Croydon should not be increasing the Council Tax
There was some solidarity between Conservative politicians in Bromley and Croydon in justifying the Council Tax increases in their boroughs. The mutual admiration was expressed in the comments section of my post which reported the planned rises.
In the past there was a complaint from Bromley that Croydon got twice as much grant, despite having a similar population. Presumably the Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell would argue that Croydon's grant should not be halved as it has greater needs than Bromley. However, he rather implied yesterday that Croydon should have the same grant per head as Lambeth - presumably on the basis that deprivation should not enter into it.
Mr Barwell says that outer London boroughs get an unfair treatment compared to inner London boroughs. Let us suppose he is right (which I don't think he is). This wouldn't let Croydon off the hook. Croydon Council charges £1,150 for Council tax in B and D. Of the 20 boroughs classified as outer London, there are only six that charge more. Croydon's rise will give it the dubious distinction of being in the top five as it jumps ahead of Labour-run Waltham Forest. The good news is Croydon will still be charging less than Haringey - which has a Band D bill of £1,184.
In 2006, when the Conservatives gained Croydon Council from Labour, the Band D Council Tax was £1,013. It's not just that Croydon is charging more than Wandsworth, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham. It is also charging more than Bromley, Bexley, Barnet and Hillingdon.
Croydon Council should be asking itself: "Why?"
It should be looking at how to narrow the gap rather than seeking to widen it.
Residents being asked to pay higher bills are owed better than just a repeat of the mantra that Bromley, Croydon or Oxfordshire are not Hammersmith and Fulham. Of course each area will have its own distinctive challenges and advantages. But council leaders should explain what it is about their area that means that savings achieved elsewhere are not possible for them.
Why is it not possible for Croydon to sell surplus buildings and reduce its debt and its £14.2 million annual bill for interest payments? What is it about Croydon that means its arrangements for sharing services must be so modest compared with elsewhere? What is it about Croydon that means the Council Taxpayer has to fund 10 full time union officials (more than most Labour councils) when Bromley funds less than one full time equivalent?
Why are nearly a thousand children in care in Croydon? That is 104 children per 10,000 - twice the outer London average. Why are 23% of them in Children's Homes when the outer London average is 13%? Why are the chances of ethnic minority children in care, or children over five, being placed for adoption so much lower even than the miserable national averages?
These are the sort of issues that Conservatives in Croydon should be considering if they want a council that it not just Conservative in name only. Alternatively they could ignore them and just keep reminding us that Croydon isn't Hammersmith and Fulham.