CROYDON IN CRISIS: On crime figures, ‘some are going up, some are going down’, according to the newly elected leader of the council, who has failed in a legal duty to deliver a community safety plan. KEN LEE reports
Whichever Labour councillor is given the cabinet job in charge of “Safer Croydon” after Hamida Ali is formally confirmed as the council’s new leader on Thursday night will quickly realise that they’ve been handed a steaming turd – with their new boss having failed to deliver on a legal requirement of the job.
Croydon’s community safety plan expires this year, but there’s no replacement ready, as is required by law. Ali has only had three years to prepare the new plan…
On Monday night, she blamed the covid-19 pandemic for the delay.
As a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon: “That’s rubbish.”
Ali was selected as the new leader of Labour’s Town Hall group last Thursday. For now, and until she announces her own cabinet, she’s still doing her job in charge of “Safer Croydon and Communities”.
The council has a statutory responsibility to produce what is known as a Crime and Safety Strategy.
“Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as amended, responsible authorities are required to work together through Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which have, since 2010 been referred to as Community Safety Partnerships. The Safer Croydon Partnership (SCP) acts as the statutory Community Safety Partnership for Croydon.
“In this respect Section 6 requires responsible authorities to formulate and implement a Strategy for the reduction of crime and disorder in their area (including anti-social behaviour adversely affecting the local environment) and for combating the misuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances in the area. The SCP is responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of Croydon’s Community Safety Strategy.
“The partnership comprises police, council, fire, probation and health agencies, as well as businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations.”
The community safety plan for 2020-2023 should have been consulted on 12 months ago and published and approved by March this year, as was established practice with three previous plans.
But Ali told a cabinet meeting on Monday that, “We were really keen to do some really detailed engagement with some of the people most affected by the types of crime… we wanted a really thorough piece of engagement. That’s partly why we wanted to take our time.”
Ali’s excuse for not having a plan ready by March this year was, “We had to pause due to the pandemic.” Of course, Britain did not go into lockdown because of covid-19 until March 23 this year.
Ali was seeking cabinet approval to delay delivering the completed report by a further 12 months.
As her report states, “Since 1998, councils have been required to have a community safety partnership that oversees the development and delivery of a community safety plan or strategy. The strategy requires regular review and updating in light of evidence and trends in safety.
“The current community safety strategy runs from 2017 to 2020. Prior to covid, we were in the very early stages of developing the public collaboration needed to develop a new strategy. The pandemic and associated events meant that we have had to delay that work.
“We had originally hoped to be able to develop the strategy through autumn this year and spring next year, but it is now clear we will need to delay this work and therefore extend our current strategy to cover the full calendar year 2021.”
Ali told cabinet, “The act of recommending to full council that we extend the strategy does not mean we pause all work around community safety.”
Yet when asked to explain why this work had not been done, as in the past, routinely in the year before the report was due to be delivered, Ali failed to answer the question and offered another version of her previous platitudes.
As someone so keen to conduct detailed research for the new plan, Ali demonstrated an embarrassing lack of grasp around the detail of her brief. Tory councillor Robert Ward asked her whether she had the figures for the increase in violent crime since 2014.
Ali said she didn’t know. She waffled.
“Some are going up, some are going down,” was the best that she could do.
Unlike Ali, Ward had done his homework and already had the figures: violent crime in Croydon is up 64 per cent since 2014. Crime involving a weapon is up 49 per cent in the borough in the same six-year period.
“These are serious increases in crime over a prolonged period,” Ward said, “with a policy that doesn’t appear to be working. We should be changing things sooner rather than later.”
Andy Stranack, the Conservative opposition group’s shadow spokesman on crime and communities, flagged up what he sees as the real reason for Ali and the Labour-run council wanting to delay any new crime strategy: if the paper is not ready until early 2022, it will be held-back even further due to the purdah period before the next Town Hall elections.
