Croydon residents have suffered greatly from six years of poorly managed finances, misguided priorities and poor choices made by this failing Labour Council. Recently Grant Thornton slammed Labour’s financial mismanagement and their “Corporate Blindness”, with numerous examples given as to why this borough has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
Since 2014, Labour has enjoyed spending our money on a number of their ‘Vanity Projects’, no matter what financial burden it had on the Croydon taxpayer. The most shocking and appalling example, was when the Labour Cabinet member for Culture, Cllr Oliver Lewis, allocated £50,000 to the costs for a controversial Performance Art Festival. It is important that Croydon has a broad and accessible cultural offering, but this is a clear example of the inappropriate use of our finances which has been entrusted by the local taxpayer.
The continued theme of disregard for Croydon’s finances was shown with the poor implementation of the much-needed refurbishment programme for Fairfield Halls. The Council decided that this vitally important project for our local cultural heritage would be undertaken by the Council’s wholly owned loss making developer, ‘Brick by Brick’. A company that had no prior experience of managing a very complex heritage project. Refurbishing Fairfield Halls was vitally important, and we expected it to be completed to a high standard and within budget, a theatre which many Croydon residents class as the borough’s cultural crown jewel.
Sadly, this failing Labour Council’s inability to manage the refurbishment adequately has been proven by the clear uncontrolled spending, with the final costs ballooning to an estimated £60 million or more! This is more than double what was estimated and agreed by the Labour cabinet member for Culture.
The Croydon Conservatives campaigned heavily for a phased closure of Fairfield Halls instead of the full two-year closure as proposed by Labour. Residents, including many staff and artists who used the venue, supported the phased approach. All were concerned that the Fairfield Halls would struggle to recover after such a long period of closure, the longest in its 58-year history. A phased closure would instead have cost the Croydon taxpayer less to complete the refurbishment, whilst also allowing the theatre to retain its vital customer base. It was recognised by all, except Labour, that once the Fairfield Halls audience had left to go to other nearby venues, which have a very similar clientele and shows available to enjoy, it would be very difficult to attract them back again. Protests took place at Fairfield Halls, and petitions were signed against the two-year full closure of our beloved Fairfield Halls. But as usual, Labour decided to ignore the voices of Croydon residents, including Fairfield Halls staff, local artists, and decided instead to plough ahead regardless of the detrimental impact it would have on our local culture in Croydon.
The refurbishment project has still not been fully finished and certainly not to the standard we had been promised by Labour. Councillors were invited to view the “completed” theatre refurbishment at the grand re-opening. We were saddened to witness first-hand that so many areas of Fairfield Halls were yet to be finished, and it did not include certain features and infrastructure that was initially promised by Labour.
When the Croydon Conservatives questioned in Council the terrible financial mismanagement, missed features and infrastructure, we of course received no valid reasons or justification from Labour. This view was echoed by local residents who were clearly frustrated and disappointed that after two years of the beloved halls being closed to the local community, they were welcomed to an incomplete Fairfield Halls, and a high number of complaints were received.
Labour claimed the extra costs and delays were associated with the “unexpected” need to remove asbestos from the 1960’s structure. This despite the Council undertaking numerous structural reports before the refurbishment works took place. Labour never had a tight grasp on the purse strings, so yet again spending went out of control under their watch, whilst the residents of Croydon had to foot the bill.
Labour has taken the same cavalier approach in other areas of culture within Croydon. Labour’s 2018 “Ambitious for Croydon” manifesto promised to invest in Croydon’s Libraries. Croydon has some of the oldest and most out of date book stock in the country, which has a detrimental impact on the most deprived residents in our borough who rely most heavily on library services - particularly younger people who need the facilities for their education.
Sadly, it was revealed in the budget that Labour decided to u-turn on their financial promises and make further spending cuts on the New Library Books Fund. When I questioned Cllr Oliver Lewis why Labour felt it was fair to cut the already very small budget he replied:
“I think it is important that all areas of the Council contribute towards some very challenging financial savings that we need to find”
This failing Labour Council’s six years of reckless spending has meant that Croydon does not have the ability to spend money in areas which urgently need it. As a result, they have let down many of the most deprived people in Croydon.
Labour since they took control of our finances and culture in Croydon, have proved time and time again that they have never fully understood the financial implications their poor choices have on the most deprived within our borough, and of course the detrimental impact their poor decisions have on our cultural assets across the borough. This will cost the Croydon residents both financially and culturally for decades to come, it is simply unacceptable.
Enough is enough, the people of Croydon deserve better.