a) Public Questions (30 minutes)
To receive questions submitted by residents in advance of the meeting.
b) Leader and Cabinet Member Questions (105 minutes)
To receive questions from Councillors.
Madam Mayor explained that Croydon Question Time would commence with 30 minutes of public questions to the Leader and Cabinet Members. In accordance with advice from the Government and Public Health England, it was not possible to hold public meetings in the Town Hall. As a result, members of the public were unable to ask questions from the public gallery in the Council Chamber. Questions had been received by email until12 noon on Friday 9 October 2020. There had been 11 public questions submitted on the subject of the Low Traffic Network (LTN) in the Upper Norwood/Crystal Palace area which Madam Mayor proceeded to put in turn to Councillor King the Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport & Regeneration.
Madam Mayor read a question from Sonia Marinello to the meeting: “Councillor King, you have stated that once the feasibility study into Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras is complete you will be sharing information on how you could amend the LTN and the process for consulting residents on the proposed changes. Can you confirm how you will do that and whether feedback will be sought from businesses and residents of the other boroughs affected?”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. The informal consultation paper was to be published in early November 2020. One of the options to be consulted on would be to replace planters with ANPR cameras and to allow residents within the boundary of the LTN access through these points. It was intended to seek the views of residents from both boroughs as well as local businesses.
Madam Mayor read a question from Roxanne Escobales to the meeting: “In what way are the LTNs in Upper Norwood Ward intended to reduce vehicle emissions?”
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. It was highlighted that Croydon was the London Borough with the greatest potential for both walking and cycling. Transport for London (TfL) estimated that there were just over 400,000 motorised trips (mostly using cars) made each weekday by Croydon residents which could readily be cycled and 125,000 which could be walked. Many of the journeys that were undertaken were less than two miles in length, a distance that many people could walk or cycle.
In 2018, 129,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted by vehicles on Croydon’s minor roads. If it was possible to convert just one in five of those journeys from car to active travel modes then emissions caused by vehicles would reduce noticeably.
Madam Mayor read a question from Jane Chandler to the meeting: “Did Councillor King take into account the impact on bus timetables before implementing the LTN scheme on Auckland Rd/Church Rd?”
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. It was described how the Council had tried to take bus services into account when deciding on the LTN scheme. The introduction of the bus gate in Auckland Road was in response to concerns about bus service accessibility for route 410. This was particularly focused on older bus users, who were less able to access the detour that was established when planters were originally in place.
In respect of buses using the Triangle, it was believed that the presence of the temporary signals in Church Road had contributed significantly to the congestion that occurred at certain times and had an impact on bus reliability. These signals were due to be removed on or around 20 October 2020, and meant that buses using the Triangle would be able to keep to their timetable more easily.
TfL, which was responsible for London’s bus services, urged local authorities to take swift action to implement measures such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. It wanted to see safe space provided for people to walk and cycle. Social distancing on public transport meant its capacity was much reduced. TfL was keen that people were helped to make shorter journeys by walking or using bikes rather than driving or attempting to use public transport. Local authorities across London – including Croydon - had responded to TfL’s request.
Madam Mayor read a question from Jane Mitchell to the meeting: “The vulnerable and disabled are more likely to be dependent on roads for their physical and mental wellbeing because of their dependence on carers, hospice visitors, medical visits, hospital appointments, social worker visits, district nurse visits, community mental health visits, family visits and home deliveries. Did Councillor King undertake a disability impact assessment to understand the impact of the road closures on those groups before implementing the scheme?”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. It was emphasised that the LTN had not prevented access to any of the roads, properties or businesses in the area by any group of people. The purpose of the LTN was to stop through traffic diverting from the Principal Road Network on to less suitable residential roads. This provided quieter and safer space to help people to choose to walk or cycle.
As part of the forthcoming consultation, Councillor King announced at the meeting, that it was hoped to hear from as many people as possible from all walks of life to understand how they believed the Council should proceed in light of their experience of the LTN.
Madam Mayor read a further question from Jane Mitchell to the meeting:
“Advice from Crime Prevention agencies to women and those who feel vulnerable walking after dark is that they should avoid travelling through low traffic areas. Local polls suggest that most women (who might ordinarily walk or use public transport) do not feel safe after dark on the closed off roads of Upper Norwood / Crystal Palace. Some have significant distances to walk through dark and deserted streets if they have travelled home by train. I was attacked after dark in Croydon (Upper Norwood) some years ago and luckily my scream attracted a passing motorist who stopped and gave chase. Councillor King, what do you say to women (and others) who do not feel safe after dark on roads with little or no through traffic? Should they stay in?”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question and for sharing something that can be so difficult to raise. It was explained that street lighting within Croydon was designed to comply with the British Standard for lighting the highway. Following receipt of concerns of the nature raised checks were made in the area around Warminster Road and Lancaster Road areas, and lighting levels were confirmed as being compliant.
