CROYDON IN CRISIS: Of three basket-case boroughs, it was only Croydon that requested a special Council Tax hike, as Jason Perry breaks his silence
It took Jason Perry more than two hours to get around to issuing a public statement, after Inside Croydon broke the news yesterday that Croydon’s part-time Mayor had asked the government for permission to increase Council Tax from April by 15per cent.
A written statement to Parliament earlier in the afternoon, from levelling up secretary Michael Gove, had emphasised that he was allowing Croydon to lift the Council Tax cap without the need for a referendum because of “exceptional circumstances” and “unprecedented financial deficit”.
“The government has decided not to oppose the requests,” Gove said. Basket case councils Thurrock (£469million debt) and Slough (£760million debt) had requested 10per cent Council Tax increases; only Croydon had asked for a “Perry Premium” of 15per cent.
Perry had attended two set-piece public events last week, including a meeting of the full council at the Town Hall, but he never once mentioned his plan for the bumper Council Tax hike in the middle of the Conservative cost-of-living crisis.
Last night, Perry issued a statement on Twitter.
The Tory Mayor was not so honest with the Croydon public to admit that he had asked for the inflation-busting 15per cent Council Tax hike. Like he had asked to increase council rents by 11per cent (the government capped that at 7per cent for 2023). And like he had tried to remove Council Tax Support from the borough’s pensioners.
Nor did Perry make any mention that two-thirds of the council’s debt had been accrued before 2014, under the Conservatives, when he was a senior cabinet member.
“The toxic £1.6billion debt and financial failures of the previous administration left Croydon with a hollowed-out council which has been reliant on government bailouts for multiple years,” Perry said.
“My focus since I was elected Mayor has been on opening the books and taking the steps necessary to get the council back on a sustainable footing.
“Given the scale of the financial collapse Croydon has experienced, getting back on track will require incredibly difficult decisions. That is why, as part of a wider package of support we are negotiating with the government, they have given us permission to propose a one-off increase in Council Tax of 15per cent this year. This amounts to around an extra £4.50 a week, or 63p a day, for the average property.
“I know this is going to be difficult for people in Croydon, particularly when they face other pressures, but without the proposed increase, the council would need to make a further £20million of additional cuts this year, putting vital services to vulnerable residents at risk. This would be on top of the £36million savings that have already been proposed for the coming year’s budget.
“As part of our Council Tax Support scheme we also plan to increase the support we provide to low-income households, to protect those who cannot afford to pay their Council Tax.” Perry didn’t mention that he had been ordered to do this, by Gove.
“Alongside the Council Tax increase, we are in discussion with government to agree a reduction in the council’s long-term debt and in the meantime we hope to agree a new Capitalisation Direction to address the historic financial failures which still sit on the council’s balance sheet.
“These steps, together with the continuing programme to transform how the council operates, are important and necessary steps to making Croydon a sustainable local authority.
“I remain committed to ensuring that those responsible for Croydon’s financial collapse are held to account for their failures.”
Perry, who became Croydon’s first elected Mayor in May last year, has so far failed to honour his election pledge to publish the Penn Report, which investigated potential wrong-doing leading to the council’s financial collapse in 2020.
Nor has he implemented any of that report’s recommendations, which included reporting some of the council officials involved to their professional bodies.
The Penn Report has been with Croydon Council since February 2021; only Inside Croydon has published any part of it.
Read more: Perry to preside over record-breaking 15% Council Tax hike
Read more: Council forced to issue 3rd bankruptcy notice in just two years
Read more: Croydon needs deal that could set precedent for all councils
Read more: After nearly a year, Gove is sitting on two ‘improvement’ reports
Read more: ‘We’re not teetering on the brink of bankruptcy’ claims Kerswell
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So Part-time Perry claims a 5% top up on all known council tax hikes required, without recalling the Council for an election.
No doubt he will next be bleating about the cost of living crisis being caused by the Russians.
Be clear about this. It is the low-tax Tories hiking Council Tax by a whopping 15%. Let that sink in.
This outcome is politically very challenging for all concerned. From the Mayor’s perspective, and the local Conservatives, it is not a good look that they are not only allowing but actively seeking a 15% increase in council tax during a cost of living crisis. There will be questions asked about why they were not more influential with a Conservative government in asking for the council’s debt to be written off. They were perhaps unfortunate in terms of timing: the present incarnation of Government (Sunak/Hunt) live by a philosophy of facing up to the consequences of debt now rather than (as they see it) simply deferring it to future generations. It is certainly not a politically expedient measure, as it will probably impact more Conservative voters than it will Labour ones: those on the lowest income or receiving benefits will be shielded by the Council Tax Support Scheme.
They will, with some justification, present the need for the highest council tax rise in the country is not so much a “Perry Premium” as a “Tony Tax”: a result of the wilful mismangement and incompetence of the council under Newman’s administration. Not only will it be difficult for Labour to refute this allegation, but they will need to be careful in how which way they vote when the Executive Mayor submits his budget to council next month. Traditionally, it is Labour-controlled councils who are in favour of higher taxes in order to fund local servies. If they oppose a budget which enables Croydon to balance its books next year while reducing the eye-watering defecit which resulted from their stewardship of the borough, where would they find the £20 million of further cuts while protecting vital public services?
I suspect that the reaction of most voters to this will be “a plague on both your houses”. The Mayor’s gamble is that by getting this unpopular measure out in his first budget he can start to deal with the realms of the possible in terms of the rest of the debt, and shape his agenda of “doing less, but doing it well” going forward. Labour in turn hope that voters will blame central government for doing less than it could or should to alleviate the situation, regardless of who may have caused it. In the words of the famous Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”.
A plague on both of their houses.
I refer to our town as Crisis Croydon!! Politicians regardless of party do not seem to have a plan! They lurch from decision to policy to decision and we the people across the borough suffer. You ask our opinion without any plan to recover. The behaviour of the two main parties in Croydon is shameful