Croydon Council's proposed cuts 'to hit borough's most vulnerable'
CARE for the elderly, the disabled and people with mental health problems - as well as youth programmes and even tree planting - are among a wide range of public services to be hit in the latest round of cuts put forward by the council. And, as Gareth Davies reports, the great British tradition of lollipop men and women could also be under threat...
FOR more than 50 years, Croydon's lollipop men and women have safely guided children across some of the borough's most dangerous roads.
But this week, it was announced that nearly half of school crossing patrols could be axed or outsourced, as part of a latest round of cuts which centre around children's and adult social care.
Labour has accused the council of "dismantling" preventative services and disproportionately targeting Croydon's most vulnerable communities; from young people at risk of involvement in crime, to the disabled, elderly or those with mental health problems, who face cuts in their support budgets.
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Journeys, a youth project launched this year, and New Addington-based Croydon Auto and Bike Scheme (CABS), which does outreach work with teenagers involved in crime, are both set to lose their council funding.
Croydon's Tory administration says the cuts, part of £36million in savings it aims to make over the next two years, are the unavoidable result of a significant loss in central Government funding, and will help keep council tax bills down.
But it could face stiff opposition over its austerity measures, including plans to cut or transfer 42 per cent of school crossing patrols to save £60,000.
The council has yet to reveal which of its 26 lollipop men and women will be affected but it says the proposals will focus on patrols near zebra crossings and automated crossings.
Kathy Bee, Labour's education spokesperson, told the Advertiser: "A lot of parents are concerned about road safety and will be reluctant to let their children travel to school on their own if their school no longer has a lollipop man or woman.
"These cuts must be viewed in the context of local authorities being absolutely hammered by a Government which, quite frankly, doesn't care.
"But this council chooses where they are levelled. Whether it be school crossings, adult social care, youth services or early intervention programmes, these proposals will have a huge impact on families in Croydon."
The measures, which were laid out at a cabinet meeting on Monday, are part of the council's ongoing attempt to come to terms with the Government's austerity programme.
After losing 26 per cent of its funding as a result of the first Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in 2010, the council slashed funding for voluntary groups, youth clubs and the arts.
Last year, children's centres, burial and cremation fees and parking charges were affected.
The council already had to contend with a 8.3 per cent drop in its grant for 2012-13 and if the next CSR, announced by George Osborne in this month's Autumn Statement, reflects what happened in 2010, it will lose a further £26.3m (7.5 per cent) per year from 2014.
Only £3.7m of the £35.92m two-year programme has been labelled as "cuts".
As well as its formula grant, the council has also seen cuts to some of its core grants, including the Early Intervention Grant (EIG), which will drop from £17.131m to £11.82m in 2014-15.
The Department of Adult Services, Health and Housing (DASHH) will be the hardest hit, with £11.1m of cuts and efficiencies, followed by children, families and learning with £10.93m.
Cutbacks include Journeys and CABS, as well as £1.7m being found from reviewing early intervention services, which were only redesigned last year.
The council also wants to axe two school improvement officers, reduce commissioning for domestic violence services, youth counselling, and claw back money linked to fostering. It will also close "under-used" football pitches and South Norwood Pitch & Putt.
The proposals put 78 jobs at risk, including 32 in the council's corporate resources and customer services department, 23 in planning and environment and 19 in children, families and learning.
Cllr Simon Hall, Labour's spokesman for finance, said: "I do have some sympathy in terms of the position the council is being put in, both in terms of the headline cuts and the shifting of risk to this council from central Government.
"However, I do have some serious concerns about whether this council has a clear direction. Preventative services are being dismantled, which might provide short-term savings, but boy does it have longer costs.
"Assumptions are also being made that the number of looked-after children, and by extension fostering costs, are going to be significantly reduced at a time when the pressure on families is increasing."
Steve O'Connell, the council's cabinet member for finance, replied at Monday's meeting: "You ask whether we have a clear vision, well clearly we do. We are here to deliver a balanced budget, to have low council tax and to invest in the infrastructure of our borough. In 18 months' time we will be judged on that, and I believe we will be judged well."
Council leader Mike Fisher refused to reveal whether council tax would be frozen for a third year, saying residents would have to wait until the budget is set in February.
Labour leader Tony Newman replied: "However you look at this budget, it is absolute crisis facing this council."
Tim Pollard, cabinet member for children, young people and learners, said: "We have an extremely good record of delivering efficiencies but in the current financial climate, and with the current settlement from the Government, we are now at the point where we are going to have to close down some services."
The council will be running a budget questionnaire online from December 13 so residents can have their say on the budget options.
This is the third year in a row that Croydon Council has announced a programme of pre-Christmas cuts.
The council wants to save £36million over the next two years – but has only labelled £3.7m of the proposals as cuts.
The Department of Adult Services, Health and Housing (DASHH) will be the hardest hit, with £11.14m of cuts and efficiencies.
Children’s and family services are also affected, with £10.93m of savings and cutbacks.
Services which the council will cut between 2013 and 2015 include:
- Review and redesign of early intervention, family support and integrated youth services – £1.7m;
- Axing two school improvement officers – £184,000;
- Cut in care support budgets for older people, people with learning and physical disabilities and those with mental health problems – £150,000;
- End Journeys youth service – £140,000;
- Smaller contribution to Upper Norwood Joint Library – £114,000;
- Reduction of council’s role in 'facilitation of culture', including reducing archive service to statutory minimum – £105,000;
- Further reduction in payments to the voluntary sector – £80,000;
- Reduction of funding for supplementary education, mentoring and community languages – £78,000;
- Transfer or reduce 42 per cent of school crossing patrols – £60,000;
- Reduction of tree planting and maintenance – £35,000;
- Reduction of Safer Croydon Partnership Budget – £23,000;
- Non-maintenance (closure) of South Norwood Pitch & Putt – £20,000;
- Removal of 'under-used' football pitches – £12,000;
- Less commissioning of domestic violence services – £20,000;
- Reduction in park related costs (trees/sports equipment) – £10,000;
- Reduced commissioning for youth counselling – £10,000