It was explained that there was no desire to compromise the public’s sense of safety on their streets, but the Council had the same aim of promoting the safety of those wishing to walk and cycle. Speeding was a criminal act that resulted in significant levels of personal injury as well as death. A great many people, especially children were deterred from walking at any time by the traffic conditions and environment within many of Croydon’s streets. The Council was trying to strike a balance between those sometimes competing requirements.
Madam Mayor expressed her personal thanks to Jane Mitchell for sharing such a difficult experience.
Madam Mayor read a question from Claire Plaskasovitis to the meeting: “What evidence is there that controlling or restricting traffic flow on Belfast Road and/or Apsley Road, SE25 will encourage social distancing or promote active travel?”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. A research report called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, Car Use and Active Travel in Outer London published in September 2020 concluded that the larger effects in terms of decreased car ownership and use, increased active travel were in areas where Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) had been introduced. Decreased car ownership and use was only found in such areas.
Madam Mayor read a question from Richard Mearns to the meeting: “Councillor King, you support communities coming together during COVID-19. Yet you have actively placed a wedge between communities because of your inability to realise the effect of the LTN and because you have failed to implement a proper roads strategy.
You have caused divides within communities who live on the same roads. I ask you this: if you are so focussed on communities coming together what do you say to hundreds of Croydon and Bromley neighbours - adults, children, elderly, young, rich and poor - who live on streets like Belvedere Road, Cintra Park, Patterson Road and Milestone Road? You have sent huge amounts of displaced traffic their way. You have admitted "regret" over this but have yet to take any effective action to fix your mistake. What do you say to them? Do their lungs and quality of life not matter - or is it rather that their votes don’t count and they are not important to you until 2022? ”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. A major aim of the scheme was to prevent much of the through traffic that used Auckland Road, Lancaster Road and Southern Avenue as direct connections between Penge Road in the south and Annerley Hill in the north. At its worst an estimated 15,000 vehicles used these residential roads to rat run through the area. As explained on the Council’s webpage, the Council had received numerous concerns over recent years about the levels and speed of traffic on Auckland Road and surrounding streets, such as Lancaster Road and Southern Avenue. Further requests for action were received early in lockdown.
The conditions described were ones experienced for many years by residents of, amongst others, Lancaster Road, Southern Avenue and Auckland Road. The Council had repeatedly communicated to Bromley Council its wish to work collectively to address the conditions described. Action could not be taken on the highway in Bromley without its agreement.
Madam Mayor read a question from Alison McNaught to the meeting: “Traders on the Triangle are reporting a loss of takings. Customers are reporting they will no longer come to the Triangle because of the traffic. Disrupted operations and deliveries, along with increased pollution started from the first week of August, when the road closures on Sylvan Hill, Stambourne Way and Fox Hill were implemented. There was also a pre-existing traffic intervention in the form of temporary traffic lights to accommodate the scaffolding on the shopfront on Church Road. How closely did the Highway Improvements Team work with Croydon’s Economic Development Team in the planning of the LTNs in the Upper Norwood Ward to assess the economic impact on the local area’s traders?”.
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. The Council’s LTN team had regular contact with colleagues in the Economic Development Team. This was evidenced in the decision to remove the footway widening schemes that were introduced at the Triangle during the early part of the lockdown. This was as a result of direct feedback from businesses and conversations with the Economic Development Team.
The Council was confident that the removal of the scaffold in the next few weeks would improve the situation. The consultation that had been announced would provide a further opportunity for businesses to give their views on which of the options being considered would help most.
Madam Mayor read a question form Stephen Tabberner to the meeting: “Councillor King, can you give assurances that the road closures in Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace will have a positive impact on air quality in the area, which is particularly important during this Covid 19 pandemic?”
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. The closures implemented by the Council were intended to give residents greater choice to adopt active/sustainable travel modes. However, the Council was unable to compel people to do so and therefore, it was with regret that it could not be guaranteed that air quality would improve.
In 2018, 129,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted by vehicles on Croydon’s minor roads. If the Council was able to convert just one in five of those journeys from car to active travel modes then emissions caused by vehicles would reduce noticeably.
Trying to be a healthy weight and to improve fitness were also particularly important during the pandemic. In the forward to the Government’s recently published vision for cycling and walking the Prime Minister states; “This unprecedented pandemic has also shown many of us, myself very much included, that we need to think harder about our health. We need to think harder about how we can make lifestyle changes that keep us more active and fit – the way we travel is central to this.”
