Our friends at the Taxpayers’ Alliance have compiled figures for London boroughs’ council tax increases in the last 10 years. This is now being reported in the media and shows a rarity of something that Croydon Council excels at, sadly for the taxpayers of Croydon they excel at taking more of our money.
In the past decade council tax has risen across London from as little as 6.6% in Hammersmith and Fulham, to a whopping 31.1% in Harrow. Where does Croydon fit in all this? Croydon takes up the bronze medal position with a massive 29.3% council tax increase during a decade of low inflation. Most worrying for the people of Croydon the worst could yet be to come. Following de facto bankruptcy we all know council tax is only going one way to pay for the astonishing levels of debt. What does this mean in real terms? The average London Band D council tax is £1.633, Croydon comes in at 5th place across London at £1,888 pounds, some of both the biggest increases and highest payments are the result of years of mismanagement of the borough.
With elections due again in May and with the knowledge that many of the councils budgets that led up to the imposition of the Section 114 notice were voted for by both Labour and Conservative councillors, Croydonians may look for an alternative as either Mayor or as elected councillors. A good place to start would be the Croydon Constitutionalists hustings on February the 24th. Let’s hope the next decade is better for the people of Croydon, although we already fear council tax is only going one way.
Most Croydon residents will have a memory of the Croydon Park Hotel, for me some its of work dos, a venue for giving blood and some slightly clandestine visits to the hotel bar conveniently situated in central Croydon but somewhere you’d be unlikely to bump into anyone you didn’t want to see. Pictures of the hotel still adorn travel sites, a reminder of what a great asset to the town the hotel was. Of course that was before lockdown and the benevolent hand of Croydon Council.
News came this week that the hotel purchased by the council in 2018 has been sold at a loss of some £5 million. Ironically a loss of this magnitude is pretty small fry compared to the disaster that Croydon Council has been in recent years. The purchase was of course hailed as a great success at the time, the council was borrowing cheap money to make a strategic investment and return revenue to its overall budget. Of course things didn’t workout quite as planned, to quote Croydon council’s internal auditors:
“The investments in The Colonnades and Croydon Park Hotel were not grounded in a sufficient understanding of the retail and leisure market and have again illustrated that the Council’s strategy to invest its way out of financial challenge rather than pay attention to controlling expenditure on core services was inherently flawed.”
It is easy to be clever after the event, who could have known at the time the things would go so badly wrong? Well whilst no one likes a ‘told you so’, we, err, ‘told you so’. Writing about the hotel purchase together with the purchase of the Colonnade shopping centre in March 2019 we were able to point out the council has no expertise in running commercial property, we calculated the investments only needed a 3% downturn in revenue for taxpayers to be burdened with the costs of servicing the debts funding these projects. Indeed the council has now confirmed the hotel itself had a running cost of £610,000 a year without even being used as a hotel.
Who knows what would have happened without the pandemic but this was foreseeable. The council had already undertaken an upgrade to the famous Surrey Street Market at a cost of 1.1 million resulting in a lost of both casual and permanent traders, costing over £91,000 per trader lost.
I’m reminded, as is often the case with our local authority of Ronald Regan’s famous line that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”.
If any good comes from this aside from removing the ongoing running costs from the council, is that it removes the conflict of interest, where the council gives planning permission for, and permits licensing of businesses it’s in competition with. Let’s hope Croydon Council will now stay out of commerce, and instead focus on just doing its basic job right.
Croydon residents will have noticed the disappearance of bus shelters across the borough. The old ones were cheap-looking and nasty, but never so awful as their so-called ‘Smart City’ replacements.
Since early 2020, Croydon Council has been working with VALO Smart City towards the ‘Replacement of existing Croydon bus shelters… with new bus shelters and advertising panels, providing an opportunity to embed ‘Smart City’ technology and to upgrade the existing paper advertising with digital advertising screens.’ The programme concerns all 158 shelters which are the council’s responsibility, but not those operated by Transport for London.
VALO Smart City is a New York-based company which conceals its purpose behind unintelligible jargon. According to its website, ‘VALO’s Smart City platform makes cities more efficient by collecting real-time data for city services and infrastructure, such as transportation, utilities, security, and pollution. VALO is a smart city integrator that aims to better people’s lives around the world through the Internet of Things technology.’ Croydon Council tells us the shelters will monitor air quality, noise, footfall and traffic flow.
The scheme is spearheaded by Opama Khan, whose changeable but permanently nonsensical job title is currently ‘Head of Digital Services, Access & Reach’; she is ‘Leading delivery of an ambitious strategy to enhance the borough of Croydon through digital innovation and technology.’ Nobody voted for her, but she wields power over Croydon and won’t be underpaid (the council’s outgoing Chief Digital Officer, Neil Williams, was on over £100,000 a year).
