Interesting Croydon Cabinet Discussions on 12 December

Croydon Council’s Cabinet is considering a wide range of interesting issues at its meeting on Monday 12 December.

Cycling in Parks

At the moment the Council bye-laws forbid cycling in the parks, but it does not enforce them. The Council now proposes to have cycle paths in Lloyds, Park Hill and Wandle Park. This followed consultation in which over 70% of people taking part approved. The plan is part of a wider programme to build cycleways in Croydon. An important element is that these ways will also link the three parks.

Helping The Elderly

Under a new contract for the delivery of integrated health and social care:

  • the aim is to put ‘the individual and their family will be at the centre of Croydon’s health and care system, ranging from the promotion of good health and well-being, through early intervention and support and, when needed, the delivery of treatment and care services.’
  • ‘Croydon’s older people and their families should expect to experience seamless, joined- up care and health provision of consistent quality and high standard; services will be arranged around them and their needs, rather than their having to fit in with how health and social care professionals structure or organise services. ‘

The Council leadership has been over using the term ‘Ambitious’, but this is truly ambitious. Yet anyone who has been involved in caring or supervising the care of elderly relatives knows how difficult having a seamless service is.

The challenge will grow because older people are 13% of Croydon’s population, and this is projected to grow by 10% in the next 5 years. The number of people over 65 living in care homes in Croydon is projected to increase by 24%, and increasing numbers of people are living with long-term conditions.

The Council may come to regret its Local Plan decision to end the definition of care, residential and nursing homes as community facilities to be protected by planning policy.

Informal Consultation on 20Mmph Zones Is Being Dropped

The Council is dropping its informal ‘opinion’ consultation stage in favour of just running the statutorily required consultation for the next proposed 20mph Zone areas. Its reasons are to avoid the confusion previously experienced with the first two Zones and secondly to ensure it meets its target implementation date of March 2018. Under the statutory consultation people can object. Publicity will be by street notices, on the Council websites and in libraries.

Digital Inclusion

The progress being made to close the digital divide is very welcome. There are some issues that arise from reading the report.

(1)    The Statistics

Digitally including the 85,000 adults who lack basic skills is an on-going challenge. In relation to C2DE and low income households the high turnover of population in parts of the Borough may make it very difficult to reach those lacking basic digital skills. This turnover is linked to the growing percentage in private sector renting, and the continuing rise in homelessness. As people in these groups move out of Borough, others may take their place who also lack basic digital skills. New ways are needed to reach the  two groups. It may be possible to have information on digital skills support included in the tenancy packs provided by all landlords and their agents who are licensed by the Council.

The continued drive of the Council to become paperless means less and less printed material is given to people, which is a key method of providing information. As yet no strategy appears to have been outlined which improves communication with the digitally excluded while they remain excluded.

(2)    Recycling IT equipment. A large quantity of IT equipment appears to be thrown into a large container at the Council’s civil amenity site at Factory Lane. This means that equipment which could be repaired and recycled is further damaged. Can ways be found to ensure that such equipment is not thrown in the container skips but kept somewhere for collection by the charity the Council is working with?

(3)    Libraries. Earlier this week a Year 7 pupil expressed disappointment to me that when he went to his local Library on a Saturday, the reduced number of staff were so busy that they did not have time to help him find what he needed for a homework assignment. Staffing needs to include people trained to help people use the computers. If particularly young users find their needs are not being met they will have less reason to remain a library users.

(4)    Twitter. This has its limits. Many people have come off Twitter because of abuse that they have received. This led to debate on Croydon Citizen last year at

http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/croydons-appetite-self-destruction  

http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/how-to-spot-a-troll

For many others Twitter is a pointless means of communicating trivia. In discussing Twitter with businesses the Council may wish to point out that large numbers of people are not on it, and if people start using businesses Twitter accounts to be abusive, they will need to take action to stop it.

£15m Investment In Housing The Homeless

£15m capital is to be invested by the Council in a second Real Property Fund which will buy 47 properties for use for homeless families. The scheme is a partnership between Resonance, St Mungo’s and local authority investors.

Such investment began in 2013 under the Conservatives with a start-off of £20m to which another £10m was added in 2014. The Council has nomination rights and a seat on the Advisory Board.

While this investment means that homeless people have decent homes to rent, it reduces the dependence on bed and breakfast and saves on the high revenue costs of bed and breakfast, it is not a substitute for the Council buying or building extra properties. The latter is being done by its arms length development company Brick by Brick.

Some questions arise.

  • Which local authority areas are the properties that Croydon has nomination rights in, and how many in each?
  • Could  the Council invest the money in buying the and managing the properties  itself thereby having more control over the stock?
  • Could the Council invest the £15m through Brick by Brick to purchase private empty or run-down private rented  properties to bring them back into use?
  • If it cannot invest the £15m in Brick by Brick, could it set up its own property owner arms length company?

The report to Cabinet mentions that the Council is represented on the Fund’s Advisory Board but does not state who the representative is and the mechanism for accountability back into the Council.

More details about the Fund and Resonance can be seen at http://resonance.ltd.uk, including the latter’s downloadable annual report 2015/16.

Council Report Writing Hides What Really Happens

The way reports are written for the Council and its Committees often use shorthand which means nothing to members of the public and possibly to most Councillors.

One of the reports to Cabinet on Monday 12 December recommends the award of a contract for the delivery of the Croydon Enterprise Loan Fund services.

Para 3.1 of the report states:

‘The strategy report for CELF Delivery Services was approved in June 2016 (ref: CCB1174/16-17) to continue the delivery of its services for 3.5 years with the option of a further 3.5 year extension, in order to provide enhanced support to new and existing businesses in Croydon; with the aim of addressing market failure.’

The paper was not discussed at Cabinet on 20 June so there was no public minute that the approval had been given. I asked Democratic Services of an explanation and a copy of the report and the minutes recording the decision.

Are Some Officers Placed In A Conflict of Interest Position?

The report of the award of the contract of Croydon Enterprise Loan Fund being considered at the Cabinet meeting seems to reveal a conflict of interest in the different roles some senior officers play. I therefore emailed Democratic Services for an explanation.

‘I note that one of the Lead Officers is Stephen Tate, Director of District Centres & Regeneration, and that he was also consulted in that capacity and as a member of the CELF Board. This looks like a confusion of roles. He is a Director of CLEF Ltd. He therefore should be accountable to the Council for his role in the stewardship of the company along with his fellow Council officer Directors. Their advice as Directors on the development of the Fund should be to the Council in that capacity, and that advice should have been in the report. The report should not have had his involvement as a Lead Officer. I wonder whether the Council’s lawyers should look at this issue.’

Stephen Rowan, Head of Democratic Services and Scrutiny, replied:

‘The reference CCB1174/16-17 relates to a minute of the Council’s Contracts and Commissioning Board.  This Board considers commissioning and contract decisions below certain financial thresholds in accordance with the Council’s constitution and scheme of delegation.

The meetings of this Board are not held in public and its minutes aren’t published, so unfortunately I cannot fulfil your request to send these to you.’

I am waiting a reply from the report writer on the potential conflict of interest issue.

The Cabinet Papers

The Cabinet meeting’s papers can be accessed at

https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/users/public/admin/kabmenu.pl

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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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