Madam Mayor read a question from Stuart Aitken to the meeting: “We are told that the road closures in Upper Norwood/Crystal Palace need time to 'bed in'. Can Councillor King kindly assist in explaining his understanding of the theory of traffic evaporation?”
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. All schemes of this nature would require a period of time for people to get used to the changes involved and time to consider changing their own approach to getting around. This hopefully means that people who would not normally choose to adopt active modes of travel may rethink their choices as roads became safer and access to walking and cycling became more attractive. It was this reduction in local traffic that gives rise to the traffic evaporation.
This Council’s experience of introducing School Streets is a helpful example. It provided evidence that the overall number of journeys had reduced.
TfL’s research indicates that there were just over 125,000 motorised trips (mostly car) made by Croydon residents each weekday that could be readily walked and just over 400,000 that could be cycled. This perhaps gives some indication as to the level of potential ‘evaporation’.
Madam Mayor read a question from Eliska Finlay to the meeting: “Can Councillor King clarify how the Upper Norwood Crystal Palace Road closures fit with the vision guidance provided by Transport for London?”
In his response, Councillor King gave his thanks for the question. It was explained that a more detailed response would be published. However, TfL’s London Streetspace Plan – Interim Guidance to Boroughs published in May 2020, refers London local authorities to the Department for Transport Covid related Guidance in the first instance. That Guidance states: “Local authorities in areas with high levels of public transport use should take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling, both to encourage active travel and to enable social distancing during restart. Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect. None of these measures are new – they are interventions that are a standard part of the traffic management toolkit, but a step-change in their roll-out is needed to ensure a green restart.”
Questions to the Leader
Having been invited by Madam Mayor to ask his question, the Leader of the Opposition, , highlighted how two weeks prior to the meeting all Labour Group Councillors had supported the Leader in a vote of no confidence. The Leader was asked to confirm when he would be standing down to allow a new leadership team to deal with the bid to MHCLG.
In response, the Leader stated it was for the Labour Group to determine the process and timeframe for selecting a new Leader. Additionally, he was ultimately answerable to the electorate.
Councillor Perry used his supplementary question to suggest that the Leader was not taking his question seriously. The Council was £1.5bn in debt, housing and shopping centres had been bought against policy and the Council’s debt had increased by £15k for each hour the Leader had been in charge. Councillor Perry asked the Leader why he thought things would change when his Group had supported him unanimously two weeks previously. The Leader expressed his responsibility and stated that the best chance of gaining a MHCLG settlement was with cross-party support. The Leader described how the Prime Minister was just about to take to the airwaves. Meanwhile Test & Trace was in tatters, London Boroughs were underfunded to the tune of £1.4bn for Covid despite Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, telling Councils to do whatever it took. Having a new Leader was about trying to put politics aside in order that the best deal from Government could be secured. The Leader called on both Groups to raise their game.
Councillor Audsley thanked the Leader for his Service and asked how the Croydon Renewal Plan would tackle inequalities.
In response the Leader expressed the importance of this question at a time when Covid was re-emerging. Whilst the collective impact of the pandemic were evident it was also clear that it was exacerbating existing inequalities. Black Lives Matter had also raised awareness of further inequalities. It was clear that the Council had to address this despite having less resource. Equality and sustainability needed to run as a thread through all the Council’s future action. Equality could not be an afterthought.
In his supplementary, Councillor Audsley asked how the Council might use its wider influence to address inequality. For example, through its supply chain and the London Living Wage. In response, the Leader noted that at some point the Covid emergency would end and that the temptation for a race to the bottom should be resisted. Working conditions and initiatives such as the London Living Wage had to be maintained. It was the Council’s role to lead on the economic recovery and to prevent exploitation. Whilst the Council’s powers were limited, the Leader was proud of the Council’s support for the London Living Wage and what it had done to prevent the use of zero hours contracts. It was acknowledged that there was more to do.
Councillor Hale asked the Leader why all those nominated by the Council to the Brick By Brick board had resigned.
In his response, the Leader explained that this was for a variety of reasons, including some that were personal. PwC had been commissioned to undertake an independent strategic review of group companies. This was to be undertaken rapidly and report within weeks and not months with the objective of achieving a stable governance structure. There was a need to wait for the outcome of the review to become available with it being noted that the Opposition had also sought for the review to happen.
In her supplementary, Councillor Hall expressed the importance that MHCLG be given all the information it needed to make a decision about supporting the Council. Concern was expressed about there being too much secrecy, especially regarding Brick By Brick. The Leader was asked if he agreed that it was inappropriate to continue in such a way. In response, the Leader reiterated that the Opposition had asked for a review of group companies and this was being conducted. However, significant demand for housing was going to remain and that this still had to be fulfilled. The Leader described how he was therefore gently pushing back at the Government’s planning reforms, which would not assist and were undermining democracy.
