The cuts: Fisher’s Folly to be sold and 3-weekly bin collections

Croydon’s Council Tax-payers can expect even less service for their money

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The problem facing Croydon Council as it seeks to balance its books is that, after a decade of Tory austerity, there’s precious little left to cut. STEVEN DOWNES reports

The frustration with the slow pace of progress over the council efforts to reduce the authority’s spending was clear in the memo from chief executive Katherine Kerswell to staff on Wednesday and the report from Lisa Taylor, the chief finance officer, that accompanied her Section 114 notice which declared the council bankrupt.

“Too many of us are still operating like business as usual and are not facing up to our new reality that we are actually in a financial crisis,” Kerswell said.

“I am still not seeing an organisation that is taking the necessary radical decisions to stop all but essential expenditure,” Taylor wrote.

“We have not been able to identify enough savings proposals for this year and next that will help us balance the budget,” Kerswell told staff.

And there’s the rub.

Because after more than 10 years of cutbacks in local authority grants and spending (remember, the global stockmarket crash of 2008 began this whole erosive process to local services), there’s precious little left on the bones of council services left to cut.

Fisher’s Folly: the £150m council offices could be put up for sale for as little as £30m

When he was the council’s deputy CEO and finance chief, Nathan Elvery (hardly a local government officer with a blemish-free record), after applying the latest round of job cuts to frontline workers would boast proudly that, “Efficiency is in our DNA”. Yes, his staff confirmed, he is a prize twat.

Since Elvery left Croydon in 2016, there has only been further cut-backs in most – though not all – of the council’s operations.

The borough’s schools, through the privatisation-by-stealth policy of academisation, have mostly been outsourced. The refuse collection service is run by contractors. As are its leisure services. There’s barely any council staff deployed at Fisher’s Folly to answer the phones to public enquiries any longer.

Under the provisions of the S114, statutory services, those which a council must provide by law, are protected. But there’s a well-placed fear that even some of those will not be immune from the reduced budgets that are coming.

Council staff are braced for the worst. After a process over the summer which “erased” more than 400 posts and required some compulsory redundancies, they have been told to expect a further “reorganisation”, meaning more job cuts, in a report by the end of this month.

Grant Thornton, the auditors, in their Report in the Public Interest, were critical of the council’s failure to get spending on children’s services under control. After Ofsted inspectors in 2017 declared Croydon’s children’s services as “Inadequate” and a danger to some of those vulnerable youngsters in its care, an extra £30million was found to throw at the problem.

To some extent, that strategy worked.

Eventually, in March this year, Croydon’s children’s services were rated “Good”. Social workers had been recruited, some expensively so through agencies, and caseloads which by 2017 had reached more than 20 had been reduced to a more manageable 12 cases per staff member.

Alisa Flemming: oversaw Ofsted failure that resulted in extra £30m being spent on children’s servives

But after cut-backs which started to be implemented in January this year (before Croydon was hit by the cost of coronavirus), workloads in that department have begun to creep up. Last month, Alisa Flemming, the Labour cabinet member who oversaw the disastrous and costly Ofsted report, admitted that social workers’ caseloads in children’s services had already increased by 25 per cent.

Children’s services is a statutory service which even our bankrupt council must provide. It is just that the demand placed on this service, and also on the borough’s adult services, always appears to outstrip the resources available to the Town Hall to deal with them.

Croydon is funded by central government as an outer London borough. Yet figures show that it has many of the deprivation issues, and demands, of an inner London borough.

Cross the street from Norbury into Lambeth these days, and you actually enter a less deprived borough than Croydon. Yet the government hands £210 more funding per person to Lambeth Council each year than to Croydon – a difference of £77million per annum.

And it is the difference between having to issue a Section 114 notice and not.

The 2019-2020 table shows Croydon the 20th of 32 London boroughs when it comes to government grants. Yet the borough has greater deprivation than Lambeth and Wandsworth

“The funding system for local government is broken and the government enjoys playing with it,” said Timothy Godfrey, who until 2018 was a member of Tony Newman’s council cabinet in Croydon.

Croydon’s darker blue-green shows it as more deprived than all its neighbours except Southwark, an inner London borough

In total, since 2010, Croydon has lost 76 per cent of its central government funding.

“It has been set up to fail,” Andrew Fisher, Jeremy Corbyn’s one-time adviser and a South Norwood resident, tweeted this week.

“This austerity was a political choice,” Fisher said. “At the same time as cutting council budgets, the Tory government gave away billions of pounds in tax cuts to the richest and corporations.

“It meant huge cuts to social care, children’s services, libraries and weekly bin collections (remember those?).”

