Bankrupt borough could be left counting the cost of neglect

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Dangerously potholed roads, understaffed adult services, poorly maintained pavements… Many of the borough’s services were already badly run-down before the council’s financial collapse. TERRY McCARTHY believes there is real risk of the Town Hall incurring massive claims for compensation for its failure to fulfil many basic services

Litter-strewn streets and footpaths, like this between the Quest Academy and their playing fields, are too common a sight in Croydon

Inside Croydon has been forthright in exposing the sheer incompetence of Croydon Council. But is this the whole story?

We now know that the overall debt is in excess of £1.5billion and the forecast budget shortfall for the current financial year will exceed £60million.

However, a quick look round Croydon makes me wonder if this is anywhere near the true debt of the borough.

The state of many of Croydon’s streets are dreadful, with dangerous potholes on many main roads. The cost of these repairs must be huge, and many of the necessary works have been delayed, perhaps because of the council’s huge budget overrun.

Many of these are roads used by cyclists and represent a huge danger: some of the potholes are large enough to cause a serious accident and one can but wonder what legal recourse a cyclist involved in an accident would have against the council. This could possibly add even millions to the council’s financial obligations.

The busy dual carriageway on Gravel Hill is in dire need of resurfacing

I saw a “Street Champion” working on Shirley Hills Road last week. I have walked these roads a lot since lockdown and the amount of litter left on the street has been dreadful. The volunteer Street Champion had filled at least six large bags of litter. He did a cracking job.

There are many parts of the Borough that are awash with litter. Take a walk from the Gravel Hill tram stop past Red Gates School towards the Quest Academy and walk the footpath beside the school. It is a total disgrace to any civilised society. How much will this and similar litter-strewn areas of the borough cost to clear up?

A quick look round the borough also shows that many pavements are in a poor state, or have hedges overgrowing them or poorly maintained verges belonging to the council. Could accidents here result in claims for compensation?

Meanwhile, the council’s adult social services were reportedly understaffed before, during and after Christmas, with many messages requesting urgent attention left unanswered. If a death occurred as a result of inaction or neglect, again the council be liable for potential damages.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg of costs that need to be covered by the council but have not been recognised by those responsible for analysing the financial downfall of this Council.

These examples carry the risk of potential legal claims on the council. Can they really be ignored when seeking a financial solution to the borough’s woes?

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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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16 Responses to Bankrupt borough could be left counting the cost of neglect

  1. Graham Bradley says:

    It seems as if there is no money left at all now to fix anything large or small in the borough after taking staff salaries and pensions as well as future redundancy payments into account.

  2. Maverick says:

    It’s with no great surprise the state of the public highways, just look who the Director is running this department.

    When I worked at the Council we had an Engineer who was ahead of the game, he tried to bring new methods of highways maintenance to the council which were cheaper and up to date. This was even picked up by the BBC who interviewed him on the news, and it even featured a new method of repairing potholes which used recycled asphalt.

    Unfortunately, like all good engineers, he left the council.

  3. CentralCroydon says:

    Meanwhile don’t forget Veolia are still paid to clear litter as part of their contract. They obviously choose not to as there is no enforcement of the contract. Perhaps someone can remind me who is in charge of the refuse and street cleaning contract. Steve someone. Perhaps he would like to respond why Veolia aren’t doing what they are paid for.

  4. Joe Clark says:

    Central Croydon, i can remind you, it’s Steve Teflon Iles, he messes absolutely everything up he is in charge of, yet “nothing sticks”. He just carries on in his position regardless, making more disasters for the borough. The roads and footpaths in the borough are an absolute disgrace, and don’t listen to the “there is no money to fix them excuse”, this has been the case for the last couple of years. The repairs that are carried out are cowboy repairs, i see the same potholes back again within weeks of the so called “repair”. There is obviously no supervision or quality assurance inspection of these “repairs”. Don’t expect anything to change any time soon with the current waste and highway management in place.

  5. Jay Beck says:

    When will this individual be held to account and removed from his post? It seems to be one disaster after another does it not? What is Katherine Kerswell’s view on this department, will she or Shifa Mustapha break their silence and offer the residents some sort of explanation? The silence on this guy is deafening, again it shows the utter contempt that the council leadership team have for the residents (tax payers) of Croydon. Why on earth should we carry on paying our council tax that is supposed to cover these services, which are clearly not being delivered?

  6. Lewis White says:

    I must rally to Croydon’s defence!