Councillor Fraser expressed his thanks to the Leader for his service and asked about the Co-operative Council Innovation Network in addition to the role of equality and equity in shaping the Council’s future.
In response, the Leader agreed and expressed his support for co-operative values. It was noted that Croydon was the first Fair Trade borough in London. It was important to look at services being delivered differently and that the co-operative model should be embraced with greater devolution to the community.
With the end of the time allocated for questions to the Leader, Madam Mayor signalled that she was moving to questions to the Cabinet Members in the first pool. Councillors Lewis, Flemming and Campbell were invited to make their announcements.
Councillor Lewis, the Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure & Sport, informed Members that the Council had been awarded two Tree Oscars. Congratulations and thanks was given to the in-house team and the community groups that had made this possible. Madam Mayor added her thanks.
Councillor Flemming, the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People & Learning, added her congratulations to the officers who had been awarded MBEs. Both Rashida Baig and Val Burrell-Walker were officers within the Children’s Department and both were committed to improving the lives of residents. It was stated that Council was occurring during Children’s Service practice week. This was being used to look at how to drive up quality and standards to achieve the shift from good to the outstanding target. The Department was also supporting schools dealing with the impact of the pandemic, including when pupils needed to self-isolate. Councillor Flemming welcomed Debbie Jones to the role of Interim Executive Director Children, Families and Education. It was explained that work was ongoing to appoint to the role permanently.
Councillor Campbell, the Cabinet Member for Families, Health & Social care, gave thanks to Kevin Oakhill, who as a representative of the autistic community was helping Croydon become an autism friendly borough. This work was being supported by Councillor Fitzpatrick, who was the Council’s Autism Champion. Councillor Campbell also thanked Patricia Clark for her work looking at mental health and Black History. A handbook had been developed to look at stereotypes and to address inequalities of access to provision.
Councillor Gatland also expressed her congratulations to those officers who had been awarded MBE. Councillor Flemming was asked to explain why she had failed to control spending by the Children, Families and Education Department and therefore whether she would resign.
In response, Councillor Flemming expressed her disappointment at the question posed. It was noted that Councillor Gatland was on the Improvement Board and therefore had taken part in the Council’s journey. There was first hand understanding of the underfunding of children’s and adult’s social care. It was explained how the costs of placements were being increased by services bidding against each other. The Council’s Foster Care service had been taken back in-house and the Council was increasing the number of Foster Carers locally although specialist provision could still only be fulfilled outside of the borough. The focus was now on early intervention because it was known that outcomes were better when children remained with their families. It was being considered how to invest in the service but the first priority was to ensure children were safe.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Gatland expressed her willingness to participate in the Improvement Board and that she had welcome the Chief Executive’s invitation to participate in this and provide challenge. However, further cuts were needed which would mean having to lose loyal workers when the service was on a difficult journey. Councillor Gatland feared further turmoil and the impact of this on future Ofsted inspections. In response, Councillor Flemming noted that Councillor Gatland had been invited to join the Improvement Board on her request. The impact of inadequate funding for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) on the overspend was highlighted. This had been the subject of Council Debate Motion which had sought cross-party agreement to ask for additional Government funding. Councillor Gatland was asked if she supported this and whether looking after the most vulnerable was the most important thing the Council could do as corporate parents. If so, then support should be given to writing to the Government to seek additional funding.
Councillor Ben-Hassel asked Councillor Lewis about the role of culture and arts as a driver for economic recovery. Clarification was sought on how this was being supported by the Council.
In response, Councillor Lewis highlighted that Croydon had been awarded as the 2023 London Borough of Culture. At the outset of the pandemic, the Council had moved quickly to support the borough’s culture and arts organisations establishing a £135k fund with awards averaging just over £3k being allocated to local creative organisations. These were being used to support the production of content during the pandemic when it was not possible to perform in the usual way.
In her supplementary, Councillor Ben-Hassel asked how it was possible to make the best possible use of Fairfield Halls to support the arts and the community during the pandemic. In response, Councillor Lewis described the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and how this was having an impact on big and small organisation. The Council had worked with BH Live to put Fairfield Halls into an extended period of hibernation with further clarity awaited from the Government. It was felt that the risks were too great for it to open. However, it was still being used by the groups based there. The London Mozart Players, which were resident at the Halls, had used it undertake a radio recording.
Councillor Bennett asked Councillor Flemming to clarify from which departments the 47 agency social workers, whose employment with the Council had been terminated, had been lost.
