Perry says there’s no alternative to his budget. But there’s lots

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Former Conservative MP and Labour councillor ANDREW PELLING, pictured right, an independent candidate in last year’s mayoral election, says that the Mayor has broken a fundamental promise to the borough’s residents 

Mayor Jason Perry has adopted a ham-fisted approach, where his council is telling councillors that unless they do what the Mayor tells them to do, then they will be acting unlawfully at tonight’s Town Hall budget meeting. Such an approach says that the councillors have no role other than to vote the Mayor’s budget through.

Photobomb: Labour councillors Patsy Cummings and Callton Young at last week’s people’s protest. How will they vote tonight?

For Labour, the largest single group of councillors, it is not possible to back down or let the 15per cent tax increase through.

It is not an option to have three or more councillors conveniently “absent” from the key vote, or to say that officials’ advice about punitive personal financial sanctions has frightened them into abstaining.

To abstain tonight would look foolish, especially after Labour councillors photobombed last Wednesday’s Town Hall people’s petition protest outside the Town Hall.

All councillors have been warned that to vote against the budget will lead to action against them for breaking the council’s code of conduct by bringing the council into disrepute. That’s a catch-all that has in the past played a part in blocking criticism of  corrupted governance.

Labour councillors could navigate around this constraint by saying that they would be putting the interests of the council first by voting down the Mayor’s budget with the support of the other progressive parties. They would, they could say, be putting local taxpayers’ interests first by blocking the budget, calling in the government commissioners and in effect sacking the Mayor.

Sack the Mayor: Perry’s 15% Council Tax hike could cause a block on his budget

Sacking Mayor Perry must be an attractive option for Labour.

And there is some logic in axing the Mayor.

Mayor Perry ran for office on the promise to fix our finances.

But now he says that this is an insoluble task he is incapable of coping with. So one might as well call in the commissioners and drop the Mayor.

Mayor Perry has today issued a statement saying that he’s never had a Plan B, and alternative budget, and used that favourite phrase of Margaret Thatcher: TINA – there is no alternative.

But that’s where he’s wrong, again. There are options to reduce the Council Tax increase pain. These include running the council with a different vision, an improved approach to asset sales and asset management, increased income, devolution of council activities so as to reduce costs, and reduced personnel costs that do not touch the main body of council staff.

It reflects poorly on Labour that they have not proposed changes to the budget to show how they would avoid the 15per cent increase. It may well be that after bankrupting the council, they feel that they don’t have the credibility to propose their own budget or Labour may not want to take the blame for proposing difficult options.

There is an alternative: the 15% Council Tax increase is avoidable

The Greens have shown willing to be a constructive opposition in proposing using money raised from levies on developers for road safety at junctions.

Sadly solutions to the council’s budget don’t come in changing the formulae applied to funding councils across England and Wales.

They are, of course, not in the council’s gift.

One can rail, in vain, against the 22per cent cut in the real spending power of London’s councils since David Cameron came to power. National politicians love to pretend to cut national taxes but then sneak in cuts and tax increases at a local level, blaming those tax increases on local politicians.

London councils have received the biggest cuts in funding in the country since 2010. Even worse, outer London councils, like Croydon, got cut even worse than inner London.

Lower income Londoners pay six times more in Council Tax than the highest earners as a proportion of income. The last funding formula funding review took place in 2014. Until such another review takes place, inequities will continue: Lambeth Council has a spending power of £441 per head this financial year while Croydon has £230 per head. Yet the recently published census shows that Croydon has more social deprivation than Lambeth.

Last week, Perry and his colleagues tried to argue that Croydon was well-funded, compared to other, outer London boroughs. Havering has similar social deprivation to Croydon, but has 39per cent less per head to spend.

It’s fair to say that I am better briefed on the budget options available to the council now than I was when I was a Labour councillor, which says something about how efforts were made to hide the council’s difficulties and blame it all on covid.

Loss leader: the council’s 14,000 council homes are reckoned not to be worth enough to be worthwhile selling

These options are not all electorally popular but would reduce the punishing 15per cent increase that will take Croydon to having the second highest Council Tax in London, in return for what Perry promises will be a “minimal council”.

There are asset sales that can be made beyond the 18 properties that have been put up for sale. It’s difficult for the very modestly staffed council’s asset team to both run assets and sell them, too. Getting a private provider in to identify assets suitable for sale or lease in a timely fashion will help to reduce those £50million per year interest costs that have such a destructive impact on the budget.

Croydon Council owns 14,000 council homes. But they would make a very difficult sale: Savills looked into the disposal for the council and have found that so many of the homes have suffered such neglect that the net value of the whole portfolio is negative!

This does not stop selecting the better properties for sale, at fixed council rent levels so long as the government can protect a private institutional buyer from the costs of Right to Buy. Those lucky enough to see a private landlord take over their property freehold will very likely see improved service than that provided to tenants at Regina Road.

Emergency housing provision can also be operated with the benefit of a private capital receipt. The same can apply to the large Croydon Affordable Homes portfolio where the leaseholds beyond 38 years are available for sale.

Croydon hotel: the Town Hall should be repurposed and leased out to a boutique hotel operator

While retaining registry office, electoral services, Mayor’s Parlour and council chamber facilties in the Town Hall, the rest could be leased out to be used for a boutique hotel.

There are empty council-owned buildings like the sadly neglected Heathfield House going to wrack and ruin that need leasing out for repair and income. There are assets of social provision that could be sold and that provision made instead in underused spaces in a local leisure centre or private community halls.

