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Croydon Council’s half-term report – Labour gives itself a ‘B’ but what do you think?

Croydon Council’s half-term report – Labour gives itself a ‘B’ but what do you think?
May 27, 2016 Shaking Hands 0 comments
This post was first published on The Croydon Advertiser on 27/05/2016

Croydon Council’s half-term report – Labour gives itself a ‘B’ but what do you think?

THE election manifesto published by Labour before the 2014 elections made a lot of promises in order to prove, as stated on the cover, that the party was Ambitious for Croydon.

Two years since retaking control of the council – and two years before Croydon goes back to the polls – how many of those promises have been kept?

In the spirit of next week’s school holiday, the Advertiser looks at some of those pledges and, using a marking scale of A to F, gives Labour its half-term report.

Promise: “Croydon will be a London Living Wage council”

Progress: In 2013, the Bishop of Croydon accused the then Conservative-led council of “saving money at the expense of the poor” after it refused to sign up to the London Living Wage.

When Labour came to power a year later it made reversing that decision a priority and, last October, the council achieved London Living Wage accreditation, which recognises that all its employees now take home at least £9.40 per hour. Better still, it now requires all contractors to meet that standard as well.

Grade: A

Promise: “We will establish a ‘free breakfast’ scheme to meet the needs of all Croydon parents and children, and we will lobby central government to provide the funds”

Progress: None. The manifesto recognised breakfast as the most important meal of the day but one that many children miss. Delivering on this promise was never going to be straightforward but the authority has done nothing to indicate that it remains a priority.

Council leader Tony Newman said the party was “still working” on the policy but “there were challenges in terms of the background debate surrounding schools”.

“It’s something I would still like us to take a radical approach to,” he said.

Grade: F

Labour’s 2014 election manifesto – Promise: “We will improve the availability of education in Croydon”

Progress: The shortage of school places was one of the biggest challenges Labour inherited in 2014. To address it the party continued the policy pursued by the Conservatives of squeezing as many temporary and permanent expansions into already existing schools as possible, as well as approving the building of new ones despite opposition from local residents.

With that route seemingly exhausted, in January Cllr Newman said the authority now had “no choice” but to rely on free schools to meet demand.

Every parent who submitted an application for a place this September received an offer so, by that crucial measure, Labour has delivered.

Grade: A

Promise: “We will launch a housing commission to report back within six months on the scale of the homelessness crisis and to provide possible solutions”

Progress: The council spent £200,000 on a Fairness and Opportunity Commission but the idea of a specific review relating to housing and homelessness has been scrapped.

Cllr Newman said: “We’ve exceeded ourselves on this because we’ve acted. We’re about to launch our own development company, Brick by Brick [which aims to increase the supply of affordable homes]. Such is the scale of the housing pressure we face we’ve gone beyond a commission and we’re into a delivery mode.”

He said plans to launch a not-for-profit letting agency had also been dropped.

Grade: F

Labour leader Tony Newman Promise: “In partnership we will build more affordable homes”

Progress: The single biggest issue facing Croydon and London as a whole.

Croydon is in the middle of a house price boom – the average cost of a home has risen £20,000 in the last six months – but that means fewer and fewer are affordable to the first time buyer.

At the other end of the scale the council is also facing unprecedented number of families presenting themselves as homeless.

Labour’s solution – converting former office blocks into flats – is welcome but only a sticking plaster.

Since coming to power in May 2014 the council has built 33 units, all of which were affordable.

It has also brought back 234 vacant properties into use (marginally more than the two preceding years).

The council has set up its own development company and says it remains determined that 50 per cent of homes built outside the town centre will be affordable.

The target inside the town centre is 30 per cent but there are signs, such as the lack of progress on the Taberner House site, that developers are being put off by that more modest threshold.

Grade: B-

Promise: “We will crack down on rogue and criminal landlords and lettings agents”

Progress: Despite a legal challenge supported by a sizeable number of landlords, letting agents and developers, the council’s licensing scheme – which sees landlords charged £750 per property – launched last October, with a fine of up to £20,000 for those who failed to sign up.

More than 11,000 landlords have registered some 25,000 properties.

The council said the measure would tackle rogue landlords and, in turn, reduce antisocial behaviour and increase standards of accommodation.

It served 130 improvement notices on landlords urging them to comply with the rules between January and May this year compared to 85 issued in the same period last year.