Councillor Flemming stated that she was not able to provide the specifics. However, Councillor Flemming had consulted with the Director of Children’s Social Services and was able to confirm that that Children’s Social Care workforce comprised 20% agency and 80% permanent staff. Staff reductions were only being made where there had been a decrease in demand with it being explained that the number of those in care was failing.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Bennett sought reassurance that remaining social workers would not have an unacceptable increase in caseloads. Councillor Flemming explained that whilst there had been a slight increase in the number of cases per social worker, this was still below the maximum target of 16 applied during the Ofsted monitoring period. This was included in the key data being monitored by the Children’s Improvement Board to ensure quality.
Councillor Mann asked what was being done to see the return of Croydon Football Club, the Trams.
In response, Councillor Lewis expressed his regret that, due to financial implications, the Croydon Sports Arena was unable to reopen, putting Croydon Football Club at a disadvantage. However, it was hoped that the club could be accommodated at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. Councillor Lewis described how he planned to work with Councillor Young to gain capital investment for the Croydon Sports Arena, making it a more sustainable site and to allow Croydon Football Club to move back into the borough.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Mann asked about Wanders Football Club which was at risk of losing its home at Virgo Fidelis School, which was under threat of closure. Councillor Lewis was asked to meet with the club to assist it in making plans for the future. Councillor Lewis described the illustrious history of Wanders FC and stated that he would be happy to attend a meeting. It was thought that there was potential for both football clubs to be accommodated at Crystal Palace National Sports Arena.
Councillor Hopley asked Councillor Campbell about the Adult Social Services Review Panel which had not meet since the beginning of the pandemic. This meant that important information could not be accessed. Councillor Campbell was asked what she was trying to hide and why this information could not be provided and discussed.
In response, Councillor Campbell expressed her disappointed at the question asked; Councillor Campbell had spoken with Councillor Hopley and explained that information had not been provided due to a data migration issue. The Adult Social Services Review Panel had not been held due to Covid.
Councillor Hopley used her supplementary question to express her disappointment and stressed the importance of the information being available and discussed. In response, Councillor Campbell expressed her willingness to work with the Opposition at any time and that there was nothing to hide.
Councillor Clouder asked Councillor Campbell if the pandemic was increasing demand on mental health services and how services were able to meet needs.
In response, Councillor Campbell explained how some Public Health contingency funds had been ring-fenced and would be used to tackle the inequalities exacerbated by Covid; these included obesity, take-up of immunisation, substance misuse, emotional health and suicide. It was described how mental health support services were being provided through telephone and online provision with escalation where needed. The support provided by the voluntary sector was acknowledged.
Councillor Mohan asked Councillor Lewis about the promise made at the Council meeting held on 28 September 2020 to provide further information regarding the 40% of Croydon’s GLL run leisure centres that had not reopened and why this contact had not been forthcoming.
In response, Councillor Lewis explained that Councillor Oviri’s request had not been made to him and that he would respond to the email received on the matter. Councillor Lewis described how there were different models employed by local authorities for the provision of leisure centres. With regard to Croydon, those centres that were economically viable had been reopened. Monks Hill and Ashburton Hall had open since the last Council meeting. The economic interests of the contract and partnership with GLL had to come first and it was not possible to reopen those centres that were loss making as this would have an impact on the partnership and budget.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Mohan asked about the refurbishment and reopening of Purley Pool. In response, Councillor Lewis confirmed that there had been investment in Purley Pool but that more was needed. Whether or not this would be forthcoming would needed to be determined based on consideration of the wider budget.
With the end of the time allocated to questions to the Cabinet Members in the first pool, Madam Mayor signalled she was moving on to questions to Cabinet Members in the second pool. Councillors Butler, Hamida Ali and Shahul-Hameed were invited to make their announcements.
Councillor Butler, the Cabinet Member for Homes & Gateway Services, described her pleasure at attending the topping out ceremony for 90 Council flats at the Taberner House site which had been named Malcolm Wicks House.
Councillor Hamida Ali, the Cabinet Member for Safer Croydon & Communities, highlighted two important events. Hate Crime Awareness Week gave access to support which was important given the rise in violence experienced during lockdown. Councillor Hamida Ali signposted the Stop Hate UK 24 hour helpline. Members of Council were encourage to lend their support to and publicise Black History Month which was helping to learn from the past for an equal future.
Councillor Shahul-Hameed, the Cabinet Member for Economy & Jobs, highlighted how the Council had won two apprenticeship awards – one for how the Council had supported apprenticeships through its supply chain and the other for the best progression by an apprentice. A young food market had also been held to support learning about cooking different foods and to give experience of street trading.
Councillor Hale referenced her question to the Leader regarding the directors of Brick By Brick. Councillor Butler was asked why none of the six directors who had resigned had been replaced.
