'Croydon needs more attention' - Ken Livingstone on what he would do for the borough if he was London Mayor
IN OUR concluding interview with London’s mayoral candidates, Ken Livingstone tells David Churchill why Croydon needs more overseas investment, the Crystal Palace Tramlink extension and more police on the beat – and then storms out of the interview...
Why have you decided to run for mayor again after being defeated in 2008?
"1968 was Labour's worst ever year in local government elections and 2008 was the worst since then, so it was Labour's worst local elections for 40 years. Whereas nationally the Labour vote collapsed to 24 per cent, we managed to get 37 per cent on first preferences and Boris was on 43 per cent. So it was remarkably close given we'd just gone into recession. I mean if Boris had done the job, if he was building lots of homes, bringing fares down and if crime was still coming down that would be wonderful, but he's not doing any of that."
Following the devastating riots Boris has pledged £23 million of funding for the borough. If you are elected can you pledge you will maintain that £23 million?
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"That's easy. But that isn't going to solve the poverty. Croydon's problem is that it needs massive regeneration. When I used to live just over the border in West Norwood, it was like 'wow', but the world has moved on. Croydon is still the third largest office centre in London after the City and Canary Wharf and with the transport improvements we'd put through, further extensions to the Croydon Tramlink, things like that, continuing to upgrade the services, all of that could make a new era for Croydon with lots more job opportunities. The point is £23 million will be a nice few little bits and pieces to fill in the gaps, but Croydon needs to be thinking in terms of perhaps £1 billion investment, big new office developments around it and lots more jobs coming in. You are not going to transform Croydon with £23 million, £28 million or £200 million, you need to be thinking half a billion to a billion to turn this round. When I was growing up in south London, Croydon was seen as the gateway, it was the centre, this was a place where everyone wanted to be..."
Do you think it's not that any longer?
"No, of course not. It's got huge problems, it's suffering from a lot of investment that is now two generations old. We need to be looking at a major influx of investment from the private sector to transform Croydon and make it a desirable area again. That means lots of new jobs and a real upgrade."
In what ways do you think life for people in Croydon would become better if you were elected?
"The first thing we would do from day one is reinstate the work on bringing Croydon Tramlink up to Crystal Palace. If you really want to attract inward investment you need to have a transport system that works and therefore we need to be looking at really making Croydon Tramlink the centre of the south London tram network."
Do you have any specific plans for that yet and how much is it going to cost?
"We were talking about it being about £120 million when Boris scrapped it, so it would undoubtedly cost a bit more now but it is absolutely crucial."
What kind of timeframe are we talking about?
"We would start with the first meeting with the Transport for London (TfL) board to reinstate that work, because basically I left Boris Johnson one-and-a-half billion pounds in reserves.We built up those reserves so if you couldn't get Government funding we would do things like the Croydon Tramlink and it's a relatively small transport scheme."
Why is that money best spent on transport?
"Because the mayor who is elected on May 3 should be looking forward to opening that next year. The work was all done until Boris stopped it and it is the cheapest of all transport schemes my staff worked on. It is the quickest thing you can reinstate, but also in each year that Boris has been mayor he has underspent the investment budget. We could have paid for that in any of the last years."
Moving on to crime, what do you consider to be a reasonable number of police officers in Croydon specifically?
"Well I can give you the overall London figure but unless I'm running the Met I can't give you a precise figure for Croydon. But what has happened is, when I was elected in 2000 we had 25,500 police and when I left office  we had 32,000 police and 4,000 PCSOs. We created a neighbourhood team in every ward. Now Boris has admitted that over the last two years he's cut 1,700 police."
But crime has fallen around 10 per cent across London and if you look at Croydon specifically as a borough, over the last two years crime has fallen as well. Isn't it the case Boris is delivering more for less?
"He only gets the 10 per cent by including the fallen crime in the last six months. Boris has actually cut crime by four-and-a-half per cent over his term so far. In my last year we cut crime by six per cent. Crime was dramatically falling because we got the police numbers. Now he's got through three police commissioners, which is a disaster for morale. Police officers are seeing colleagues not replaced. Neighbourhood sergeants are being forced to reapply for their jobs. That's led to demoralisation and if you look at the Met's own figures, robbery against the person, which is largely mugging, is up 11 per cent in the last year, burglary is up five per cent, murder's up eight per cent and rape is up, and over the last four years knife crime among under-25s is up a third. So yes, while the overall figure is marginally down some crimes are up. Under my administration we were falling over 20 per cent in my second term."
