Croydon’s Labour council leader could be in for a stormy few months.
By KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter
Croydon Town Hall’s unions have called on the council leader, Tony Newman, to step in to halt the hundreds of job cuts being imposed, as the cash-strapped council struggles to plug the £62million hole in its budget caused by dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
The unions have also informally surveyed their members to ask whether they are prepared to take strike action against the cuts.
In the letter from Unison union officials to Newman, they say that “such severe cuts at this time are ill-considered”.
The letter told Newman, “Staff should be praised and rewarded, not hit with losing their jobs and livelihoods. It is of profound concern to our members and to your constituents that a Labour-led council is embarking upon cuts of this scale in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.”
But Newman and his Labour councillor colleagues have so far failed to condemn the job cuts, which are being imposed largely on some of the lowest-paid council staff, many of whom worked throughout the lockdown period to maintain services to the borough’s vulnerable.
As well as having the Town Hall financial crisis, Croydon remains in the middle of the global covid-19 emergency. Yet Newman – who receives £53,000 per year in council allowances – has failed to call any special full meetings of the council to thrash out any solutions to the borough’s mounting problems.
The last council meeting of the borough’s 70 councillors was held on July 13. The next meeting is not due to take place until October 12 – a gap of three months.
By the time part-timer Newman and the rest of the borough’s councillors’ next full meeting, hundreds of council staff could have been made redundant – and that’s on top of the 150 full- and part-time posts axed at the council-owned Fairfield Halls and the 92 jobs lost when the Croydon Park Hotel, also owned by the council, closed.
As first reported by Inside Croydon, council chief exec Jo Negrini is seeking to make 15 per cent cuts across her debt-ridden council, which could amount to up to 500 posts. Some union officials estimate that in some departments, as many as 1-in-4 jobs could be under threat.
The statutory 45-day consultation is due to expire next week, on August 21, but Unison, as well as the GMB and Unite unions, are calling for the consultation period to be extended.
The Unison letter to Newman was signed by Louisa O’Hara, the union’s regional organiser, and branch secretary Yvonne Green.
They wrote, “Unison understands that 410 jobs will be lost at Croydon Council… Unison does not accept that these redundancies are necessary; Unison believes that proposals to implement such severe cuts at this time are ill-considered.
“As restrictions ease and life begins to return to some sense of normality, committed staff, who worked tirelessly for Croydon Council and the people of Croydon during a global pandemic, have been plunged into further uncertainty and fear for the future.
“Staff should be praised and rewarded, not hit with losing their jobs and livelihoods. It is of profound concern to our members and to your constituents that a Labour-led council is embarking upon cuts of this scale in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
“The Croydon Labour Party manifesto boasts of your pride at protecting Croydon from the government’s cuts to public services. Implementing these cuts would undermine the platform upon which constituents elected Labour councillors.
“Croydon Council should be doing more to hold central government to account and demand that adequate funding is provided.”
The letter concluded with an appeal “to hold off on making such irreversible cuts until the funding situation is more clear”.
The three largest Town Hall unions – Unison, Unite and the GMB – are planning a socially distanced protest in what remains of Queen’s Gardens, outside the Town Hall from noon next Tuesday (Aug 18), just days before the formal consultation period ends.
Unison is also conducting its own staff survey, testing its members’ attitudes to the manner in which the redundancies are being carried out. There is growing anger among frontline workers that it is their jobs which are facing the axe, while Negrini – salary £220,000-plus per year – has maintained that she will not be taking any pay cut or asking her others execs to do likewise.
This is in addition to a public petition which calls on “… Croydon Council, as a matter of urgency, to extend its consultation on mass redundancies in order to preserve jobs and protect frontline services, during the coronavirus health and economic crisis”.
The petitioners state that, “Around 450 jobs are at risk at the council, meaning 15 per cent could be cut. In some departments, this figure could be as high as 25 per cent…
“Many council employees are raising significant concerns that staff who remain will be left with unmanageable workloads and that this will inevitably result in much poorer frontline services for residents in Croydon.”
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