Now, having had part of the hole dug for them (the rest having been scooped out by a JCB driven by Brick by Brick’s Colm Lacey), Croydon needs to find a way out. And it is clear from this week’s messaging, that is not going to be easy.

There is a real risk that, if budgets for children’s or adult services are stripped back any further, those staff left will be overwhelmed and left unable to cope, as happened before Ofsted came calling three years ago. The whole sorry cycle could just be repeated.

Already, the council’s award-winning Gateway service, which dealt with housing provision and homelessness in the borough, has been cut-back in the first round of “reorganisation” over the summer to the point where it is almost non-existent.

How 10 years of Tory (and LibDem) austerity policies have reduced Croydon’s annual grant

Parks – not a statutory service – were recently taken back into council control, but with only a skeleton department. There’s been no new bedding plants in many of the borough’s parks for months, and most of the staff who are hired on temporary contracts will be laid off over the winter with no guarantee that there will be any work for them come next Spring.

Two-thirds of the borough’s public libraries – which are a statutory service – have been shut since the first lockdown in March. The council now says it cannot afford to reopen those which have been shut; the possibility that some library sites could be sold off for redevelopment – as the Labour council has considered previously – cannot be ruled out.

Sources in Fisher’s Folly say that as well as putting remaining staff on four day weeks – and so cutting their wages by 20 per cent – one other cost-cutting measure being given serious consideration is reducing the frequency of residents’ bin collections from once every two weeks to three weeks.

Katherine Kerswell: what is left to cut by the interim CEO?

Rubbish contractors Veolia say that they have been collecting more refuse than ever around the borough and so recently were awarded a contract increase. A move to three-weekly bin collections could reduce that multi-million-pound bill by around one-third. Expect there to be some lame justification about us all recycling more and so not needing collections as frequently any longer.

And then there’s Fisher’s Folly itself.

The cost of the vastly over-priced building, at £150million, has been sitting on the council’s balance sheet like a cold turd since the previous Tory regime allowed John Laing to make their handsome profits. Three floors are already occupied by corporate lodgers in an effort to raise some revenue, but Council Tax-payers have had to fund the interest payments on the building for almost a decade.

When Northamptonshire issued their S114 in 2018, one of the first money-making measures they took was the sale of the council offices, which were promptly leased back for council use. That is being looked at by Croydon, though with two huge snags.

First, the council is unlikely to realise much more than £30million for their prized asset, and that’s even if the commercial property market was stable. But that reckons without covid-19, and a “new normal” with millions of people working from home. Most commercial organisations are seriously reviewing whether they will ever again need large-scale office space.

Finding a buyer for one slightly soiled glass palace in the centre of run-down central Croydon could be a challenge that is beyond even Katherine Kerswell.

Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: What is a S114 notice? What will it mean for the council?

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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11 Responses to The cuts: Fisher’s Folly to be sold and 3-weekly bin collections

  1. Hans Mien says:

    The cynic in me at the back of my mind thought this may have been done by design. In the name of sustainable development which actually means unsustainable development. This exact pattern of building and development can be seen globally. Check out the US and Australia. Next there will be one big Council covering large areas and local needs will become insignificant in a big pot of ‘the big society’. AKA – we are in this all together. Lets see how this all plays out and look out for 2030 as that is the target year for check mate!

  2. Lewis White says:

    We are indebted (no pun intended!) to Inside Croydon, for publishing the chart showing that the Board of Guardians of Westminster, with uncountable numbers of indigent peasantry living in the shadow of the local Abbey and in hovels adjacent to the nearby Royal Parks, have had to make do with a measly £508 per peasant per annum in their area, but that the Burghers of Croydon, home of so many Gentrifical millionaires, Russian oligarchical billionaires, and Arab oiligarchical gazillionaires, a totally excessive £ 247 !! Enough for featherbeds for everyone from Norwood to New Addington, and Selsdon to Waddon and Couldson !

    It is clear that all the Labour councillors of the latter borough Croydon (but a small area of this great capital city of the 8th richest country on Earth) should be personally surcharged in order to claw back all of the money that they have recklessly allocated to enterprises that they naively believed could create wealth that they could use to help all the neediest inhabiatnts of this Southern area of the capital.

    Under the benign administration of my forthcoming Elected Mayoral regime, a new wind of change will blow through the empty throughfare of Katharine Street, and in through the doors of the “Old Town Hall” and the adjacent council offices.

    It will be called “Austerity” !

