This week sees the publication of Croydon Council’s proposed budget for 2021/22 which will seek to claw back the savings necessary after the Labour Administration blew the Council budget over recent years. On top of this year’s cuts to Council services, around £50M of further savings will need to be made for each of the next three years. We can expect that any service that is not an absolute statutory requirement will be stripped back as far as possible. Residents will quite rightly wonder why they are paying even greater levels of Council Tax for fewer services.
The published budget provides few clues as to how waste services will be affected. We know that lots of hardworking staff have already lost their jobs and that paying their redundancy packages, together with the renegotiation of the waste collection contract, cost the council the best part of £4M in the second half of 2020. Even as the money was clearly running out, the Labour Cabinet Member for Clean Green Croydon was thinking of ways to spend additional unnecessary money.
Looking forward, we can see that the reintroduction of fees of between £31 and £51 for the bulky waste service is forecast to save £307K in 2021/22. There is no corresponding figure for the indirect costs that will be incurred as the Council responds to the inevitable fly-tipping complaints, although recent comments from residents indicate that the response time remains slow - perhaps under pressure from more fly-tipping reports as a result of the expense of disposing of bulky waste in a responsible way.
The second saving proposed in earlier documents was to be achieved through a review of the provision of the Household Reuse and Recycling Centres. Croydon has 3 centres at Factory Lane, Purley Oaks and New Addington, of which it was proposed one or two would be closed. As yet, no substantial financial saving has been suggested, despite this proposal potentially inconveniencing residents and, again, leading to more fly-tipping. Initially it was forecast that in the 2021/22 financial year the savings would total £20K and that has now reduced to just £11K with a further £100K to be saved the following year. This is a very small saving for such a big reduction in the service that residents experience. We need to know more about how savings are to be achieved.
Dwarfing these minor cuts is the decision in 2020 to extend the contract for the Household Reuse and Recycling Centres. This took place at an earlier time than the existing contract required and cost the Council £20.7M over 14 years with the 31.5% increase in the cost of the contract applied retrospectively – all at a time when the dire state of the Council’s finances was being revealed last year. At the time of the renegotiation, the Labour Cabinet Member stated that this new contract would protect all 3 recycling centres but clearly this would not be the case if one or two of the three centres are be considered for closure. Despite the possible reduction of service, the new 2021/22 budget does not indicate that substantial savings will be made to the contract. Saving relatively small amounts by reducing future services to our residents, whilst maintaining extraordinary increases in payments to contractors based on existing levels of services, is the worst of both worlds. We need the Council to review all of its costly contracts in order to return the best possible value to Croydon’s residents and Council Tax payers.