In response, Councillor Butler noted that some director appointments had been made by the Council and some by Brick By Brick and it was for the organisation to comment on its own appointments. It was explained that most of the resignations reflected that Council officers had changed roles. For example, Lisa Taylor had stepped down to become the Council’s Section 151 Officer and Shifa Mustafa’s role did not align with the Brick By Brick directorship. It was reiterated that Brick By Brick and the Council’s other companies were subject to an independent review. Whilst it was appropriate for the Council to resume its role on the board of Brick By Brick, the outcome of the review was awaited.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Hale expressed her concern and asked how many directors were required to support an organisation with £230m debt. Councillor Butler was asked if she still gave her support to Brick By Brick. In her response, Councillor Butler again referenced that a full and thorough review was being conducted including of governance and finance as well as looking at how the organisation operated. It was appropriate to wait for this to become available before further action was taken.
Councillor Prince asked Councillor Butler if she was pleased to see new Council houses coming through and to what extent these had benefited from external funding.
In response, Councillor Butler expressed her delight that funding from the London Mayor had come forward from the Building Council Homes for Londoners which meant it had been possible to reduce borrowing and allowed for the stock of housing to be increased with more coming forward through Brick By Brick.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Prince asked where the next schemes coming forward for residents would be located. Councillor Butler explained that these would be available across the borough, providing opportunities for residents on the housing waiting list from the centre of the borough to the north and the south. Councillor Butler highlighted the quality of the schemes being delivered.
Councillor Hoar asked Councillor Shahul-Hameed about the £60m of Government funding available for small businesses in Croydon and the £8m of this that remained unallocated.
In response, Councillor Shahul-Hameed explained that there were a total of 3,981 small business that were eligible to claim a small business grant under the scheme of which 3, 944 were in receipt of funds. In total, £53m had been distributed to 99.1% of all those businesses that qualified, with just 37 missed. These included those business that did not wish to make a claim as they did not believe that they required this funding. With regard to the discretionary business grants scheme, 598 businesses had benefited receiving up to £25k. Overall, this meant that of the funding available for businesses only £4.9m remained unallocated. Additionally, funding for businesses affected was anticipated for local lockdowns. The Economic Development Team was thanked for its hard work supporting local businesses.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Hoar expressed his relief that some of the funding allocated was getting out to local businesses. It was acknowledged that Croydon’s position on funding to small businesses had improved. However, the distribution of funds was described as slow and unresponsive compared to the speed at which other Councils had distributed their funding. The Council’s response was therefore another failure. In response, Councillor Shahul-Hameed stated that Councillor Hoar needed to get his figures correct and that the Council had successfully managed to distribute the funding to small businesses which was reflected in the most recent league tables.
Councillor Canning asked Councillor Butler about how the Council’s award winning Gateway Service had responded to the pandemic.
In response, Councillor Butler described how the Gateway Service had been incredibly busy and had responded to a significant increase in the number of requests. This was exemplified by a threefold increase in the requests for Free School Meals. Councillor Butler highlighted that it was not the only service that had experienced an increase in demand; Croydon Adult Support, Rough Sleeping and Bereavement were all examples of services that had experienced a significant increase and had coped well.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Canning gave his thanks to officers and asked about the likely impact of Universal Credit being cut. In her response, Council Butler highlighted that the increase to Universal Credit at the start of the lockdown in March 2020 had been welcomed. The increase acknowledged that the system of Universal Credit was not fit for purpose and not providing sufficient support given the circumstances being faced. It was therefore a shock that this was being taken away. Those on Universal Credit were already on the lowest income and the decrease would have an effect on homelessness.
Councillor Millson asked Councillor Butler about the hard fought campaign that has resulted in the first rejection of a Brick By Brick planning application. Against the Council’s record of concreting over green spaces, Councillor Butler was asked to pledge not to concrete anymore of the borough.
In response, Councillor Butler expressed her disappointed that Councillor Millson and other Members of the Opposition, never spoke about the people affected. The focus on concrete failed to look at the homes desperately needed. The application had been considered by the Planning Committee which had refused to grant permission. Brick By Brick was onsite across the borough. The need for homes was also being impacted by Covid which brought stark contrast between those who did and those who did not have a home.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Millson ask if the Council’s approach to home building was reckless. It was highlighted that more homes were being built than required by the local plan at the cost of greenspaces. In response, Councillor Butler stressed that no greenspaces had lost their designations and greenspaces remained protected. There had been no applications by the Council or Brick By Brick to build on any land with a designation.
Councillor Jewitt asked Councillor Hamida Ali about the increased incidence of domestic violence.
