EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Croydon’s charities and voluntary sector face an existential threat, as the Mayor of Croydon, Jason Perry, prepares to axe the council’s Community Fund next year.
More than 40 groups could be affected, from larger organisations such as Croydon Citizens Advice Bureau, to smaller voluntary groups, as the Conservative Mayor struggles to balance the budgets at the cash-strapped council.
The Community Fund was established in 2020 – just before the council’s financial crash – with £2.6million to spread around dozens of groups. It aligned council funding through half a dozen previous programmes, and was planned to run until the end of March 2023. Despite the council going bust two years ago, the Community Fund has continued to help charities and other groups carry on with their essential work around the borough.
The real fear among Croydon’s voluntary sector now is that Mayor Perry has no intention of replacing the Community Fund after March 31 next year. Perry has told Town Hall colleagues that the fund is “coming to a natural end”.
But as one senior figure working in the voluntary sector told Inside Croydon today: “That’s bollocks.”
Croydon Voluntary Action issued a statement yesterday where the sense of doom over the coming months, with these cuts on top of fuel price increases and the cost-of-living crisis, was palpable.
“The Mayor has confirmed that the Community Fund, its flagship [Voluntary and Community Sector] budget, will not be recommissioned after this year,” it said.
“This will cut off funding to charities playing a major role in Croydon’s recovery from covid-19, charities offering the only support to families hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis.
“What does this say about the council’s relationship with Croydon’s VCS?
“What role does the council see for itself in enabling the VCS to maintain cohesion and resilience across our local communities?
“What role can the council play in enabling Croydon’s VCS to prevent families from reaching the crisis point at which they place unmanageable pressure on the state?
“Croydon may be in crisis, but we have to plan for the long term.”
CVA, Croydon Voluntary Action, is to stage an emergency meeting at it Resource Centre on London Road on November 10.
Andy Stranack, Mayor Perry’s cabinet member for communities, is expected to address the meeting. Stranack did not respond to Inside Croydon’s approaches for comment.
Meanwhile, Relief In Need, an organisation based at the Croydon Almshouses, has created a £100,000 cost-of-living crisis, one-off fund to assist some voluntary groups.
“We know it is a difficult time for the voluntary sector generally, and particularly in Croydon given difficult financial decisions that are being made,” they said this morning.
“Sadly we cannot resolve this, but we have managed to find £100,000 to run an urgent, one-off, additional grant round to support services and groups that are directly working to reduce the impact of the cost-of-living crisis for people who live in Croydon.”
The application form – which can be accessed by clicking here – sets out the criteria for applicants. Applications have a deadline of 8am on November 14.
“It is a tight turnaround for applications because we want to be able to decide by late November and issue the funds in early December to support groups in the upcoming coldest months,” according to Hayley James, the chief exec at Croydon Almshouses.
The £100,000 emergency fund is not intended to replace or address the wider cuts to the community fund. Rather, it reflects some of the reports that have been coming from groups that deal with growing levels of poverty on a daily basis, such as Purley Food Hub, who reported at its annual meeting last week falling donations while experiencing seriously concerning increases in demand for their help.
The council is embarking on its latest budgetary round, as it struggles to implement £34million-worth of cuts in this financial year.
That included the then Labour-run council’s removal of Council Tax Support from 20,000 of the poorest households in the borough. Conservative Mayor Perry is already “consulting” on further reductions in this council-funded benefit for 2023-2024.
Today, senior figures working in the voluntary sector, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Inside Croydon, “Anyone who remembers the cuts that were imposed in 2010, in that first round of austerity, when more than 40 Croydon voluntary groups lost their funding – what’s coming our way now makes that look like a picnic.
The council’s financial problems have already seen a consortium of 22 food banks lose a distribution centre for donations, because cuts to the Croydon Voluntary Action budget meant it could no longer provide the facility.
“There could be a real wipe out. Even some of our longest-established, biggest organisations, like the CAB and the volunteer centre, could lose all their council funding.
“Yet it is such a false economy, because by withdrawing this support network, the council will end up facing increasing demand for its services and help.”
Read more: ‘Ask for Henry’: Morrisons offer free meals during half-term
Read more: Cynical, hypocritical and devious: benefit cut to hit thousands
Read more: This is the stark human cost of the borough going bankrupt
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
- Inside Croydon has been delivering local community news since 2010. To support independent local journalism in Croydon, please sign up today as a supporter. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- By having a comment section, we provide all readers with an immediate “right of reply” on all our content. Details of how this works can be read by clicking here
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period