    Over the last 15 or more years of living in Coulsdon, after living just over the border in Surrey, as a car driver, cyclist and pedestrian, In my observation the standards of highway maintenance are definitely much higher in Croydon than in adjoining areas of Surrey.

    A year or so ago, Conways, Croydon’s road surafcing contractor, resurfaced a long section of a nearby road, doing a really good job.

    In my local area, although it takes some time, the potholes get marked up quickly, and repaired to a good standard within a reasonable timescale.

    I fear that the standard will go down now, with Croydon’s budget crisis.

    My other point, which I would want to make very strongly, is that most Councils’ budget allocations from Central Government have been reduced year on year for decades.

    Thuis has led to each Council’s funding for highway maintenace, litter picking, parks, leisure centres, etc etec etc being cut, cut and more deeply cut, every year of probably the past two decades.

    There is no “magic money tree” as a recent Prime Minister rightly said, but her predecessor and his chancellor ran a regime of “austerity” that might well have saved money, but resulted in our roads crumbling, our grass verges not being cut, the streets becoming more littered, and the decline — and eventual death– of a host of good and well-delivered local authroty services, by a thousand cuts.

    Perhaps social services should be taken out of local authority control, as they are really “health “, to let local councils get on with Planning, Parks, Roads, Recycling and Refuse and other unchanging needs. Education or much of its spending power has really been taken away already.

    We might be the 5th richest nation on Earth, but who is enjoying all that money?. Not the average Joe Soap of Croydon. But we need to be taxing everyone fairly, and that includes the likes of Amazon, Starbucks and individuals who are skilled at employing the best tax evasion…sorry..”avoidance” ….lawyers.

    • Billy James says:

      Maybe you need to take a walk along some paths or drive along some roads in the Croydon North area and come back with your observations…

      Tendering out services just does not work and never will without staff monitoring the contract they are afterall just interested in the money they are businesses and only interested in profit and shareholders unfortunately they are not interested in providing a good service and this is especially the case with Veolia who cut corners to meet the contract obligations.

      • Jay Beck says:

        Hear hear Billy James.

      • Lewis White says:

        The theory (unproven) is that external contractors work more effectively, so that the company performs the service to a good standard, but making a profit for owners (and shareholders in the case of the large contractors).

        The problem is that councils need to employ enough street inspectors to identify and mark up defective footway areas and potholes, and ensure that the time from inspection and issuing of an order to time of repair is reasonably short–and that the job is done properly.

        Plus the other key thing– to have enough money to repair all the identified areas.

        Most boroughs used to have a direct works organisation to do some of the repairs, but do the bigger works (notably the resurfacing of roads) by contractors who would tender in competition for the projects.

        Over the years, the number of contractors has dropped, as big swallows small, and the use of 5 or even 10 year contracts with one lucky contractor has increased.

        In my view, this is unhealthy. There is a balance to be made between tendering everything every year and having super contracts lasting years and years

        The number of council technical staff has dwindled, particularly with invaluable practical “on the tools” experience.

        The other problem is that we, the public have got so used to non-existent or slow delivery of local authority services, that we just expect it.

        Getting through to anyone in authority is nigh-on impossible now, due to tradtional switch boards being closed down and replaced with “help centres” which sometimes are good, but often, a distancing tactic to repel the public who want to talk direct to a council officer.

        I blame both money available to councils (cut and cut), and cultural deficits in some councils.

        Even so, I have no hesitation in saying that Councils are full of hard working, effective and caring staff at all levels.

  7. Patrick Smith says:

    This often happens in Ireland in relation to public buildings as well.

    Are the pay outs for compensation like this in the UK as high? There’s a review of compensation awarding currently being undertaken by the Irish judiciary.

  8. Ian Ross says:

    The only way to ensure roads and pavements are maintained to an appropriate standard is to have legally enforceable standards and ring-fenced funding.
    As regards the levels of litter, this is a product of an increasing level of antisocial behaviour and lack of respect. I strongly favour a Singaporean approach: harsh punishment. Singapore’s the cleanest place I’ve been and doesn’t need an army of cleaners.

  9. Lewis White says:

    I think that Ian has importantly highlighted the need for respect by the individual.

    We are in a different society from Singapore, and sadly, the UK seem to have been big litterers for over 100 years, judging by some newsreel film footage I saw of London in the 1920’s with people in a London street with litter blowing around of the magnitude I have never seen in my lifetime (so far !)

    What actually works to get people to not drop litter in the street , or dump rubbish out of their car window, or fly tip ?.