Long neglected assets like the bramble-overgrown Coombe Playing Fields car park should be brought back into use.

The disposal of community assets at a peppercorn rent on long leases – as Mayor Perry has been doing this past year – has to stop. Large amounts of capital value are being lost. Contracts with private buyers of assets can protect continuing community use.

Sale of anonymised data on trends that act as leading indicators on economic activity is worth investigating.

The continuing reduction in expensive top-heavy senior management at the council needs to be pursued.

Croydon has the largest number of councillors in Greater London, and there is talent there that can be put to better use. Councillors can be given responsibility to court private donors and to apply for the array of government funding that the council has not bothered with in the past.

A special prize would be to persuade a private donor to buy the council’s extensive arts collection, most of which remains hidden in the Town Hall vaults.

The Croydon art collection contains more than 2,000 paintings, prints and drawings. Persuading the owner of Segas House to provide exhibition space would boost their property values and improve footfall in Croydon town centre, raise a capital receipt and revive the poorly implemented concept of a Croydon arts quarter.

Art deco: Segas House could make an attractive private-run gallery for the council’s unseen collection

If councillors are not better used then we need to recognise that 70 councillors is just too many to make a meaningful input and not needed under a mayoral system. Some councillors don’t speak at full council meetings for years (often because their own party controls who is chosen to speak). The London Assembly has just 25 members.

A reduction of Croydon Council to 25 members, combined with a reduction in the number of paid cabinet members, could save more than £2.5million over a four-year council.

Effort needs to be made for the maximum possible leasing out of Bernard Weatherill House, with home working for council staff the emphasis. Local libraries, which the council have on its list to sell, would be better used as local hubs for council operation.

The council sits on assets stultifying investment and possible income that comes from improved letting and access to government grants. Some progress is being made at Croydon Arena, but partnership with a private provider could enhance a dilapidated stadium and provide housing, subject to change in the draft Croydon Plan.

Indeed, additional housing means additional tax revenue and the council needs to get housing development on the Purley Way going. The council could allow a whole new Forestdale development on part of the under-used Addington Court golf course. This would allow other local planning committees to reduce planning approvals and would underpin a contracting golf industry.

Extra revenue can also come from other sources.

As the government is proposing, extra cash could be secured in premium planning fees for major planning applications in Croydon town centre and on industrial estates. Giving a guarantee that applications would be decided within six months would promote business confidence in investing in Croydon as for developers, time and uncertainty costs a lot of money.

The council could work with government to bring in regulations that allow a workplace parking levy in central Croydon. Nottingham secures a £10million annual income from that levy. Money goes into transport infrastructure; some could be spent on public transport and policing, giving residents new confidence to shop in a safer town centre.

More income could come from better-enforced parking restrictions.

Putting the bins out: would three-weekly refuse collections be better than a 15% Council Tax hike?

Demand for burial spaces is rising significantly. City fund investment in private provision is seeing burial space prices inflating significantly and the council will likely need to look at those fee levels.

For those not being buried, keeping Croydon residents healthier saves the council significant sums of money in care costs. The council needs to capture that community spirit that came at the height of the covid pandemic. Training residents in looking out for others will reduce council costs and such a “Croydon Cares” approach can be dovetailed into the cost-saving devolutionary approach to local services.

Privatisation will have to be looked at if services can be maintained but costs reduced. Croydon’s pensions administration is a case in point, where other funds have put administration in the hands of larger funds like the London Pension Funds Authority, benefiting with economies of scale.

Croydon Council has a pension fund that reached a high of £1.75billion. As well as paying the pensions of former employees, it also protects council taxpayers from that liability. Council Tax-payers have had to pay well over £20million a year to an underfunded pension fund. Better performance reduces the tax-payers’ contribution.

Outperformance reduced Council Tax payment to the fund by £6million, but more can be done to maintain performance in a fund that has recently had a big setback. Frequent trading changes are entirely inappropriate, but strategic opportunity should be taken.

In 36 years of public office in Croydon, it had often been said to me that the only service received from the council for the thousands of pounds of Council Tax that a resident might pay is emptying the bins – and even that doesn’t always happen.

The council might like to ask residents whether a reduced collection frequency of general rubbish would be better than a 15per cent Council Tax increase.

  • Andrew Pelling was a Labour councillor from 2014 to 2022, when he was expelled from the party. He has previously been a Croydon councillor, London Assembly Member and MP for the Conservatives

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6 Responses to Perry says there’s no alternative to his budget. But there’s lots

  1. Andrew Pelling, the best Mayor of Croydon we never had

  2. Eric Nash says:


    • Second that

      • Sarah Bird says:

        totally agree. At the Husting’s only Andrew Pelling and Richard Howard appeared to be adamant to chase the money in respect of the1.5 billion pound debt. What exactly is the Mayor doing to chase the money? He has been in office for almost a year? What services ? Yet to see any myself as a disabled resident

  3. He lost me when he started talking about 3 weekly bin collection – we are the bakrupt borough do we want to become the ‘stinking bankrupt bourough’

  4. Don White says:

    Good article, but can we know who are the attack-dog bullies, presumably Council executives, threatening that a Vote Against would be illegal?

    Might these be the same eagle-eyed legal beagles who tried taking IC to Court [and me – but that’s another story] but failed to find anything illegal about Fairfield and sundry other scandals?

    Surely it should be for us, the people, to decide what constitutes the law, by testing it out through due process; not by allowing know-nothings to threaten our pusillanimous so-called representatives into surrender without a fight.

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