In response, Councillor Hamida Ali welcomed the opportunity to raise awareness of domestic violence. There had been a 7.4% increase in enquiries related to domestic violence and a 16% increase in the number of incidents reported regarded as high risk. Data provided to the Safer Croydon Board ranked Croydon first in London for the number of incidents and offences and fourth in terms of population. Croydon was ranked higher than the London average which placed even greater importance on the Family Justice Centre. The Council had undertaken awareness raising campaigns since the start of lockdown, with the Centre open seven days a week with longer opening hours offered twice a week.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Jewitt asked about reciprocal agreements with other boroughs to allow those who had experienced domestic violence to be moved out of the area. In her response, Councillor Hamida Ali highlighted the importance of such arrangements that allowed all survivors with a social tenancy to move to another borough to be safe. It was stressed to the meeting that other forms of domestic violence were also the focus. This included domestic violence that was honour based and Female Genital Mutilation.
Councillor Stranack asked Councillor Hamida Ali about the safety of the community fund. The 38 charities relying on this and that had signed up to it in 2020/21 for three years were concerned about the subsequent two years of funding.
In response, Councillor Hamida Ali explained how despite the amendment to the budget agreed at Council on 28 September 2020, the funding had been guaranteed for 2020/21. Conversations were taking place with regard to the future of the community fund.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Stranack highlighted that the Councillor had not been able to confirm the future of the community fund. The situation of the Croydon Mosque & Islamic Centre was given as an illustration. Its income had reduced from £300k to £40k with Councillor Hamida Ali being asked how she was able to assist. In her response, Councillor Hamida Ali explained that she did not want to be misrepresented. She had not said no to the community fund. Rather she had acknowledged the difficulties and that discussions were ongoing with regard to the Council’s budget. It was also described how the Council had provided an emergency fund during the pandemic to support the voluntary sector.
With the end of the time allocated to questions to the Cabinet Members in the second pool, Madam Mayor signalled she was moving on to questions to Cabinet Members in the third pool. Councillors Collins, King and Young were invited to make their announcements.
Councillor Collins, Cabinet Member for Clean Green Croydon, stated that a petition had been launched to get Parliament to hold a debate on having a fly-tipping campaign. The petition was supported by Clean Up Britain and the South and East London Borough Waste Partnerships.
Councillor Young, Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources, gave his thanks to his predecessor, Councillor Hall, for services to the Council. It was emphasised to Members of Council, that this was Councillor Young’s first day in his role as the Cabinet Member for Finance & Resources. A reminder was provided that Council had approved the budget in March 2020 with lockdown commencing 22 days later. Many public bodies had struggled to manage the impact of the pandemic such that all needed to roll sleeves up and do the work. It was described how there was now a new team in place to spearhead this work and that Councillor Young would be calling on his personal experience of leading a £900m Treasury review. Councillor Young thought it would have been remiss of him not to have stepped up to the plate.
Councillor Jason Cummings welcomed Councillor Young to his new position which it was acknowledged had been taken on at a challenging time. It was highlighted that under Councillor Young’s predecessor there had been 3 – 4 years of significant overspends and a continual failure to achieve budgeted savings. It was stressed that achieving agreed savings would be critical for the Council at such a difficult point. Councillor Young was therefore asked to explain what he was going to do differently to ensure budgeted savings were achieved.
In response, Councillor Young described how it was known what the savings were and what had to be achieved. It was explained how Councillor Young would be working with officers including the Interim Chief Executive and Director of Finance, Investment & Risk. A line by line review was to be undertaken to determine what expenditure would remain and what would be removed.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Jason Cummings described how every time savings came forward, Council was told that they would be achieved. However, this never happened. Rather Council was informed that savings had not been achieved and others were blamed for this failure. Councillor Young was asked how he was going to ensure that it would be different on this occasion. In response, Councillor Young referred to his track record. It was described how each savings option would be considered on its own merits with careful prioritisation needing to take place.
Councillor Jewitt asked Councillor Collins about his plans to expand the pet food pouch recycling scheme.
In response, Councillor Collins highlighted that the Council had been shortlist in the National Recycling Awards for 2020. As a result of the scheme, 6,000 pet food pouches had been recycled through the collection point in Morrisons, Waddon. Councillor Collins detailed the plan to use his ward budget to expand the number of collection points with volunteers being sought to deal with the despatch.
Councillor Millson welcomed Councillor Young to his new role which was acknowledged as staring during difficult circumstances. It was detailed how the Financial Consultant had attended the General Purposes and Audit Committee (GPAC) where the arrangements for financing the purchase of the Colonnades and the Croydon Park Hotel had been considered. Councillor Young was asked when he had realised their purchase had been in breach of financial regulations.
