By Tara O’Connor
Croydon Council faces a major financial crisis and has set out plans for “living within its means” over the next three years.
It will mean cuts to services including libraries, leisure centres and parks.
These changes will also mean job losses at the council which already got rid of 400 posts earlier this year.
A renewal plan, which should mean the council can be financially stable by 2024, will be discussed at a cabinet meeting tomorrow evening.
The council started working on this plan before it declared effective bankruptcy by issuing a Section 114 notice on November 22.
It is facing a £67 million budget gap and the renewal plan will be submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Government (MHCLG) to ask for a multi-million pound loan to “stabilise the budget”.
Essential services include waste services, social care and education. This is what the changes could mean for other services in Croydon:
Libraries and Croydon Museum
Croydon has 13 libraries and some may face closure, there will be a consultation on this and reduced service at some locations.
Croydon Museum based in the Croydon Clocktower has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic and will now remain closed to the public for the next two years. Between 2021-2024 some archiving work and planning for Croydon to become London Borough of Culture in 2023 will continue.
The council is three years in to a 15-year contract with GLL across five leisure centres and three sports facilities.
Closure during the pandemic and subsequent safety measures resulted in the council having to loan the company £279,000. Reduced footfall when they could reopen has impacted profit further.
Many were concerned that Purley Leisure Centre was one of the facilities not to reopen when government guidance allowed. A decision on the long term future of this contract will be decided by the council.
Reductions in grass cutting and planting will be put in place at Croydon’s parks while the maintenance team is expected to be merged into one team.
Other outdoor facilities will be affected with fewer people working to maintain, lock up and unlock spaces like bowling greens. The council is set to consult clubs in the new year about what this will mean for users.
There are three rubbish tips in Croydon, Factory Lane, Purley Oaks and Fishers Farm. The report states that this is two more than legally required.
This means that one or two of the centres could close. At the moment, the report states that the likely option would be to close one of the centres with a small amount of investment for the remaining two to make sure they are “fit for purpose”.
Specialist nursery transport
It is proposed to stop funding transport to and from nursery for children with special needs.
It would remain in place for this academic year but could come into force in September 2021, a decision is expected by March 2021.
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC)
As the Home Office’s Lunar House is based in Croydon, the borough cares for more unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
As of this September there were 249 children in the care of the borough, it should be 66 for a borough of Croydon’s population. The report describes the financial strain as “significant and unsustainable”.
To address this the council proposed lobbying the government for more funding to cover these costs.
In 2017 the council’s children’s’ services were rated ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted – it has since been rated ‘Good’ and caseloads for social workers were reduced with more staff recruited.
But between 2021 and 2023 it is proposed that case loads are increased from 16 to 17.
Councillor Hamida Ali, leader of the council, said: “Croydon is facing an unprecedented financial crisis and although we have taken some significant steps to address this we need to do more. Our absolute priority is to balance our books, live within our means and offer the good value for money services our residents need and expect from us.
“From keeping our streets clean and safe to looking after our most vulnerable residents, our renewal plans set out how we will rebuild our council to deliver quality core services, where they matter most.
“We know some of these choices will be incredibly difficult and we are committed to working with our staff, partners and residents, keeping them informed and involved every step of the way.”
Croydon’s renewal plan is set to be discussed and approved by cabinet on Wednesday night.
The council will then consult with staff and residents before finalising next year’s budget in February.
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.