David Cameron tells Croydon Advertiser: I keep a very close eye on London Road
In an exclusive Q&A with reporter Gareth Davies, David Cameron speaks out on some of the big issues facing Croydon, and reveals that our flagship anti-drug driving campaign is set to become enshrined in law by Easter...
SINCE last August's riots, many of the affected business owners and residents waited months for compensation from the Riot Damages Act or insurance pay-outs. Some businesses closed down as a result, while others are still waiting. How did this happen when you said it was your priority that no one would lose out as a result of what happened?
Cameron: "What we saw last year was appalling, and I want everyone to get their compensation for the damage as soon as possible. The Government does not make payments directly to individuals or businesses – that is the responsibility of insurers and police authorities. But insurers have settled 98 per cent of claims made by householders and have fully paid out, or made interim payments, to almost 93 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses affected by the riots. So they are making some progress with this issue, and rightly so."
Why have you not visited London Road (arguably the worst hit area of the country) since your initial visit in the immediate aftermath of the disorder? When will you visit so that businesses/residents can tell you in person about their efforts to rebuild?
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Cameron: "I visited Croydon last year because I thought it was important to see the damage first hand, and to meet the residents and businesses affected, as well as the fire crews and police officers involved in the clean-up operation. I can assure you I keep a very close eye on what is going on in each of the areas that was affected. But in the meantime it is up to a strong local MP to champion people's concerns in the area, and to work with the government of the day to ensure those concerns are dealt with."
The Metropolitan Police plans to close South Norwood Police Station, and officer numbers in Croydon have fallen since the Coalition was formed. What reassurances can you give about your commitment to keeping the streets of Croydon safe?
Cameron: "We are having to take tough decisions to get the deficit down, and any party who won the last election would have had to reduce the policing budget. But the good news is that crime in Croydon is down since 2010, and there are 2,523 more neighbourhood police officers in London since that time."
What action is the Government taking to address unemployment in Croydon, particularly among young people in the north of the borough?
Cameron: "The most important thing is to get the economy growing so that we create more jobs. That's what the Government is focused on – we're tackling the deficit, which is why interest rates are lower than in many European countries, and we're cutting taxes and red tape to make it as easy as possible for businesses to create more jobs. But we're also trying to do everything we can to help young people out of work by increasing the number of apprenticeships, and through the new Work Programme which provides personalised support. Our £1billion Youth Contract is providing opportunities including apprenticeships, work experience places and incentives for employers to recruit young people."
The future of Croydon University Hospital has been uncertain in recent years, given its faltering bid for foundation status, poor CQC reports and NHS South West London's Better Services, Better Value review. What reassurances can you give about its future? What is the reasoning behind Assura running the hospital's urgent care centre – does this amount to privatisation?
Cameron: "There are no plans to reduce services at Croydon University Hospital. The Better Services Better Value review will have to go out to public consultation for three months before coming to the Government for approval. In terms of who delivers urgent care services, I think what matters is the patients get the best possible care and that the key principle of the NHS – that access to care isn't dependant on ability to pay – is untouched. If a private company or a charity like MIND can provide a better service, then of course we should get them involved."
What is the Government doing to address the shortage of primary school places in Croydon North? Will Croydon receive more funding?
Cameron: "Labour did nothing to prepare for this increase – they spent nearly all the education capital budget on refurbishing secondary schools – and Croydon saw very little of that. We've switched money into providing additional places and in the last two years, we've given £32 million to Croydon. Andy (Stranack – Croydon North's Tory candidate) has already mentioned this to me, and I know he intends to pursue it if he becomes the new MP for Croydon North on Thursday."
Croydon recently lost two of its most iconic business – Allders and Nestlé. What are you doing to attract new business and investment into Croydon in order to revive the local economy?
Cameron: "The most important thing is to get the national economic climate right, as I mentioned earlier. But in the wake of the riots, along with the Mayor of London, we gave £20million to Croydon to help it revitalise the local economy. And we're helping to fund key improvements to transport infrastructure like the new East Croydon Station entrance."
What are you doing to build more affordable homes in the borough and to reduce the number of families in emergency accommodation?
Cameron: "The fundamental problem is that for years we haven't been building enough homes, coupled with the difficulties people have been experiencing in obtaining a mortgage. We're reforming the banks, and we recently announced a major housing and planning package to get Britain building again. The focus of this Government is helping achieve their aspirations, and ensuring that people have a proper home is central to that."
You have been a supporter of our campaign, Lillian's Law, since we visited you last November. Can you give us an update on where the new legislation stands and when police will have access to roadside testing devices?
Cameron: "This is something that I have personally driven through Government, following my meeting with the Groves family and the Advertiser's campaign. The Crime and Courts Bill, which includes Lillian's Law – the change to the law on drug-driving – is currently being considered by the House of Lords. It is due to come to the Commons in the new year and hopefully become law by Easter. We hope the police will be using roadside devices by 2014."