In his response, Councillor Young described how he had watched the GPAC meeting and had been surprised that the correct infrastructure had not been in place to make those decisions. As a result, there was a need to work with the auditors to make sure this was addressed. Councillor Young called for a better line of communication straight from the auditor to GPAC.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Millson described how MHCLG would want to be assured that the Council was capable of delivering as part of its consideration of whether or not to agree the request for a capitalisation direction. At the GPAC meeting, it had also been detailed how the performance of internal audits had been deteriorating year on year over the last five year such that over half of all internal audits in 2019/20 had a limited or no outcome. Councillor Millson stressed that it was important to recognise the mistakes that had been made and that these had not only resulted because of Covid. In response, Councillor Young concurred and agreed that this would need to be addressed.
Madam Mayor permitted Councillor Hall to make a point of personal explanation. This was for Councillor Hall to state that he had confirmed with Council’s Monitoring Officer that the appropriate processes had been undertaken for the purchases of the Colonnades and the Croydon Park Hotel. Councillor Hall gave his best wishes to Councillor Young for his new role and highlighted the necessity of the financial regulations work that had taken place. Councillor Young thanked Councillor Hall for the offer made to support the handover process.
Councillor Fraser asked Councillor Scott to comment on Croydon’s planning performance against the annual planning target.
In response Councillor Scott highlighted that the Council was meeting housing supply targets which meant that there would be a good level of supply for five years based on the current London plan. With regard to the emerging London plan, it was explained that the Council would not have the full level of consents needed. However, it was thought that the 13,000 needed would be covered if the allocations were cut. It was stressed that there could not be any slowing down in the granting of permissions at any point given the extent of the housing crisis.
In his supplementary question, Councillor Fraser asked why, given the annual targets and pipeline process, the Government was introducing reform of the planning process. It was stressed that the planning process addressed each application and was not whipped. It was suggested that the reforms being put forward by the Government were because of the funding the Conservative Party received from developers. In response, Councillor Scott agreed and stated that the Government was trying to blame the planning system for the housing crisis when there were in excess of a million developments that had been given planning permission that had not been delivered. It was in fact the delivery system that was broken or faulty. The Government was accused of not understanding the problems or manipulating the system for its own purposes. This was illustrated by the three year delay in the development of the Purley Baptist Church site which had been caused by Government action.
Councillor Oviri highlighted the history of over and misspending that characterised the failure to control spending. Councillor Young was asked how he could be trusted to make this different.
In response, Councillor Young highlighted that there was truly a new team in control of the Council’s budget. This included a new Chief Executive who recognised what was needed to get on top of the challenge. The diligence of the approach being taken was highlighted. There was a focus on some things having to stop whilst others would have to be delivered more efficiently. Everything would have to be examined; all the facts and figures were needed in order to balance the budget in line with the statutory requirement.
In her supplementary question, Councillor Oviri called for an investigation of Councillor Young’s predecessor and, given the failure of financial management, for Councillor Young himself to resign. Councillor Young characterised Councillor Oviri’s comments as cheeky. Past failings were acknowledge but largely linked to Covid with London Councils underfunded by £1.4bn for their response to the pandemic. A systematic response to the Council’s financial situation was required and this would not be achieved by the Cabinet Member resigning on his first day in post. Councillors were asked to show each other respect especially where they have a good track record. Councillor Young called on Councillor Oviri to reflect on her question.
Councillor Audsley asked Councillor King about the Council’s ability to achieve a green recovery to the pandemic.
In response, Councillor King acknowledged the ongoing commitment to achieving a Sustainable Croydon with a paper going to the Cabinet meeting in the week following Council. This was to detail the work the Council had been doing and would continue to do to tackle the climate emergency. Councillor King brought attention to the leadership of Councillor Newman in this area and his first hand personal commitment and authority. In his supplementary question, Councillor Audsley highlighted the importance of social justice when considering the response to the climate emergency. He called for this to be prioritised by the new Leader.
Councillor Ward thanked Councillor Young for his service to children and young people through his former membership of the Scrutiny Children & Young People Sub-Committee with Councillor Young being noted as an independent thinker. Councillor Ward highlighted that Council’s accounts for 2019/20 were still outstanding with it having been noted that the auditor had raised concerns about the treatment of up to £8m. Councillor Young was asked to advise Members of Council on this situation and that the accounts would be addressed as soon as possible. In response, Councillor Young noted that he was aware that there was a qualification on £8m of the 2019/20 accounts but needed to be in his new role for longer to be able to comment further. Councillor Ward was thanked for his comments regarding Councillor Young’s approach which would continue. Councillor Young wanted the best for Croydon and was committed to seeing things through in his new role.
With an end to the time allocated to questions to Cabinet Members in the third pool, Madam Mayor brought Croydon Question Time to a close.