In Croydon this has become a much harder question recently after Croydon Labour managed to bankrupt the Council admitting they could no longer set a balanced budget.
So, what should Croydon council do? There are statutory functions such as collecting rubbish and fixing the roads, but beyond a few legal requirements, most of the Council’s work adds value to the community but isn’t required by law. As a result of Labour’s local failures, we in Croydon find ourselves facing the potential closure of recycling centres, of libraries (including South Norwood that hasn’t even opened yet after its refurbishment) and increases in parking charges, traffic fines and controlled parking zones.
One area that seems to be on the future scrapheap as far as the Council are concerned is economic development. Anyone who has been to the town centre recently has seen how dire it has become as a shopping area (even before Covid). There have been lots of failed promises around Westfield, instead replaced with an obsession to build flats, both in huge town centre towers and in the removal of family homes for smaller blocks in places like Purley, Sanderstead, Kenley and Coulsdon.
One project though that the Council did plan on was a town centre Growth Zone to help develop existing businesses and encourage new ones to locate in Croydon. Great in essence and had cross party support, but it is now a victim of the Council’s bankruptcy. Originally the Council intended to borrow £310m out of an overall project value of £520m. The projects included improvements to transport networks, public realm spaces and employment and skills programmes.
In the new Council budget passed by Labour on 8th March the Growth Zone funding has been reduced to a mere £4m over the next three years. Such a spectacular reduction in funding comes in stark contrast to the Council having borrowed hundreds of millions for vanity projects like Brick by Brick, hotels and shopping centres. In fact, the Grant Thornton report in the public interest that exploded the financial failures of the Council and forced Tony Newman to resign as Labour Leader said that the cut the Growth Zone was one of the few measures the Council had actually taken whilst ignoring the gross over borrowing and spending elsewhere.
As part of the 2021-22 budget the cut in funding to the Growth Zone there will now be £0 spent on employment and skills for training or recruitment whereas at the launch in 2018 it was £980,000. Also, the Council’s revenue budget that covers the day-to-day spending is cutting Croydon Works and making six people redundant from the economic development team. Croydon Works was itself billed as being a ‘valuable route to employment for local people’. Now though it seems to have only been a route to unemployment for those dedicated staff members keen to help Croydon residents into training or work.
In contrast, the Conservative Government announced in the Budget on 3rd March its support for businesses with the extension of furlough for workers, the extension of the business rates holiday and a restart grant to hospitality, retail and leisure businesses of up to £18,000 following on from the grants last year (Croydon by the way were in the bottom 10% in England for distributing Covid grant money to businesses during lockdown one and the worst in London – Labour couldn’t even manage to give away free money!).
Overall, Croydon Labour talked big about growing our local economy but as soon as their grand property speculation plans took over and bankrupted the Borough it turns their commitment to jobs and skills was an inconvenience to be side-lined.