CROYDON IN CRISIS: Libraries to close, refuse dumps to close, while elderly, disabled and mental health services are to be cut. Even buses for SEND schoolchildren face the axe. Yet the council’s ‘renewal plan’ will still spend £37m more in 2021-2022 than was budgeted in this disastrous year that has bankrupted the Town Hall.
STEVEN DOWNES reports
Council staff were still reeling this morning after yesterday’s departmental briefings and the release of the latest cost-cutting proposals, which many believe will require dozens, if not hundreds, of further redundancies on top of the 400 jobs that have been already axed this year at the bankrupt council.
This is the plan which Croydon is going to present to Whitehall in search of a bail-out loan – though whether the mandarins will be impressed with all the proposed cuts still coming up with an overall increase in spending of £36.96million in 2021-2022 remains to be seen.
The “renewal plans” are contained in one of a welter of documents going to tomorrow night’s Town Hall cabinet meeting to deal with the financial emergency at the council. The reports include PwC’s recommendations for loss-making house-builders Brick by Brick.
The renewal plan seeks to deal with the £66million overspend in this financial year which forced the council to issue a Section 114 notice and declare itself bankrupt. The 20-page appendix to the report includes page after page of red ink, as almost every department will face further cuts, some to be made all the way through until 2024.
The renewal plan has been prepared by Katherine Kerswell, the interim chief executive, although the “task and finish group” which worked on the proposals is headed by Sarah Hayward.
Hayward is the Blairite former council leader who was parachuted into Croydon last year, given a six-figure salary and put in charge of the borough’s new violence reduction team, an area of work for which she has no obvious experience or qualifications.
Perhaps it is just coincidence, but the “violence reduction management” is one of just a handful of council functions which is to get an increased budget during the next financial year.
Hayward is one of 18 council staff at director level or above, nearly all of whom are on salaries of £100,000 per year or more. Since the financial emergency hit Croydon in the Spring, there have been no redundancies or departures announced in connection with budget cuts in any of these high-level positions – the people who set their department budgets and promptly failed to keep to them.
Instead, there will be jobs axed and budgets cut across most of the council’s activities…
- Libraries could remain closed after the end of lockdown, with a plan to be brought forward to close some branches permanently (as predicted by Inside Croydon).
- One, if not two, of the council’s three refuse dumps will be closed down.
- Bulky waste items will no longer be collected as a free service to reduce fly-tipping.
- Croydon Works, the council’s work and training hub, won’t be working any longer and will be scrapped.
- The Museum of Croydon will be closed, potentially missing out on the “Borough of Culture” year in 2023.
- Special school buses for children with SEND – special educational needs or disabilities – will be withdrawn after this school year ends in July.
- In total, Early Help and Children’s Social Care will be expected to cut its budgets next year by £4.7million under the proposals. Social worker caseloads in children’s services – which in 2017 were so high that it led to Ofsted issuing an “Inadequate” report – will be allowed to rise again.
- In our parks, the grass will go uncut (“meadowing”, they call it) and there will be little, if any, planting of bedding plants (something which appears to have already been happening this year).
- Even statutory services are to suffer further cuts. The Health, Wellbeing and Adults department is to cut its budgets by £9.7million next year, with mental health, the disabled and provision for older people all taking significant hits.
One council worker told Inside Croydon this week, “I work in a statutory service and it has constantly been emphasised by Kerswell that although the council has to continue providing these services, they are going to do so at the ‘minimum possible level’. That’s a joke.
“That means less workers and more work. Mistakes will inevitably be made at some point and vulnerable people are going to suffer through no fault of their own.”
The council would like to spin their plan as “proposals for reshaping the council with a focus on delivering quality core services, balancing its budget and living within its means”.
In a statement issued yesterday, the propaganda department went into councilspeak overload when they said, “These savings underpin an improvement plan which will look to transform the council and embed sound financial management throughout the organisation, together with a culture of openness and transparency.”
The council says that it “will be fully consulting staff, partners and residents on all the proposals ahead of finalising next year’s budget in February”. And staff and residents are all very familiar with the way the council usually handles “consultation”.
“Subject to cabinet approval, Croydon will submit its renewal plans to the government as part of its bid for financial support,” the council said. “The council will need this support from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help stabilise its budget and allow time and space to make these changes.”
Hamida Ali, who took over as council leader last month when Tony Newman reluctantly resigned, has so far refused to respond to Inside Croydon’s offer of being interviewed.
In the statement issued by the council propaganda department yesterday she said, “Croydon is facing an unprecedented financial crisis and although we have taken some significant steps to address this, we need to do more. Our absolute priority is to balance our books, live within our means and offer the good value for money services our residents need and expect from us.
“From keeping our streets clean and safe to looking after our most vulnerable residents, our renewal plans set out how we will rebuild our council to deliver quality core services, where they matter most.
“To achieve this we will have to do less but do it better. That means we will need to make some tough choices now and concentrate our efforts on services that make the biggest difference for Croydon.
“We know some of these choices will be incredibly difficult and we are committed to working with our staff, partners and residents, keeping them informed and involved every step of the way.
“We will not be able to fix these problems overnight – this is going to be a long-term process and that’s why we want to be clear about what we need to do and the support we need to get there.
“Most importantly, we cannot do this alone. Croydon’s greatest strength lies in our community and partnerships. We want to work with all our staff, members, our partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors and residents, so that together we can deliver the services that Croydon residents need.”
- Click here for the appendix to the report to cabinet, with details of the proposed cuts under the “renewal plan”
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