The leader of Croydon Council today called on national government to fully honour its pledge to support local authorities with the cost of helping residents in need during the Covid-19 response.
In an interview on BBC Radio London about the borough’s financial pressures, Councillor Tony Newman said Croydon’s current budget shortfall of £49m was down to extra Covid-19 costs such as supporting vulnerable people, and historic underfunding.
Councillor Newman told presenter Vanessa Feltz that Croydon’s extra Covid-19 costs have included putting in place infection control measures for 130 local care homes, managing the Test and Trace programme and supporting schools to fully reopen, as well as working with the local voluntary sector to support around 15,000 vulnerable people who have been shielding from the virus at home.
He told the programme that Croydon’s £49m shortfall was against a wider context of a London-wide budget gap of £1.4bn and £7bn for councils nationwide.
In response to a question about whether the council might not be able to deliver a legally-required balanced budget, Councillor Newman said the council would provide a balanced budget, but that achieving this would involve “even more severe” cuts.
He said: “That legal requirement is there to deliver a balanced and legal budget, and we would do that and fulfil that. But that would see draconian cuts beyond even what we’re talking about here, and nobody wants to go there.
“We are talking with government. We’ve had some money from government, who said at the start of this process to local government ‘Do whatever it takes, and we will fund you for the losses’ – we’ve had about half of that money through. I think my plea to government is: deliver on the pledge with the rest of that money because that will help us both deliver that balanced budget and allow us to crack on and keep our focus on Covid and keeping Croydon safe at this absolutely pivotal moment.
“Croydon has got 380,000 residents now – I think the size of the challenge we face is immense but we are up for it. My real concern at the moment is we potentially stand on the edge of a second wave of a Covid pandemic and we are having to keep our services prepared to do all that again.”
Councillor Newman highlighted Croydon’s long-term historic underfunding from government, including around £30m per year per head of population less than an inner London neighbour like Wandsworth even though Croydon has similar levels of need and deprivation.
He also outlined the multi-million-pound extra cost that Croydon Council takes each year in looking after asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK via the Home Office’s local immigration centre at Lunar House.