Leaving aside the adverse economic consequences of the Council’s cuts, especially to helping people maximise their benefits entitlements, and the demise of the Westfield scheme, Croydon’s local economy will struggle to revive from the COVID pandemic, according to information contained in reports to the Cabinet last Monday. Some of the information comes from a report by Oxford Economics for the South London Partnership (SLP) The future of the South London economy post Covid-19.
Some Key Economic Statistics
Furlough: June 2020: take up of Job Retention Scheme was 37% of employees in Croydon. At 31 May it was 9%.
Universal Credit: the rate of Croydon’s working age population now claiming Universal Credit increased from 5.1% to 10.6% between March 2020 to recently – significantly above the London (9.6%) or UK (7.4%) rates.
Croydon’s high street footfall: week beginning 28 June only 25.1% up on the same week last year.
The Oxford Economics report estimates:
- 3,000 jobs lost (down 1.3%); estimated further 4,800 job loses in 2021.
- Croydon’s hospitality sectors will account for around a third of jobs lost in Croydon through 2020 and 2021.
- Arts, entertainment & recreation and other services will similarly see a sharp fall in output.
- Other jobs losses are expected in wholesale & retail trade, professional and administration & support services.
Oxford Economics thinks that digital/tech will be the fastest growing sector, averaging 2% per year, and other business services such as professional and administrative & support, will be among Croydon’s faster growing sectors.
‘Croydon’s prospects for growth are also weaker than its South London counterparts, with less exposure to the types of sectors that will drive the recovery across the sub-region, region and country. Croydon is forecast to be the SLP’s weakest performing borough over the period 2019 to 2030.’
Adverse Effects On Some Groups
The Oxford Economics report finds ‘that the economic consequences are being felt by some groups of the South London population more than others. Younger, self-employed, part-time, and less well-qualified workers have been disproportionately exposed to the economic impacts of the crisis—as well as ethnic minorities—resulting in relatively deprived communities being more affected.’
Additional Restrictions Grant
The Council has received a further round of Additional Restrictions Grant funding of £2,674,867 from the Government for post-COVID recovery to support ‘tackling ingrained inequality and poverty in the borough’ based on following the evidence to tackle the underlying causes of inequality and hardship, like structural racism, environmental injustice and economic injustice.’
First there was £7,734,200, then £3,435,165 to be spent by March 2022. The new grant will ‘support local businesses to restart and recover as Croydon emerges from lockdown, reducing the reliance of such businesses on other support provided by the Council, and preventing business closures and subsequent unemployment, which would place a future burden on Council services.’
Council Action During COVID
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Economic Development team has:
- signposted over 4,500 businesses to additional business support, funding, advice and guidance
- supported businesses in a series of 10 business grant workshops.
‘The Council has established a key stakeholder group focused specifically on the safe re-opening and management of the borough’s high streets, and have rolled out local targeted communications and marketing, alongside installation of hand sanitiser stations and social distancing signage.’
The Council says that it:
- issues a regular e-newsletter to all businesses signed up to the Council’s network (7,000 business contacts).
- works closely with local business organisations, through the Croydon Business Network and Taskforce, ‘helping businesses manage the impacts of coronavirus, ‘navigate the return to more normal practice as we emerge from lockdown, and begin to plan for future economic recovery and renewal.’
Recovery Will Take Years
In their report to the Cabinet last Monday on the ballot to continue the Croydon Bid for the next five years, the officers state:
‘The consensus is that the impact of COVID-19 on the business community and the wider economy has been and will continue to be seismic and that recovery will take some years to play out, with many business practices unlikely to ever return to established pre-pandemic patterns.’
‘The Council has worked consistently with key stakeholders and business networks in the borough to support local businesses through the coronavirus crisis, and distribute targeted financial assistance’.’
Will Croydon Business Improvement District (BID) Be Re-approved?
