20 safety officers axed in Croydon’s latest ‘cuts by stealth’

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Labour leadership wants to replace council staff with high street bounty hunters who get commission on every fine they issue, using a company that has been accused of ‘profiting from poverty’.

Farewell to NSOs: council cuts will see this service privatised

Whoever is elected Mayor next week will inherit a borough with 20 fewer Neighbourhood Safety Officers than worked in Croydon last year, in another back-door cut being implemented at the cash-strapped council.

The council is axing the majority of its NSOs to make a saving of £1.1million over the course of this and the next financial year.

The Labour group, which did so much to bankrupt the council, wants to replace the NSOs with high street bounty hunters from security firm Kingdom, who would issue on-the-spot £60 fines for even the most trivial offences. Under similar arrangements with other councils and land-owners, Kingdom typically gets to keep 85 to 90per cent of fines levied, with the balance being paid over to the commissioning body.

Croydon could therefore be pocketing £10 a pop every time Kingdom’s private police force pounce on an unsuspecting member of the public. That should slowly chipping away at the council’s £1.5billion debt mountain…

Perhaps this is what Labour Mayoral candidate, Val Shawcross, means in her election literature when she talks of “A New Direction”?

Like the “cuts by stealth” to Meals on Wheels exclusively revealed by Inside Croydon, the decision to drop the NSOs has not been publicly discussed by the Labour-controlled council leadership. The decision was contained in a single line within about 800 pages of financial papers nodded through at the council cabinet’s budget meeting last month. The report’s authors include three of the senior Labour councillors who are seeking re-election on May 5.

Bad news buried: the cuts to the NSOs were buried in 800 pages of budget reports last month

The removal of at least two-thirds of the NSO team effectively marks the abandonment of the Labour council’s flagship policy intended to tackle fly-tipping, littering and other anti-social behaviour around the borough.

The council’s website still reflects the original NSO position, introduced nearly eight years ago: “Our neighbourhood safety officers (NSOs) work closely with the police safer neighbourhood teams, internal teams and departments and other partner agencies to support community safety.

“The NSOs enforce national legislation in line with local and statutory legislation to deal with anti-social behaviour and environmental offences.”

The council says that NSOs can, “request name and address of a person for a fixed penalty notice (FPN) and offences that cause injury, alarm and distress to another person or damage or loss of another’s property”, and similarly act with “a person acting in an anti-social manner”.

NSOs also had powers to confiscate alcohol from any person under the age of 18 years; confiscate alcohol from any person in a designated public place; and confiscate cigarettes and tobacco products from any person under the age of 16 years

On commission: privatised security firms have generated millions of pounds from fines

The council says that NSOs “also act as professional witnesses, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and perpetrators and taking statements that can be used as evidence in the courts.

“In addition they undertake a raft of prevention, intervention and diversion activities [for example] referring a young person for acceptable behaviour agreements (ABAs).”

Croydon Council, under Tory and Labour control, has been kicking around the notion of privatising its high street patrols for the best part of a decade, embracing the idea of security guards dressed in “hard man” uniforms that make them look very much like police officers, while they skulk in corners to catch out accidental littering in a return to some of the dodgiest practices of the 19th Century.

A 2013 report from the Manifesto Club called the practice “The Corruption of Punishment”.

Commission-based fining had, the report said, “led to a corruption of punishment. The official issuing the fine has a (direct or indirect) financial interest in punishing people. Their concern becomes not to discharge a public service, but to look for people they can fine. There is no room for leniency, or for issuing a warning, since every missed fine is missed income”.

Even the Magistrates’ Association took a dim view of the practice, transferring powers away from the public courts system and into the hands of private bounty hunters.

“Magistrates’ Court is much more transparent and consistent,” a spokesman said. “It delivers justice over and above what the private company can deliver.

“Private companies don’t report to anybody, the public can’t question it – there’s very limited appeal provisions.”

The Manifesto Club said: “People are being fined for increasingly trivial incidents – from dropping a match stick, to a piece of cotton falling off a glove. More worryingly, often these fines are given out by private companies who are working on a commission basis.

“The report argues that such profiteering punishment works against the interests of justice and public service. We recommend that fines be used only in proportion to the offence, and when necessary for the public interest.”

On the company’s website, Kingdom boasts of “£6million raised for local authorities in 12 months”.

Awarding work: Kingdom like to accentuate the positives in their work

They say, “You can deploy tactful, professional enforcement teams in your problem hot spots.” Which makes their staff sound like some kind of hemorrhoid cream.

But it can appear to be a lot more sinister than that.

“I believe this company is profiting from poverty,” according to a former Kingdom employee, in interviews with the Grauniad newspaper in 2019.

Kingdom Services Group, with its head office just outside Manchester, have denied any misconduct and says it maintained “high standards”. The company says that its officers undertake a comprehensive training programme and “operate under some of the tightest legal guidelines”.

