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Here’s what YOU think Croydon Council should do to save £26 million

Here’s what YOU think Croydon Council should do to save £26 million
Oct 03, 2018 Shaking Hands 0 comments
This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 02/10/2018.

Here’s what YOU think Croydon Council should do to save £26 million

The amount of street art, the new bin collection scheme and the high wages of council staff have all come under scrutiny.

It has been announced that Croydon Council needs to find £26 million in savings in the next four yearsto balance the books and it is fair to say lots of you have strong views on what should be done to help reach that sum.

The council’s cabinet agreed on a medium-term financial strategy (MTFS) at a meeting on September 24 – setting out how the council will tackle financial challenges over the next four years, rather than provide a detailed budget for the next four years.

Councillor Simon Hall, cabinet member for finances and resources, told the meeting financial pressures in the coming years will include funding adult social care and children’s services.

The children’s services department was put into special measures last year after it was rated inadequate so the council is now putting an extra £17 million into children’s services this year. The MTFS assumes this funding will continue.

Dozens of people have commented on the Croydon Advertiser Facebook page suggesting ways they believe the council can save money.

Here, we take a look at several of the ideas put forward …

The idea – Cut out the street art

Lauren Baker's neon sign

Melvyn Crabb asks: “How much money has been wasted on so-called ‘art’ in Surrey Street, George Street/College Square (giant building blocks) and South Croydon (ridiculous painting of pelican crossings)?”

Croydon Council has been a major supporter of attempts to make Croydon the place to visit if you want to admire street art from some of the world’s best artists.

Speaking to the Advertiser in September, the owner of RISE Gallery Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison explained why people should support street art in the borough.

He said: “Croydon has become synonymous with this art form and I think it really benefits the community.

“I think many people from Croydon are very proud of the borough’s urban art scene, so the more we can expand it the better.

“Unlike many other boroughs, Croydon doesn’t have a large gallery, so what we want to do is to make the whole borough a free gallery for everyone who lives here and visits to enjoy.”

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed Croydon Council spent at least £52,369 on street art in Surrey Street in 2017.

In total there were nine pieces of art commissioned by the council on the historic market street that year as part of a project to rejuvenate the area.

The most expensive of the nine installations was a neon sign under the bridge, which was designed by Lauren Baker and reads “a simple hello could lead to a million things”.

The piece of art, which was put up in February 2017 in an effort to “bring a positive message to the area”, cost £14,792 to install, excluding the running costs of powering the neon lighting.

Here’s how the money was spent on the 2017 projects:

Artwork Cost
Neon lighting under bridge by Lauren Baker £14,792
“Two men kiss” mural by Rich Simmons, near Matthew’s Yard £2,200
Colourful air conditioning units by Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison and Charlie Henson, on Middle Street £1,764
“Boy Soldier” by Shoony £11,000
Colourful stairs, near the back of Vue £2,970
Decorative netting £2,500
Murals on shutters £1,000
Mural on Middle Street £7,010
New metal wayfinding signs and lighting £9,133

The idea – Don’t spend so much money on bigger bins

New wheelie bins have been delivered to Croydon homes

Diana Fletcher Lyne wrote: “[The council] shouldn’t have wasted so [much] on ridiculous huge bins which the majority of households do not want and will not use to their full potential. It was a totally rubbish thing to do.”

It has been a month since the council introduced its controversial changes to bin collections in Croydon.

The changes have seen most households issued with new wheelie bins and 75% of homes getting new collection days.

Most households now have a new 240-litre wheelie bin for mixed paper and card and a new 180-litre wheelie bin for general rubbish.

Existing 240-litre bins previously used for general waste are now instead used for recycling glass, plastic packaging, cans and cartons.

Many residents with smaller homes have complained that they don’t have space in front gardens or on pavements for the extra bins.

And some residents did not have their rubbish collected for nearly a month.

Speaking at the end of September, Councillor Stuart Collins, cabinet member for clean, green Croydon, said: “Bearing in mind it is probably the largest new bin system in Europe, with 230,000 bins delivered, we’ve only had a small percentage of problems.”

