CROYDON IN CRISIS: A year after they gave a ‘golden handshake’ to the council CEO who helped bankrupt the borough, part of the £38.4m Town Hall budget cuts will impact dozens of charities and community groups.
EXCLUSIVE By STEVEN DOWNES
It is barely 12 months since the leadership at Croydon’s cash-strapped council authorised a secret payment of £440,000 to the discredited and departing chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini. Now, in a particularly perverse version of robbing Peter to pay Paul, Croydon Labour’s leaders are planning to reduce grants to the borough’s voluntary sector by a similar amount in 2022-2023.
This is the budget cut that did not get discussed at Monday night’s council meeting, and it seems unlikely that Labour will want to air it at its cabinet meeting next week.
But on top of the massive cut to Council Tax benefits also proposed, the reduction in grants to the voluntary sector will come as a harsh double-whammy for the borough’s vulnerable and least well-off. It is also a massive slap in the face, coming after two years where many voluntary groups have been in the frontline of providing support through the covid pandemic.
Croydon Voluntary Action, the council-funded umbrella body for the sector, this morning issued a statement on behalf of two dozen charity and community groups, expressing the hope that their funding levels will somehow be maintained.
Where these further council cuts will really sting with the inheritors of the crass mismanagement of the bankrupt borough’s finances is that the Croydon Community Fund, which is to lose £400,000 in the next financial year, was the creation of Hamida Ali when she was the cabinet member responsible for the voluntary sector.
Now, as leader of the council, “Apologetic” Ali is expected to be really very sorry for axing nearly half a million pounds of grants from the borough’s voluntary sector – money that was supposedly ring-fenced and guaranteed in a three-year arrangement through until 2023.
It seems very likely that among the worst-hit voluntary groups and charities will be those who spent 2020 doing much of the council’s emergency work for it, coordinating and staffing the community response during the first lockdown of the pandemic – providing versions of a meals-on-wheels service to the old and house-bound, keeping in touch with the isolated and vulnerable, and running foodbanks for families, many of whom had lost their incomes as businesses were shut down.
The borough’s charities and voluntary groups won’t be told until December how and where the axe will fall.
But the infrastructure groups, such as CVA, the Croydon BME Forum, Croydon Neighbourhood Care Association and the Asian Resource Centre, are understood to be negotiating with the council on the cuts to their budgets.
“It’s one of those negotiations,” a Katharine Street source said today, “rather like that of the condemned prisoner when discussing what to have for their last meal before being sent off to the scaffold.”
On top of the cuts in grant aid, there remains uncertainty over the status of rent subsidies and discretionary rates relief which the council has, until now, provided to assist the voluntary sector.
Steve Phaure is the chief executive of CVA. As someone effectively appointed to that role by the council, he is hardly likely to rock the boat for his Fisher’s Folly funders.
His letter today was sent on behalf of organisations as varied as Age UK Croydon, the Whitgift Foundation-supported Carers Support Centre, Mencap, the Garwood Foundation, Citizens Advice Croydon, the SW London Law Centres and Croydon’s Almshouse Charities – all of them likely to be hit hard by the cuts being proposed by Ali’s council.
Phaure wrote that he and the various groups, Croydon’s voluntary and community sector, or “VCS” in the jargon, were “reaffirming our commitment to taking on lead roles and responsibilities to aid Croydon’s recovery”.
He wrote, “Croydon’s VCS is adding social value, bringing in external funds, preventing crisis and escalation, and innovating new models of working to meet Croydon’s post-pandemic challenges.
“Continued investment is crucial for the VCS to fulfil its role as a willing, strong and effective partner in the transformation of services and the targeting of support for marginalised communities in Croydon,
“Croydon’s VCS understands the Council’s financial crisis and is ready to hold the frontline, as it did during the pandemic, into the winter months and beyond. Given its financial position the council is not expected to increase VCS budgets, but we are looking forward to confirmation… that current VCS budget levels will be sustained – enabling us to continue mobilising community assets behind Croydon’s recovery programme.”
It is a meek shot across the bows.
But Phaure and the various voluntary groups are likely to be very disappointed.
Read more: Further £38.4m to be sliced from next year’s council budget
Read more: Cynical, hypocritical and devious: benefit cut to hit thousands
Read more: Council in attempt to cover-up £440,000 pay-off to Negrini
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