The Conservative government is punishing the people of Croydon by refusing to write off any of the council’s debts – but they are happy to write off £13billion from their own cock-ups in Whitehall. By ANDREW FISHER
Croydon Council has been hauled over the coals again over the catalogue of failures that led to the £37million overspend on the Fairfield Halls refurbishment.
Look to the national government and we see that they have admitted that companies stole £4.3billion in fraudulent claims to various covid loan and payment schemes. These have now been written off without any investigation.
The former shadow chancellor, John McDonnell MP, tweeted: “Within weeks of Sunak introducing loans scheme I wrote to him to warn about risk of fraud and to ask what protections were in place.
“He wrote back assuring me anti-fraud measures had been set up. I put down parliamentary questions in July 2020 and got the same complacent reply.”
McDonnell had earlier tweeted his astonishment that more than “£4billion is now being written off but no minister resigns”.
Indeed, at least the chief architects of Croydon Council’s failures have left office. Sunak just blunders on trailing billions of waste in his wake, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson carries on regardless despite now being under police investigation.
In the last few days – and under cover of the furore around the Partygate scandal – the Conservative government slipped out that it also written off £8.7billion of pandemic PPE.
That’s a total of £13billion – roughly equivalent to the Home Office’s entire budget for the whole of last year. And not a single minister has resigned in disgrace.
But these write-offs of central government fraud are in contrast to the punitive damages being ripped from Croydon Council’s budget.
Why shouldn’t the Conservative government also write off the failures by our council?
After all, the government hasen’t cut the NHS budget as punishment for the PPE failures by the Department of Health and Social Care. That would be absurd. So why should council services be cut in Croydon?
Instead, our council – which in reality is being all-but run by government auditors – is forced this year to make £38million of cuts from their already depleted budget, including a £5.7million cut to Council Tax benefit hitting many of the borough’s poorest residents.
The Conservative government is punishing the people of Croydon by refusing to write off any of the council’s debts – but they are happy to write off £13billion from their own cock-ups in Whitehall.
That £13billion could have been spent on our public services – or on building much needed new council housing, filling in potholes, repairing pavements or a myriad of other social needs.
If we consider that Croydon contains three of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies, then Croydon’s share of the lost £13billion would be precisely £60million – more than 10 times the amount our council is being forced to cut from the poorest residents in Council Tax Support.
It’s enough that the council would not have to cut a single penny from its budget – in fact it could expand it by £22million. That’s equivalent to an extra £70 spending per person in Croydon – or more than enough to freeze Council Tax this April.
And that’s leaving aside the £900,000 squandered on investigations to see if Boris Johnson’s madcap scheme for a bridge to Northern Ireland was feasible. After spending nearly £1million, they told the Prime Minister what we all already know – it isn’t.
Johnson has form on this.
When he was Mayor of London, he splurged £53million of pounds of public money on plans for an utterly impractical, unnecessary and unwanted Garden Bridge. Then there was his unlawful spending on water cannon, the disastrous “Boris Bus” which has now been dropped, the costly Dangleway and a Thames Estuary airport which was never going to fly.
The lesson we should all learn is that without proper scrutiny, without collective decision-making, waste can cost us all – in higher taxes and reduced services – whether in Katharine Street or in Whitehall.
But we can’t just blame politicians. After all, we elect them.
In May we will go to the polls to choose our councillors, and for the first time a directly elected mayor.
In electing a mayor we are concentrating power even more intensely in one person’s hands. That makes it all the more important that when we vote for Croydon’s inaugural Mayor on May 5 we vote for someone competent and who will work collectively with councillors and listen to and consult with Croydon’s people.
- South Norwood resident Andrew Fisher (pictured) has worked as a trades union official, researcher and writer, and as Labour’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn from 2015 to 2019. He is the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon.com
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