He added that residents having to keep their bins on the pavement are due to be visited in November to “get systems that work for these properties”.

It states: “Increasing recycling to 50% and reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste by 160,000 tonnes over 10 years will save £2 million over 10 years.

“This takes into account the initial costs of buying and delivering new wheelie bins and is in addition to the £5 million per year saving that Croydon Council will make through contracting waste collection and street cleansing services through the South London Waste Partnership.

“Non-recyclable waste is far more expensive and damaging to the environment than recyclable waste. And the cost of waste disposal, as well as the number of households we need to collect from, is increasing. Doing nothing would result in considerable additional cost to the council.”

The idea – Cut the wages of the top earners at the council

Chief Executive for the Council, Jo Negrini

Christopher Gunn wrote “stop paying top dogs big money” and Julian Keenan added “cut wages at the top first and work your way down”.

Croydon Council was criticised earlier in 2018 for paying “sky-high” wages after it was revealed 20 members of staff earned more than £100,000 each in a year.

Figures showed 20 employees were paid more than £100,000 in the 2016/17 financial year.

Three of the top earners were named, with one being chief executive of the council Jo Negrini, whose salary was £185,000.

Barbara Peacock, executive director of the council’s people division, was paid between £165,000 and £169,999, while Richard Simpson, executive director of resources, earned between £150,000 and £154,999.

A Croydon Council spokeswoman told the Advertiser one of the reasons for high wages was down to staff members’ “experience and expertise”.

She said: “Croydon is one of the biggest boroughs in London and senior council staff are responsible for the management of multi-million pound budgets and a large workforce delivering essential local services.

“It is important the right people, with the right experience and expertise, are appointed and retained.”

The idea – Spend less on long-term sick pay

Karen Taylor asked: “How much is going on long-term sick pay and pensions?”

Croydon Council staff took more than 21,000 days off sick in 2017 – costing the council nearly £2 million in sick pay.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Advertiser earlier in 2018 revealed employees at the council were off sick for a total of 21,406 days between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.

That figure adds up to more than 58 years’ worth of sick days being taken. However, the council has defended itself, stating that because it employs more than 3,000 people, the figure equates to about six days per employee.

The FOI revealed the cost to the council was £1,837,929.

That means on average for every sick day taken, the council paid out more than £85 per day.

The idea – Reconsider raising councillors’ allowances

Croydon Council leader Tony Newman

Louise Baine asked: “But hasn’t [Tony] Newman just announced pay raises for council staff?”

In July a majority of Croydon Council members voted in favour of rising allowances, in what was labelled a “tough decision”.

Councillors were asked to support recommendations to boost the pay of the head of planning, health and social care, and of other leading cabinet members by thousands of pounds a year.

Councillors who did not hold any special position were also give a 2% boost in the allowances they can claim.

Council leader Tony Newman said: “Always a tough decision, but with no increase in the last 10 years we have recommended a modest increase that still falls well below anything recommended in the last independent report.

“Total cost for all 70 councillors this year is £24,000 – 2% for backbenchers 4.4% for front bench.”

In a huge jump the chair of the health and wellbeing board got an allowance of £33,000, up from £24,000.

Another large increase saw the chair of the scrutiny committee get an increase in special responsibility allowance from £24,000 to £30,000

Tony Newman, as leader of the council, received a more modest boost in his allowance from around £42,000 to £44,000.

Conservative Croydon councillors did not vote with the Labour majority to support the increase and slammed the move.

Members who voted against the increases said those who did “only care about their own bank balances”.

The idea – Stop spending money on giving roads new 20mph limits

There are now 20mph signs across Croydon

Many people also commented on the Advertiser Facebook page to question if money could have been saved from the 20mph scheme introduced on residential roads across the borough.

However, the £1.5 million project – which included new signs being installed – was paid for by a Transport for London (TfL) grant, available to all London councils to carry out road safety improvements, and was not funded from council tax revenue.

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