    All the bureaucrats, jobsworths and pen pushers swilling their buckets of tea and coffee will be forced to work in chain gangs at traditional wooden “gally benches” instead of “orthopaedic- happy chairs”. Their “hot desks” which will become cold desks, nailed together, and the central heating will be turned down to 12 degrees, so that they work harder, and run to the photocopier, instead of walking and chatting with colleagues. Employment contracts printed on paper worth more than their daily salary, will stipulate toilet breaks of a very generous 2.75 minutes (incuding travel time) .

    The architectural carbuncle next door, the “Looking Glass House” will be renamed “The House of Cards” and subsequently, when my new “Pleasant Tax” (which will be imposed on every Croydon peasant earning less than £35,00 per annum) has re-filled the coffers in the municipal treasure house, it will be rebuilt, as an ironic 1/3 rd scale Beddington Incinerator, brick by award-winning brick, to a design by innovative, cutting-edge architects Stasi Negrini F.R.I.B.A. to become a state of the art industrial and hi-tech employment centre, to be known as “The Croydon Workhouse” , which will be opened at an exclusive champagne gala reception attended by the glitterati of Croydon Masonic and Golf Course society. Guest of Honour — well, I don’t think you will be disappointed, but sadly I can’t yet reveal this until tedious “equal opportunity recruitment” procedures have been gone through. Hint – he is available by public demand (in West Sussex) and will be paid £400,000 per annum!

    Yes, a much-loved colourful character from the great days of Croydon’s Municipal Past.
    (extra hint- Think of a slippery creature that lives in wet places (no–not a leech !!)

    Watch this space !! But be warned, once my benevolent regime has its hand-made Italian luxury leather-shod feet under the 1-man executive boardroom table, all readers of Inside Croydon will be personally traced through a new App, and will be contacted for re-orientation training and mental health adjustment by the new Town Hall security team, Dalekco.

    You have been warned !!

    With Kindness,
    Your future Mayor

  3. John Harvey says:

    There are opportunities for offloading excess council offices in Croydon.

    The Government’s levelling up policy calls for moving civil servants out of central London and into the provinces

    Croydon should promote the idea of two-stage moves. First to areas such as Croydon with capacity and transport to ease the move. The vacated properties could them be sold to finance the permanent move

    A few years ago the Land Registry relocated its headquarters from the corner of Lincolns Inn Fields to Croydon. LR knows a bit about property and standing up to governments. It fought off Osbourne’s passion for privatising it – twice.

    LBC should try to forge a relationship with LR as a relocation success story.

    • In truth Croydon – the area, not the council – has already had some success in this regard.

      One of the council’s lodgers in Fisher’s Folly is the DWP.

      And there is now a huge HMRC office next to East Croydon Station. Nothing to do with the council, you won’t be surprised to hear, but the work of Stanhope and Schorders, the patient developers at Ruskin Square – developers who long ago chose to have as little to do with the ham-fisted local authority as they could possibly manage.

  4. I don’t understand why Kerswell is having to remind council staff that they need to stop spending as if there was no financial crisis?

    They are employed by the council and should do what the CEO asks.

    Clearly, remnants of Newman and Negrini’s ‘Who gives a shit, it’s public money, let’s spend it” remains in the council. Until that’s rooted out, there’ll be no recovery.

    • Realise that’s your chosen narrative, Seb, but there is an imbalance here between the demand for public services – particularly children’s and adult – and the available budgets. It might have been useful had Ms Kerswell offered some examples of what she regards as the more egregious spending and growth submissions. But if it is simply having enough money to run the children’s services department, then there are serious problems awaiting us all down the line.

  5. Pedro says:

    Croydon is in trouble. You can’t tell a politician from a businessman and while a few profit the vast majority pays the bill. We need a renewal in moral values as a society.

  6. Carol Brain says:

    Don’t they need our rubbish for the Beddington Incinerator?

  7. Billy James says:

    Who exactly had the bright idea of increasing Veolia’s payments.

    They are absolutely useless at emptying bins and if the Council were monitoring them properly on the work they supposedly undertake in the contract specifications they would end up paying Croydon back for the poor service they provide..

  8. Dave Tomlinson says:

    I’ve often wondered why Fishers Folly was built in the first place. I know it was sold to us on the pretence of it being so much more user friendly and cost efficient to run and maintain blah blah blah. That being the case though, why did LB Croydon spend an absolute fortune refurbishing Taberner House ‘to make it more efficient and user friendly’, just a couple of years before Fishers Folly was started. Has the cost of that refurb ever been published?

    • Good points, Dave.
      Much of this went on either before or just as Inside Croydon was first being published. The arrangements agreed between the then Tory-run council and Laings were never divulged, prompting one local politician to promise to “Blow the books open” if they ever took control of the Town Hall.
      That politician was Tony Newman. It was the first of many promises he would break, and one of the many mistakes of his own administration.

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