Every five years Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have to ballot businesses as to whether they want them to continue and pay the levy which funds it. Croydon BID is due to ballot for another five years. If the ballot agrees for the BID to continue the Council will:
- act as the relevant billing authority
- will manage the billing and collection of the levy and transfer it to the BID;
- enter into key operating agreements with the BID Company about its operation and the delivery of Council requirements and baselines
- pay £54,210 per annum on 8 properties if the ballot renewal is successful
- pay the £4,800 cost of the renewal ballot (if the ballot is unsuccessful this will be paid by the Croydon BID Company)
- receive £18,600 per year from the Company for it to collect the levy
What Has The BID Been Doing?
The officers report states that‘Croydon BID has been instrumental in delivering support for businesses throughout the pandemic period and as they recover from the series of lockdowns that have been implemented since March 2020.
Croydon BID is focused on supporting the recovery of businesses inside the town centre. They remain fundamental to support the private sector in kickstarting economic recovery in Croydon, driving high street renewal, boosting trade and enterprise, supporting resilience and diversification in the business community.’
‘The draft priorities for the Croydon Town Centre BID for the next five years are will be confirmed after further consultation and formal submission of the proposals to the Council’ and will focus on:
- investment into the safety of businesses, staff and customers;
- improvement of safety and security, reducing business crime, anti-social behaviour while improving the feeling of safety for those that live, work and visit;
- enhancing the appeal of Croydon town centre through targeted intensive cleansing, alongside practical solutions to support businesses;
- attracting customers back into Croydon through seasonal events, marketing and promotion, sector specific campaigns;
- placing arts and culture centre stage as they look to support the Borough of Culture in 2023;
- representing Croydon businesses needs locally, regionally and nationally;
- providing an independent business voice;
- helping to ‘create the sector specific strategies complete with operational delivery plans to allow Croydon the opportunity to harness the opportunities and progress.’
The Croydon Centre BID has c.550 members (properties eligible to pay business rates). The levy is 1% of the business rate per estimated to bring in between £902,500 and £950,000 per annum. Herediments below £40,000 per annum will not have to pay the levy.
If the ballot agrees the new BID wstart in 1 April 2002
The Levy The Council Will Pay
£510.00 Suite 1, 3rd Floor Davies House
£9,150.00 Croydon Library & Clock Tower
£1,760.00, 1st Floor Davies House
£35,200.00 Bernard Weatherill House
£4,975.00 Fairfield Halls
£ 585.00 75-77 High Street, Croydon
£1,430.00 6th Floor, Davis House
£ 600.00 Suite A, part 7th Floor, Davis House
There is also a hidden cost to the Council, namely the cost of officer negotiating and partnering with the BID.
Why Should The BID Be Renewed?
The officers explain that:
‘The BID process is seen by the government as an innovative process of enabling business communities to contribute significantly to the future economic development and recovery of their local area, regenerating high streets and playing a key role in the emergency response in the recovery of economic areas following the covid 19 lockdown. The risk of an area not embracing this potential is that investment needed to retain businesses, increase footfall and attract inward investment in Croydon town centre may not be forthcoming, compared with neighbouring areas where this opportunity is being exploited. In a time of austerity, Croydon, a significant commercial centre in South London, cannot risk losing the opportunity to engage its local business communities and support the recovery of its economy’.
What Has Croydon BID Actually Achieved?
Given the economic decline of the Town Centre due to factors totally outside its control, and which it has clearly been unable to influence, the question has to be asked what has the BID actually achieved over the last 10 years? The officers report does not provide a detailed answer. The businesses taking part in the ballot may want to ask themselves:
- What has the BID done for them?
- What benefits of BID activity have helped the general business environment in the area?
- What influence have they had on the BID programme?
- Has the levy been a useful expenditure?
- Have small businesses had any real say in the running of the BID?
Some businesses may decide that the BID has not been beneficial and it will be totally understandable if they vote against.
The 16 August Cabinet Reports
Background 2015 and 2017