that have been in place for the last six months.”
Now Inside Croydon has confirmed that – with Croydon’s £1.5billion debt mountain, the biggest of any London borough – Negrini and her senior staff had actually begun the process of shedding staff and posts back in January, months before the capital was hit by the deadly virus.
By the end of the process, Croydon Council will have at least 400 fewer employees than began 2020 on the books at Fisher’s Folly, with that figure potentially approaching 500. Those numbers do not take into account the job losses elsewhere in the borough, such as the 80 casual staff who were laid off last month at the council-owned Fairfield Halls.
The cuts are having to be made as the council’s leadership comes to terms with the failures of its financial misadventures in property speculation.
Excluding those who work in schools, the council staff roll stood at around 3,600; in total, 56 per cent of the council’s spending is on staff.
Because of the different nature of some positions – full-time posts, part-time staff and agency staff – as well as a large number of unfilled vacancies, there is some imprecision over the numbers of staff likely to be let go. But council sources have today confirmed that it is expected that, over the course of this year, “the number of jobs cut could easily hit 500”.
Even after a decade of Tory austerity, it will be the biggest staff reduction Croydon Council has ever undergone.
One area where Negrini and the leadership are very concerned is in trying to avoid the cuts affecting a disproportionate number of the council’s BAME employees – which explains why in her memo to staff this week, the chief exec appealed for people to complete an equalities information form. “We use this data to monitor the impact of change and highlight if there is any difference for any equality group,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council, has been telling anyone gullible enough to believe him that the number of jobs being cut will be less than 200.
But this is only a partial picture, and amounts to deceit by omission.
Croydon is far from alone among local authorities struggling to make ends meet through the pandemic. But our council is the first to wield the axe, which insiders at Fisher’s Folly blame on the ill-advised levels of borrowing, some of it used for multi-million-pound property deals that have misfired, and they point to the relatively meagre levels of reserves, that stood at £10million before lockdown.
The council unions regard the job cuts as devastating.
“Having worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, local government workers should be praised and rewarded, not threatened with losing their jobs and livelihoods,” Helen Reynolds, the head of local government for the union Unison’s London region, told Inside Croydon today.
“Local councils have borne the brunt of a decade of spending cuts. The pandemic has meant extra responsibilities and a loss of income so many are in dire straits.
“But recent months have shown just how much everyone relies on public services. The government should be making extra resources available to local authorities, not forcing councils into a corner so they’re forced to shed jobs.”
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