What are we to make of this, apart from that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money when the old shelters worked perfectly well, and that a council which has just received a £120 million bailout after bankruptcy ought to be more careful? Suffice it to say, the council hasn’t revealed the cost but it claims it will generate £6.75 million in advertising revenue over 10 years. One fails to see how it should generate more than the old bus stops which also displayed advertising, but £6.75 million doesn’t seem much considering the council spent £5.4 million on a 2017 revamp of East Croydon bus station, which amounted to smothering the shelters in crass primary colours best appreciated by small children.
It’s pure hypocrisy for a council which subscribes to climate alarmism to outsource its bus shelters to an American company. Like all tech products, they are surely to be made in undeveloped countries, with raw materials, constituent parts and the finished shelters having to be transported thousands of miles before they arrive in Croydon. There may even be a bit of child labour somewhere along the line. And because they are to be online constantly, they are going to require a constant supply of power.
The aesthetic of the shelters may be described as ‘industrial neo-modern’. At night, they will be tackily lit by LEDs. They may not look misplaced on central Croydon’s streets, besieged as they are by glass-and-steel Babels, but they have no place in the suburbs. Croydon’s suburbs were built in accordance with the Arts & Crafts philosophy intended to combine the beauty and healthy qualities of the countryside with the convenience of the town. To introduce the ugliness of stark utilitarianism to such a landscape would be to the detriment of all residents. Far better would be to supply semi-rural and suburban areas with traditional wooden shelters which could be made by local craftspeople for minimal cost.
Most of all, the great evil of the Smart City which affects us all is the spread of Big Brother. One may wonder how a bus shelter monitors footfall and traffic flow. That’s easy – it has cameras which, with its internet connection, might be viewed at any time from some central H.Q. With our government demonstrating increasingly authoritarian tendencies, surveillance bus shelters are not our friend.
Now we hear “Significant sums” are still being queried by auditors in Croydon LBC’s 2019-20 accounts – with the auditor having sought advice from a QC over one outstanding issue – while a number of “significant risks” remain over the current year’s budget”
The Chronicle reports: “concerns around the approval of a £30m refurbishment budget for the council’s Fairfield Halls arts centre, to be paid for through the transfer of land to Brick by Brick to be developed and sold” and that “there are “a number of significant risks, amounting to £26.6m, which could negatively impact on the outturn position” – even before any accounting adjustments needed for the Fairfield Halls development are taken into account” compared to reserves of just £7.4 million.
It has now been almost 10 months since we first spoke of the imminent de facto bankruptcy of the council. We now have to ask, what has changed in that time? How have the finances of local taxpayers’, and the needs of service users been protected? Why has it taken 10 months for these issues to come to light? We want to know why weren’t the fully extent of the problems made clear when the councils finances were first recapitalised, and how can we fell confident we will ever see an end to this ongoing failure of governance?
Croydon leading the list of local boroughs with executives paid over £100K, according to report.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance have issued their 2021 Town Hall Rich List of council employees in the UK in receipt of over £100,000 in total remuneration. The list covers the financial year 2019-20, and since then we have seen Croydon Council issue a Section 114 notice, declaring de facto bankruptcy. It’s not hard to see why the council ended up in this position when despite years of complaining about a lack of funding, and years of maximum council tax increases, Croydon Council still had 19 people earning over £100,000 a year, with six people whose remuneration exceeded the salary of the Prime Minister.
To put this in context, neighbouring Bromley had just 9 staff whose remuneration exceeded £100,000. Sutton had 10 staff, Merton 9, Tandridge 2, and Reigate & Banstead 6. Whilst our inner London neighbours Lambeth had 18 and Lewisham 15 (both fewer than Croydon), Barnet a similar sized borough made do with just 9 staff on over £100K.
Private sector organisations often benchmark salaries against other similar organisations. Indeed, within the council, schools are required to benchmark themselves on a range of financial measures against others similar schools. We wonder if it has ever benchmarked their own executive salaries, and if it has, what conclusions they drew? We can see why Croydon Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton described the situation at the council as follows: “There has been collective corporate blindness to both the seriousness of the financial position and the urgency with which actions needed to be taken”.
The current council leader, and others in the cabinet were in the cabinet at the time these bumper salaries were being paid out. What were they doing to control council expenses? Of course we now know those councillors were in receipt of the highest average allowance in London.
Many things have changed at Croydon Council but the latest figures still show 16 people being paid over £100,000 and two on more than the nation’s Prime Minister. Deep cuts are being made to front line jobs and services, can we say that is being reflected in the salaries of those at the top?
As council tax bills are landing in people homes, the people of Croydon who will pay for the mismanagement of the council budget have the right to ask, why we are being expected to once again pay more, when the those at the top of the council seem to be so well rewarded.
