Friday, 30 October 2015


“Opportunity Croydon” was set up by Croydon’s (pre-Corbyn) Labour Council. It has produced a somewhat milk-and-water interim report on tackling Croydon’s problems.

In many respects it gives good account of the range of burdens bearing on Croydon citizens. But its proposals are very weak, mainly because the Commission seems to take as gospel the Tory/Blairite narrative that, “we must live within our means” and that cuts in publics services are “inevitable".

(Where was this argument when we bailed out the banks with £350 billion?!).

Consequently the Commission's proposals tend to rely on community volunteerism; vague forms of “reaching out” and generally being nicer to each other.

They don’t match up to the scale of the problems Croydon faces.

Take housing. Around 2,500 families are living in temporary accommodation - a problem that’s been getting worse every year since 2009!

The report also tells us that, “the maximum payable in Housing Benefit is only sufficient to cover rents in the lowest 30% of of the private rented sector”. Leaving low and uncertain wages to cover the yawning gap!

But the impact the council could have, if it were to act and intervene decisively, as a Labour council should, is not addressed. The council is let off the hook!

The commission should demand that the council puts the needs of Croydon’s citizens first; not the needs of a Tory government.

Instead of looking for options to fit the Tory agenda, we should demand policies to strike at the heart of the crises affecting Croydon’s workers and youth.

On housing, here are just a few ideas being considered not only by TUSC but by everyone fighting for the interests of labour.

Any solution must have at its heart -
1. building more truly affordable housing;
2. ensuring that existing housing stock is proactively maintained and improved; and
3. ensuring that no houses, flats or buildings remain unused.

And to deliver this?

The council could bring all the independent social housing organisations back under their direct control.

Instead of leaving housing to the tender mercies of “the market”, this would re-establish local democratic control over the housing sector - fully involving tenants, landlords and the wider community.

The council could immediately identify, and if necessary take possession of ALL empty buildings in Croydon that could be used for housing.

The council could set up a "Housing Costs and Quality Agency”.

This agency could immediately cap rents at a much more affordable level. Thereafter it could establish a new rent regime for both private and public sectors going forward.

It could set housing quality standards and pro-actively monitor their implementation and maintenance.

It could ensure that the worst landlords, those failing in their responsibilities, are prosecuted. Tenants also would be expected to conform amenably with their agreed terms. At the same time, the agency would be on hand to help resolve disputes and hopefully avoid prosecutions.

And, not least, with new finance (see below) it could kick-off a new social housing building programme!

In these ways the council once again could become a direct housing services provider - and one that's democratically controlled.

It would no longer be a “facilitator”; no longer proffering inducements and incentives for private sector favours and co-operation. (Although no one would reject approaches from private builders with good ideas).

There is no escaping the fact, of course, that any council taking this road would come up against opposition from the government and its hangers-on.

So fighting hard for this ambitious programme would be crucial and unavoidable - but it would generate widespread community support for the council

Money would be needed. Additional funds could come from the council’s reserves (thats what they’re for) and from borrowing at the extremely competitive rates currently obtainable - especially for capital projects.

And an ambitious programme of work would put money back into the local economy!

We'll be looking at some of the Commissions other proposals - and the council's response.

1 comment:

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