CROYDON IN CRISIS: Following a promise from a Labour cabinet member, volunteers are still waiting for permission to allow children to play on the streets where they live
Despite assurances from senior council officials that there would be no road blocks to play streets going ahead in the borough during London’s “Summer of Play”, volunteer neighbourhood organisers say that even though the threat of charges have been dropped, they continue to encounter administrative delays from Fisher’s Folly.
“No one at the council seems to want to take responsibility for signing off the road closures,” one of the organisers told Inside Croydon today.
The charity Play London emailed Croydon’s volunteer organisers with details of who they needed to contact at the council in order to get the permits and paperwork in order.
The charity had to take on this task for Croydon residents because the council failed – or refused – to do so. Even so, by the middle of this week, the council had still yet to identify the named official who would be a point of contact for the dozen or so play street organisers around the borough.
On Wednesday, July 14, with the long summer school holidays looming – and after six months of delays and waiting – the first play street in Croydon received notice that their application has been given the go-ahead.
Several other organisers received automated emails from the council’s “children and families partnership department”, in response to emails that they had sent back in January. The council’s long-delayed automated response stated, “Apologies, this mailbox has previously not been being monitored, but will now be monitored daily.”
Volunteers understand that the lack of response to their emails had been caused by the wide-ranging redundancies at the council, with no one assigned to this task any longer, until the matter became one of public controversy last month.
Following Inside Croydon’s report on officials at the cash-strapped council trying to levy a £195 charge – plus VAT, of course – on play street organisers, Muhammad Ali, the cabinet member responsible, stepped in to assure residents.
“In response to various queries about play streets, I would like to clarify that [Croydon Council] has always supported play street events and will continue to support anyone who wants to organise a play street without any charges,” the councillor tweeted.
Play street organisers breathed a collective sigh of relief.
He told one organiser directly: “We have not charged anyone applying to hold a play street event, and the council will continue to support these applications without any charges.”
But the councillor’s assurances that he had known nothing of the attempt by council officials to squeeze more cash out of community volunteers might be regarded as somewhat disingenuous.
On June 2, Councillor Ali had been copied into a council official’s email, which Inside Croydon has seen, that stated quite clearly, “I have now received that information and can confirm that the charge for play street Traffic Orders will be £195+VAT (£234.00), which is the same charge we apply to charities which request a Traffic Order for an event.”
Despite receiving this email, Ali took no action until after the Inside Croydon report.
“He’s rather contemptuously reacted as though it was all a fabrication,” one community volunteer said.
“The only reason he was able to say that the council hadn’t charged any organisers was because, unsurprisingly, after being notified there was now a charge, they withdrew their application,” a play street organiser said.
As organisers continued to try to liaise with council staff, they were informed by the councillor, “Officers are in the process of updating the play street policy/guidance on our website to better align it to London Play guidance. A council officer will be in touch to respond to your request in due time.”
This came nine months after key members of staff were made redundant from the department.
Of course, he’s not the first councillor to claim ignorance to events: Hamida Ali, the leader of the council, also tried the “Nuffink to do with me, Guv” defence when the appalling conditions in council flats at Regina Road came to light. Until, that is, evidence emerged that she had been copied into emails about the many issues there some six months before the situation was exposed on ITV News.
“It’s starting to seem as though Croydon councillors feel they can ignore their responsibilities if they aren’t first in the order of an email’s addressees,” the play street volunteer said.
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