But The Guardian was contacted by whistleblowers who alleged that staff were encouraged to compete to issue as many fines as possible, even operating a league table in one area.

One training team was accused of getting staff to conceal logos on their uniform and to hide in bushes or behind cars to improve their chances of catching members of the public.

Kingdom were said to have generated £1.4million in fines over just eight months in one council area alone.

A New Direction for Croydon, indeed…

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About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2022 council elections, 2022 Croydon Mayor election, Business, Croydon Council, Fly tipping, Refuse collection, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 20 safety officers axed in Croydon’s latest ‘cuts by stealth’

  1. Pete Beach says:

    How an earth could axing 20 NSOs save £1.1million? That works out at a salary of more than £50,000 pa! Unless they have very expensive uniforms!

  2. Do private companies have the legal right to demand private information such as name and address?

  3. Billy James says:

    This St Helens based organisation Kingdom has a terrible reputation they apparently lasted less than 24 hours in one council area & do not last very long in other areas either.
    People were even fined for dropping litter on private land with very real concerns about its tactics with the enforcement officers working for Kingdom being overbearing and intimidating &they target the most vulnerable people in society.

  4. Ruth Caucutt says:

    The council used Kingdom before, many years ago and they were useless. Yes, they issued fines but some of them issued were ridiculous and would not have stood up in court. They used to hide behind corners and catch pensioners who were easy targets. They were disgraceful

  5. Jane G says:

    You do know that Kingdom have been in Croydon before. 8 years ago the NSO service was introduced in order for the Council to save money and keep all fine payments

  6. Peter Underwood says:

    I’ve been warning about this for years. The mechanism for the Council to allow private companies to police our streets has been there for a while and sadly I knew it was only a matter of time before they privatised our security.

    This is a move in the wrong direction and will only make things worse.

  7. Lewis White says:

    The practice of fining people for dropping a tiny thing like a match or cigarrette end is iniquitous– when those who drop much bigger takeaway boxes and the like from car windows go unpunished–and those who dump whole lorry loads of fly tip sadly, largely also go unpunished, unless the perpetrator are caught in the act of tipping.

    These tiny-item daytime prosecutions are easy game for the town centre enforcers, probably as the dna of the smoker is still on the fag end or the dropped lolly stick. The dna of the flytipper will not be on the dumped load.

    With regard to the question as to why an NSO costs around £50,000 a year is probably the cost of their salary PLUS a notional overhead which pays the costs of Croydon HQ and the salaries of senior officers. The worker probably gets about £30,000 (my guess).

    If the workers disappear, the overhead will….. can not. It will be countercharged to the cost of managing the outsourced service.

    The outsourced service is probably rather like the aggressive car clamping firms of a few years back. Unlovely. Unhelpful. Unwelcome.

  8. Pete Davenport says:

    From my personal experience of Kingdom they are parasitical scum – no other way of putting it. There operatives must process x number of fines a day. Where most people are struggling to pay the fuel bills, having these toxic robbers roaming our streets is not acceptable. Another Croydon Council fuck up in the making.

  9. Ian Kierans says:

    Sadly our experiences of the NSO and Anti social behaviour team are that frankly not fit for purpose. The actuality of those is that it takes them months to deal with Anti social behavior and in that time they not only let the culprits know who reported them but fail to fine warn or curb their behaviors.
    Sadly the private lot have been known to target young people in direct conflict with their purpose.

    I would suggest that everyone go to Bromley as it is a nicer place to shop and easy to park. It also caters very well for those with Disabilities.
    If you have to go to Croydon – go with a few big lads and a camera for your own safety and protection from unsavory psuedo police characters. For some strange reason they do not wish to approach young lads in groups irrespective of behaviors. I wonder why?

    Irrespective – neither Croydon NSO. the local Police or Kingdom will actually tackle the issues of fly tipping, illegal parking, anti social behaviors, drug selling, prostitution, street fights, Noise and building works pollution, general littering, dangerous driving, intimidating driving at crossings, blocking in cars intentionally. illegal ticketing, illegal street works, drilling by parked cars and damaging paintwork, dangerous weapons in public.

    Their excuses are – Covid – lack of Resources, Cuts, and no matter what anyone says this will not change until those charged with dealing with enforcement are held to full account on a daily basis for every failure.

    Perhaps that is what this new Mayor should be doing?

  10. Mike Guthrie says:

    No doubt one of the reasons they have to get rid of the NSOs is to carry on employing staff dedicated to the Selective Licensing Scheme, a team of around 6/7 people. Oh wait didn’t the selective licensing scheme end in Sept 2020? And this team is still employed and being paid a salary, but for what as the scheme no longer exists?

    Seems to me the vital work of the NSOs could be part-funded by a redundant team who are still in employment actually going.

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