    To my mind, if children are brought up to love the environment and wildlife, by parents or family members, and at school, the child will become an adult who cares. Children will make the connection between litter and dying whales as a result of plastic ingestion for example–so one hopes that efforts by schools and charities like Surfers against Sewage, and of course, parents and family, will pay off, and result in children growing into adults who think, care, and asa result do not discard litter or throw away recyclaeables.

    Fines can work to discourage the career flytipper — and Croydon under Cllr Stuart Collins has made some really good work in getting fly tippers fined and vehicles confiscated.

    I am not in favour, however, of fining someone for dropping a cigarette end, but am in favour of fines for people who drop takeaways out of their car windows, amongst other anti-social littering acts. But how many people who drop this type of litter care ? It is getting them to care that counts.

    With regard to Ian’s other point, on highway maintenance, I would agree that we need some nationwide standards. Currently, every council Highways Authrority seems to have their own policies on waht is or is not acceptable.

    For example of a real safety hazard, that is denied as being their responsibility, Surrey County Council (SCC) has a really bad policy when it comes to rural roads without kerbs, where they generally refuse to fill in the water-scoured erosion channels that develop right next to the tarmac, as a result of wider and wider vehicles eroding the roadside banks. I know of many where the scoured area has deepened over years to 6 ” or even as much foot deep (15 to 30 cms) and have reported them, but the council has failed to fill some of them in. They are in denial that it is the highway. In reality, they are badly wrong, as it is their Legal duty of care to the roaduser to provide a safe highway environment. The highway is not just the tarmac road crust, it includes the edges. The highway is a legal concept as well as a surface.

    The well-off, high up in their 4 wheel drives which are built like tanks, and have big wheels are unlikely to lose a wheel, if their wheel goes down into a 6″ deep trench, but it is a totally different situation for the driver of a small car, low down and with a poorer view of the road, who would be liley to suffer a dmaged or lost wheel, or broken suspension, or become an insurance write-off, if they run off the edge (eg when forced to do so by a larger vehicle coming the other way) or at night on a dark country road . A written-off small car can be a total disaster for the owner who is likely to be less well off. The poorer always suffer. It is really unfair.

    As a result of Ian’s point, I am not only going to re-report these particular potential accident spots to SCC, but will write to my Croydon MP and the MP in Surrey, and ask both of them to ask the Minister for transport to bring in National standards for highway repairs. Yet another “Citizen action” to do, drawing attention to something that Government should be doing anyway.

    Finally– huge “Good” on that Street Champion in Shirley, picking the litter ! It should not be necessary, but that shows real care. Love for the environment and fellow citizens.. Thanks !

    • Ian Ross says:

      Lewis, thanks for your positive comments. As you will have gathered I find littering in all forms abhorrent. The assumption that litter will magically disappear seems to be the attitude or that litter doesn’t bother some people staggers me.
      It’s a small thing to expect people to care about their environment and a matter of respect for fellow human beings. I use the example of Singapore to illustrate what can be achieved. A discarded cigarette end may be small but when there are piles of them around a favourite smoking spot the result is unpleasant.
      As I have learned over the years, attitudes and behaviour start in the home. School has a major part to play too. Both are drastically failing.
      Good luck with SCC. Couldn’t agree more.

  10. Sarah Gordon says:

    I REALLY hope that some of the littering culprits have read these comments. I litter picked forensically for 3 months early on last year but gave up from sheer anger and disillusion from the daily replenishment of litter in my local park. With lockdowns and warmer weather came larger groups and more and more mess often from the same groups of people. The lack of respect in Croydon is beyond measure and I can only hope for a miracle that will turn the tide of all types of littering…INCLUDING LEAVING ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF BREAD AND OTHER FOOD OUT FOR THE BIRDS!!! Even if people don’t care for dogs, I would ask them to understand that even a small piece of food dropped on the ground can have fatal consequences. Even when kept on a lead a canny scavenger will seek out and devour a bone or any other food detritus in seconds. I often think…if we’re not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Another reason I gave up was because there weren’t more people taking part. Let’s all do our bit wherever we live and we’ll all be happier.

    • Ian Ross says:

      Good for you, Sarah. In Crystal Palace park, Bromley Council would periodically place large bins which would be used. When they didn’t, litter was left to be blown around or picked over by birds.
      Give people the means to keep the parks tidy and you have a hope.

  11. Eric says:

    I have seen a massive spike in waste removal requests in the Croydon area. I’m assuming its because the council is not providing the necessary services, such as other council even offer free collections for bulky items. Its a shame, I hope Croydon sorts itself out as I grew up here.

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