After a week when the borough’s streets were smeared in blood once again, after stabbings on Church Street in the town centre and on Central Parade in New Addington, Croydon’s dysfunctional council is finally getting around to publishing an updated community safety strategy – two years late.
To meet that deadline, it will have needed the draft strategy to have gone out for consultation before the end of 2019. The cabinet member in charge of community safety at that time was Hamida Ali. Councillor Ali is now the council leader.
The previous strategy document had been in place from 2017. In October last year, Ali told a council meeting that the work to replace the strategy had been delayed because of covid. Which, of course, was nonsense. But with nothing to replace the old strategy, it was agreed to extend it to the end of 2021. Producing a revised version now is only just sneaking in ahead of their own deadline.
Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, councils such as Croydon are required to work together through Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which have, since 2010 been referred to as Community Safety Partnerships.
Section 6 of the Act requires responsible authorities to formulate and implement a strategy for the reduction of crime and disorder in their area, including anti-social behaviour, and for combating the misuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances.
Croydon’s SCP includes police, council, fire, probation and health agencies, as well as businesses, community and voluntary sector organisations.
A report to Monday’s cabinet meeting states, “Croydon adopted a public health approach to reducing violence in June 2019 and has established a violence reduction network which has started to implement that approach.”
Yes, as incidents of knife and other violent crime continue to increase, the council has “started to implement” its violence reduction strategy. More than two years after being adopted, and despite the appointment in 2019 of a dedicated director for the violence reduction unit, Sarah Hayward, an out-of-work former Labour council leader with no specialist expertise in violence reduction work.
It’s hard to see from the cabinet report quite what has been done over the last 12 months to develop the council’s new community safety strategy.
When asking for a year’s extension on her already overdue piece of work, Ali told the council meeting in October 2020, “We were really keen to do some really detailed engagement with some of the people most affected by the types of crime… we wanted a really thorough piece of engagement.”
That “really thorough piece of engagement” turned out to be just a couple of online surveys, as well as talking to those stakeholders who were part of the existing partnership, who – you might expect – will have been inputting into the process anyway.
The new strategy is only for two years, to 2024. As one insider at Fisher’s Folly pointed out this week, “The point of a public health approach to tackling violence is long-term outcomes. Lambeth’s violence reduction strategy, for example, is for 10 years. Running this until 2024 is also odd, as the London-wide policing strategy, which it has to consider, runs until at least 2026.”
The strategy also refers to the creation of the VRU director post – Hayward’s job – as an “achievement”. But that job has been deleted and merged into another role, with Hayward promoted to “interim corporate director of sustainable communities, regeneration and economic recovery” (catchy title, eh?).
The Fisher’s Folly source also observes other flaws in the document which is expected to get the usual rubber-stamping treatment on Monday night: “The strategy talks about prioritising crime and ASB in the top 10 hotpot locations.
“But I’m not sure how the council will support this, given that as a result of the financial collapse, it is cutting or has cut its neighbourhood safety officers, the ASB team and CCTV staff.
“Plus the council’s Public Space Protection Orders – PSPOs – have all been allowed to lapse and are no longer legally enforceable. Maybe that means we won’t get these services if we don’t live in a hotpot area?”
The pack of reports going to the cabinet includes the council’s performance report. There is not a single crime or community safety-related indicator, for a council that was meant to be prioritising violence reduction as a key issue.
Walking into this vacuum is Kristian Aspinall, the latest “interim”, temporary appointment to a senior council role under chief executive Katherine Kerswell.
Aspinall arrives from Lambeth to take on the job as “interim director of culture and community safety”.
As another source at the council told Inside Croydon this week, “The place is just full of consultants, some of them on £500, £600, £700 per day or more. Just like nothing’s really changed.
“And there are so many interim appointments being made. It all lacks any permanence, any stability.”
Aspinall’s CV suggests that he has considerable, relevant experience, having worked at Brixton Town Hall since 2007 in a series of roles including head of serious crime reduction and head of community safety. He will also know Lib Peck, the former leader of Lambeth Council, now Sadiq Khan’s director of violence reduction at City Hall.
It’s hard to imagine exactly what Aspinall was told to persuade him to sign up for a non-permanent position with Croydon’s failing council. This week, announcing his move, Aspinall posted on social media, “Croydon has been delivering ground-breaking work on reducing the long-term causes of violence against young people.” Has he been briefed about a different Croydon?
“I’m looking forward to working with young people, partners and communities to make Croydon one of the safest places in London to grow up and thrive.” Which would be nice.
According to our Fisher’s Folly insider, “As far as I can work out, the ‘director of culture and community safety’ was created in one of the restructures under Kerswell that deleted Hayward’s VRU director position. This role has been created by also merging it with the director of culture role.”
While another interim arrives, the revolving doors at Fisher’s Folly keep spinning with the departure of a long-standing and generally well-regarded senior council figure, Sharon Murphy.
In the middle of the council’s financial turmoil and the scandal of the “appalling” conditions for council tenants in flats on Regina Road, housing manager Murphy was seen by councillors and residents alike as a hard-working staffer. “A major gem” was how one described her this week.
Murphy had worked at the council for 18 years, the past two-and-a-half as head of service within resident engagement.
She decided to leave after she was effectively downgraded in one of CEO Kerswell’s reorganisations.
“Sharon was exactly the kind of council employee we should be trying to hold on to, not allowing them to walk away,” a Katharine Street source said.
- Click here for to see the result of nearly two years’ work on the council’s community safety strategy
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