Grade: B

Stuart Collins has energised the council’s fight against fly-tipping

Promise: “Our goal is to make Croydon the cleanest and greenest borough. We will crack down on fly-tipping”

Progress: Immediately after the party’s election win Labour launched its Don’t Mess With Croydon campaign, which combined faster clearing of fly-tipping and a massive increase in the number of people prosecuted for doing it.

In fact, those responsible – and people caught dropping cigarette butts or spitting in public – have found themselves named and shamed (another pledge) on the council’s website.

Labour also launched a new waste collection service which is working as expected after a difficult opening period where missed collections rocketed.

How much difference this has made to the state of Croydon’s streets is debatable – a survey of residents last year suggested as much – but you cannot question Labour’s enthusiasm.

Grade: B (but an A for effort)

Promise: “We will support 20mph zones in residential areas where communities want them”

Progress: The council is currently in the process of lowering speed limits across Croydon.

The first phase, in the north of the borough, received the narrowest of mandates.

The second public consultation process, covering areas such as Shirley and Addiscombe, closed last Friday (May 20).

The results have not yet been published but, despite worrying signs earlier in the month, Cllr Newman told the Advertiser residents appear to have backed the introduction of 20mph limits.

“It’s very much looking like it’s in favour,” he said.

Grade: B+

Labour wants to lower the speed limit on Croydon’s residential streets

Promise: “We will introduce a fair parking policy across all of Croydon. Our district centres will offer free parking for the first hour”

Progress: When the council introduced new parking charges in Croydon last year it fulfilled one election pledge while breaking another.

It said introducing a flat charge for the town centre and another for outer areas would make the system fairer.

But it also scrapped its pledge to offer free parking for the first hour in district centres, a move that went down like a lead balloon in the Coulsdon stretch of Brighton Road, where the free period was halved to 30 minutes.

In April the traffic management committee voted to continue with that policy despite receiving 631 objections and a 878-name petition.

Grade: D – the parking policy has changed but the free parking pledge was broken

Promise: “We support Fairfield Halls and we aim to improve its connection with Croydon town centre over the longer term”

Progress: Nowhere in Labour’s election manifesto did the party mention it would spend £30 million (technically £12 million with the rest yet to be secured) on a refurbished Fairfield Halls.

But that investment, long overdue, has come with a significant caveat for the many fans of Croydon’s historic arts and entertainment complex.

This summer Fairfield will close for two years while the work is completed (a deal secured with some uncompromising negotiation tactics).

The council says closing in phases would be more expensive, take extra time and pose a health and safety risk, and has rebuffed a strongly supported campaign that calls for a rethink.

Of all the policies here, it’s the one Labour has the most invested in.

Grade: To be confirmed

Labour wants to lower the speed limit on Croydon’s residential streets

Promise: “We will review our planning and licensing guidelines to stop the spread of fast-food outlets. We will work to rid our borough of payday loan companies. We will limit the spread of betting shops”

Progress: None. The council has little to no power to prevent the proliferation of any of these types of business, as the people living along London Road, for example, know only to well.

London Road is still dominated by chicken shops, payday loan firms and betting shops, just as it was two years ago.

When residents object to the arrival of another bookmakers’ they are faced with a highly-paid legal expert who reminds the council’s licensing committee it is powerless to intervene.

Nor has the council publicly lobbied the Government to give local authorities the ability to act.

Grade: F

How does Labour think it’s doing?

The Advertiser asked council leader Tony Newman to grade his party’s performance over the last two years.

He said: “I know it’s a political cliché buy my take on the half-term report is that there is a lot of stuff we’re starting to do but we recognise in other areas we have work to do.

“It’s a tough call to grade yourself … I’m not sure I want to answer that … maybe I will go with a B, with a lot more to do.”

What about the opposition?

CONSERVATIVE leader Tim Pollard gave Labour a C- on its half-term report.

“There have been a number of broken promises and other things they blamed on us but have failed to deal with and are now saying is a London-wide or national problem,” he said.

“I think they have made a number of mistakes which will backfire on them, such as Fairfield Halls and I worry about Boxpark. I suppose we’re seeing a typical Labour administration; it’s high on ambition and short of the nouse of running things.

“There has been a lot of window dressing – a lot of things that were touted as being achievements which are non-events, like the cycle race and the fairness commission – but the actual fundamentals of running this borough well are evading them.”

Cllr Pollard admitted there are areas where Labour has outperformed his party.

“I think the area where they are definitely doing better than we did is enforcement around some of the environmental problems, ” he said.

“They have clearly refused to take no for an answer from officers and I wish we had done more.”

What do you think?