What would you do differently? Would you immediately increase the police budget?
"To reinstate the 1,700 police that have been lost you need another £60 million and we've identified £160 million spending inside the Met which we consider to be not a top priority at the moment. Things like some officers who have chauffeur-driven cars and first-class travel on internal flights, so there is a load of small changes and efficiencies we can make that would release the money to actually reinstate the police numbers without having to increase council tax. I also want to make clear, it is right to freeze council tax during a recession. We want to keep money in people's pockets."
Tell me about your policy on travel fares.
"We have the highest fares in the world. They became a stealth tax. The Tory Government said we'll keep taxes down but all the other things, whether it is energy prices, fares – all of them have been going up and it's just shifting the burden on living."
So what do you plan to do?
"Fares will on October 7, which is the earliest date it can happen, fares on the tube and trains will be cut by seven per cent and on the buses and Croydon trams they will be cut by nine per cent and they will then be frozen throughout 2013 and from 2014 they will never increase more than inflation. Boris has got an agreement to increase them two per cent more than inflation."
Nestle has announced it is leaving Croydon taking 1,000 jobs with it. What would you do as mayor to make sure Croydon prospers, businesses grow and that there is work for people?
"I keep banging away that after the City and Canary Wharf this is the third most important employment centre in London and it should get a lot more attention than it does. The first thing I would do is reopen the offices in China and India that Boris has closed attracting new investment, because I mean Nestle is a firm that is going to shuffle its main recourses around. But Western economies are going to be locked into slow growth for the rest of this decade, whereas China, India Brazil are growing strongly. We've got to do business somewhere and what the mayor's job is; is to say the workforce in London is the only workforce in Europe that matches American levels of productivity, come and invest in London."
So are you saying that somehow you would like to create links between Croydon and...
"China, India, Brazil and I mean coming up behind them is Indonesia, and there's Turkey. This is where growth is going to be coming for the rest of your lifetime and the Mayor of London is at the forefront of saying, 'this is the best place in Europe to do business'. If you do that, if you lock us into those emerging economies, then London's future is secure. When I went to open our offices in Shanghai and Beijing we took about 60 or 70 businesspeople with us. We opened in China in 2006/07. The president of Brazil asked me would I open offices in Rio, but Boris cancelled all of that, and that is where the growth is going to come."
Unemployment has been rising in Croydon. Why do you think that is and what would you do?
"This comes back to whether you are cutting too far, too fast. My getting elected would be a big force for change. There is a real chance that my getting elected will tip the coalition into recognising its policies aren't working and force people to be much more proactive."
Last year in November and June we had more than 70 schools close in Croydon because of widespread strikes. Were they right to strike and do you support strike action in the future?
"Nobody wants to see a strike, but you have got a Government that wasn't seriously negotiating... I think they were right to strike. After the strike the Government started seriously negotiating..."
And they would be right to strike again?
"If the Government won't seriously engage with them."
A lot of businesses in Croydon are still yet to receive pay-outs after the riots. Do you think politicians could be more help?
"This is not a unique problem… But I mean Cameron could have done what Tony Blair did for me which was transfer the money to the mayor's office so that you can get it out quickly."
People literally had their lives destroyed in Croydon.
"Yes and they should have had money. The victims of the bombings (7/7) had gained compensation within a month of the bombings. You say that to the people of Croydon and they'd laugh."
Name Croydon’s main theatre.
"I don’t know."
What is the name of Crystal Palace Football Club’s ground?
"I’m sorry, if I want to do a quiz I’ll go on Radio 4. I mean seriously, this is trivial nonsense."
But it might not be trivial to people who live in Croydon.
"I think it is. I think people in Croydon want to know can I create jobs, bring transport infrastructure. I’m not going to do a crossword for you either. I’m not doing it for you or anybody else. I think it’s trivial. It’s everything that is wrong with the British media. What do you want me to do next, kiss a model?"
What is the population of Croydon?
"Very large." [He walks out of the interview.]
THE VERDICT: How the candidates fared in our Croydon quiz:
1st: Boris 2.5
2nd: Brian 1
3rd: Ken 0
The Croydon Advertiser has also interviewed Conservative Boris Johnson and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick as part of our election coverage. You can also read our live coverage of our Croydon Decides election debate