Croydon Council Pay over £100,000, 2019-20:
Guy Van Dichele
Executive director (interim) of health, wellbeing & adults
Executive director, place
Executive director of resources and monitoring officer
Executive director of children, families & education
Executive director of gateway, strategy & engagement
Director of finance, investment and risk and interim S151 officer
Mike Swadling of this parish is Vice Chair of Governors at Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School in Thornton Heath, Croydon. Many of us have found lockdown hard, too many of us have failed to put the time to good use, but one local school has used this period to good effect.
“Founded in 1906, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants School sits on a site with separate Junior Boys and Girls schools. The last remaining single-sex, state-funded junior schools in the country. Whilst the schools often cooperate they remain very much independent schools, with their own staff, heads, budgets and governors”
“ensure compliance with required regulations and the good governance of public resources. Following much hard work over the previous year the school received a commendable ‘Substantial Assurance’ audit”
“Teachers provide a warm, nurturing start to each day with a live online session. They give clear guidance and support to pupils and parents about the day’s learning tasks.”
“This past year has been a challenge for everyone, some of us have used the time to set goals, many of us have failed to achieve them, but one local school, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, can rightly say, its whole community should be proud of its journey of self-improvement”
The TaxPayers’ Alliance have published an update on Croydon Council written by Mike Swadling of this parish.
“Ambitious for Croydon” was the Labour Party’s motto when they were duly elected to run Croydon again in 2018. Certainly, the plans have been ambitious; as has the spending that went with them. Whilst the budgets that underpinned these goals have largely received cross-party support, things quickly spiralled out of control, as many had predicted”
“makes it all the more galling that the council was forking out vast sums of local residents’ money on things such as solar panelled bins – and now they need to close rubbish tips, which will no doubt lead to more fly-tipping!”
“Croydon’s councillors voted to reduce £300,000 from councillor pay from April 2021. Better late than never, but this will still likely leave Croydon’s councillors in the top 20 per cent best remunerated in the country and top six in London. Is this really fitting for cabinet members who oversaw only the second council bankruptcy this century?”
“Against this backdrop, Croydon’s hard-pressed taxpayers are bound to ask what has changed. Highly paid executives and well-remunerated councillors oversaw a fiasco that has left local households to pick up the tab for many years to come.”
We discuss the Government’s confused lockdown exit strategy and the announcement of a referendum on a Directly Elected Mayor for Croydon along with other developments at Croydon Council. We then chat about Sir Keir Starmer’s apparent wish to replace the free market system, the fact that he is not woke enough for some of his comrades and Sadiq Khan’s “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm”.
As Croydon goes bankrupt you don’t need to worry about its councillors going short.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a review of local authority councillor allowances – Councillors’ allowances 2020 – TaxPayers’ Alliance. The report shows people who live just miles apart from each other may be represented by councillors who have similar workloads but are entitled to vastly different allowances. This is true for the residents of Croydon.
In 2018-19 Croydon’s Councillors received a relatively modest basic allowance £11,407 for these ‘unpaid’ roles, although it should be noted this is the second highest rate in London. What’s more alarming is when you average the total cost it comes to £21,784 per councillor. Croydon councillors were the 11th most expensive of 398 councils across the country and the highest costing in London.
In the same time period neighbouring Sutton (£12,135) and Bromley (£12,111) were both much cheaper coming in 168th and 169th in average cost per councillor. Croydon’s comparatively lavish allowances were being paid whilst the council’s external auditors Grant Thornton were, as recently reported, warning about low reserves and poor financial controls. You have to wonder how they could justify these allowances whilst asking taxpayers for ever increasing amounts of money.
Since then the council has issued a Section 114 notice and gone into de facto bankruptcy. After cutting services and making over 400 job cuts Croydon’s councillors have finally shared some of the burden. On the 16th December Croydon’s councillors voted to reduce £300,000 from councillor pay from April 2021. Whilst this is a welcome reduction it will still likely leave Croydon’s councillors in the top 20% best rewarded in the country and top 6 highest rewarded in London. We ask, does this really reflect the damage Croydon Council’s poor administration has wrought on services in the borough? Do the people of Croydon think their councillors who oversaw only the second council bankruptcy this century, deserve to be the in the top fifth for reward?
Drastic financial restructuring is needed at Croydon Council. Services will be cut, regressive council taxes will increase, and likely more employees will lose their roles. We commend Croydon’s Councillors for cutting £300,000 from their allowances, but this must only be a start. Along with dramatic cuts for the citizens and staff, councillors should step up to the plate and aim to come in no higher than the average cost per councillor in London, still high for a bankrupt council but a reasonable sacrifice.
We ask Councillors Hamida Ali, and Jason Perry to work on further reducing allowances in Croydon. Until then whatever else you worry about, as Croydon goes bankrupt, you don’t need to worry about its councillors going short.