Any new plan published between now and May 2022 is likely to highlight that since 2017, the council has not met any of its crime priorities, which it had listed as:
- Reduce the overall crime rate in Croydon
- Focus on violent crime and domestic abuse
- Improve the safety of children and young people
- Improve public confidence and community engagement
- Tackle anti-social behaviour and environmental crime
- Improve support and reduce vulnerability for all victims of crime
- Focus on hate crime
“Just another example of Labour failing Croydon,” is how Stranack described it.
Stranack had also found examples in the previous safety reports where whole sections had simply been cut and pasted by council officials, or that the previous edition of the report had not even been updated properly. Stranack said, “I’m concerned that the attitude to policy development is somewhat lazy.”
When this was put to her, Ali chose not to answer the question.
“Thank you for the opportunity to reaffirm this administration’s commitment to tackling violent crime in this borough,” an increasingly evasive Ali said.
The cutting and pasting, according to Ali, “by no means reflects the hard work that goes on”.
Ali was not the only one whose failure to do proper preparation for the meeting was exposed. In the absence of Tony Newman, now firmly consigned to the dustbin of history as council leader, chairing the meeting was his deputy, Alison Butler.
With her new group leader taking flak from a couple of Tory councillors, Butler stepped in with reassuring noises about what a fine job Ali was doing.
“Having looked at it,” Butler said, referring to the report asking for a 12-month extension on the already late review, “it’s a very thorough piece of work, so we’d congratulate Hamida on that.”
If Butler had really read it, she will have discovered that the “very thorough piece of work” is really just a flimsy set of excuses that runs to a whole… FIVE pages.
“I do know how seriously you take these issues,” was Butler’s additional platitudinous offer of support for Ali.
You don’t need to be a cabinet member of a crisis-hit council to be concerned at the crime rate in Croydon. In the council’s own 2019 strategic assessment of one of Ali’s initiatives, the “Violence Reduction Network”, it states matter-of-factly: “Croydon has seen crime rise year-on-year in the last three years with violence representing the largest proportion of all crime in the borough at almost 30 per cent.
“Violence has reflected this year-on-year increase with a 7 per cent increase in 2019 compared to 2018 and a 12 per cent increase in 2019 compared to two years before. It has been the second-highest borough in London for the number of violent offences in the last three years.”
Part of Ali’s difficulty in even delivering on the paperwork of her cabinet post, never mind coming up with a way of reducing crime levels, may lay with the senior council directors she has been working with.
Shifa Mustafridaysoff, the exec director of place, was at the meeting on Monday night, but had absolutely nothing to say about how she and her colleagues had failed to deliver a routine plan.
As it was a “virtual” meeting, it is impossible to report with certainty, but it seems that Sarah Hayward didn’t even bother to log-in to the cabinet meeting.
Hayward was hired last year with specific responsibility for Croydon’s violence reduction network, and therefore is also responsible for the community safety plan.
Hayward has no previous experience of tackling crime, violent or otherwise, though she did use to be a Blairite council leader in Camden who was in need of a six-figure job. Croydon kindly provided her with such an opportunity.
Croydon wants to adopt a public health approach to violence reduction, as has been successfully trialled in Glasgow. The difference there was that the people running the programme in Glasgow are generally ex-police and probation officers, many with decades of experience working in their communities.
It’s hard to perceive any impact Hayward has made since her arrival at Fisher’s Folly. But going by this week’s performance, at least she’s shown herself to be quick to adapt to local practices, by blaming coronavirus for all shortcomings.
Hamida Ali has failed to respond to invitations to be interviewed by Inside Croydon.
- Click here for Croydon’s 2011-2014 crime and safety strategy document
- Click here for Croydon’s 2014-2017 crime and safety strategy document
- Click here for Croydon’s 2017-2020 crime and safety strategy document
- Click here for the report to Monday night’s cabinet meeting seeking to delay publication of the 2020-2023 crime and safety strategy, or what Alison Butler called ‘a thorough piece of work’
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