Economic Policy Vacuum
What this really shows is the complete and utter waste of time the current council is. It has been in charge since 2006 and has not tackled a single part of the economic agenda properly. 850 jobs going from London and from Croydon. Not a word from the City Mayor. Not a word.
Lets be clear, the previous Labour Council (that left office in 2006 5 and half years ago) had a grand scheme for the site that involved a big shopping centre being built. It would have ran from the Town Hall right through to the Whitgift Centre. The new Tory Council, like lap dogs, signed a revised development deal with Minerva, trying to breath new life into the project. That scheme collapsed, brought down the chain of Allders stores and left Croydon with a dilapidated St Georges Walk, a wind swept College Green and basically froze the retail offer in Croydon circa 1990. The scheme finally collapsed in 2009. 4 years after the 'new broom' Tories took control of the Council.
The new broom 2006 Council also cancelled the deal to re build the Fairfield Halls and build hundreds of apartments around it to help pay for it. Something I broadly agreed with, but still, in 2012, the Fairfield has only had a new Foyer ceiling installed, and nothing has yet started on the promised £26million refurbishment.
Why is this important? Because Nestle directors would look out of their windows and see a town uncared for and wind swept. On their way into the office, they would find the area pretty much uncared for, apart from the bright Trams whizzing through the town. At night, they would leave their offices and witness ferrel youths roaming the streets who take over the town from 3pm every day. Then on top of that they saw Croydon burn on their TVs.
So, if you are a major international company, with visitors from all over the world, why would you want to bring those visitors and your staff into the centre of a Town that the Council seems not to care a jot about?
Once there was Cross Party vision
Once upon a time, Croydon had cross party support for things like Tramlink, Croydon Clocktower, The Warehouse Theatre, The Fairfield Halls. Over the last 6 years the Tories have walked away from the Warehouse Theatre, they have walked away from the Croydon Clocktower and although they should be congratulated for finally committing to refurbish the Fairfield, they still don't understand that it needs a revenue grant to be the sort of Arts Centre most people in Croydon want. The Tory Mayor of London also walked away from Tramlink. He sacked the development team that was working on extending it to Crystal Palace and into Sutton. We will get 6 new Tram cars very soon, but the original order was for 10. It was always known that Tramlink would need more capacity as the years went by. 6 will be very welcome, but once again, its a half hearted increase in capacity, and not the investment that we really need.
Retail Retail Retail and the Whitgift connection
I have been trying to find out when the last retail analysis was conducted in Croydon. I have memory of one being undertaken in about 1996. That is important because if you put all your eggs in one particular basket, you should understand what that basket means for local people, for jobs, for the health of the sector.
Croydon Council recently praised Westfield for entering negotiations with the Whitgift Foundation to develop a new shopping centre on the site of the Whitgift Centre. The local Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell welcomed it and heralded it as part of Croydons renaissance. Gavin Barwell is the Chair of Governors at Trinity School of John Whitgift. The Tories in Croydon have very close connections to them. So the Whitgift connection manages to bring the full weight of Croydon Council, led by its Chief Executive, Jon Rouse, to support the cosy deal.
But who is this deal for? Who does it benefit? In essence it benefits the long term interest of the Whitgift Foundation. It secures long term land values and long term rents. But does it benefit the town and the towns' people?
An alternative deal is being proposed by Hammerson the owners of the Centrale Shopping Centre. They want to develop the Whitgift and for the first time, unite the two shopping centres under one banner. That could be truly exciting and could help the surrounding, locally owned, shops as well. Good luck to them as they take on the vested interests of the Whitgift Foundation/Croydon Council.
The final nail was the 'Develop Croydon' conference
So the good folk at Nestle have witnessed a huge 'develop Croydon' conference that heralded investment in shopping centres and luxury flats. Not one announcement was about small companies, not one announcement was about support for employment.
Clearly they felt that they were not part of the 'vision' that the Council was pushing along with its developer friends and its 'in house' lobby group of the Whitgift Foundation mafia.
Croydon is London
The council has a great responsibility. It needs to forge alliances with the Mayor of London to keep jobs in London. To keep jobs in Croydon. It needs to understand the economy of Croydon. 850 jobs to Crawley is not just bad news for Croydon, it is bad news for London. Too often Croydon politicians and officers stand aloof from London. The press release about Nestle from the Council bangs on about the economic development zone that stretches from Croydon to the Coast. That may be the case, but primarily we are a major Town in the City of London and we should use the tools available to us, like the Mayor of London to bat for us. Sadly the Mayor of London thinks so rarely about Croydon he gets on a train to East Dulwich.
It needs to commission proper retail analysis and understand the diversity of the Croydon Economy.
Valuing what we have - finding out what is already here
The likes of Saif Bonar @BizzyRascal and his amazing http://www.cr0tech.com/ initiative shows what can be done with little resource. His template could be so easily adopted to really big up the various sectors of the economy, with just a little will from the Council. Far better than spending millions of "Riot Aid" money on Wellesley Road, paving schemes and PR. A budget of a few hundred thousand pounds could pay handsome dividends to help grow existing Croydon businesses and help replace those 850 Nestle jobs.
Valuing what we have - Allders
It needs to understand the training and skills gaps and work to fill them. It needs to avoid the trap that it is currently in of doing deals with Westfield and dreaming of a John Lewis store to change Croydon for the better. It needs to understand that retail, in the main, offers low quality jobs, with few prospects. The only major retailer in Croydon with a full range staff, from sales to buyers, to planners, to finance is in Allders, yet the Council is clear that if it got John Lewis, Allders would be a price worth paying. It is quite shocking that our Council doesn't value the only unique major retailer in our Town. Allders has so much more potential to drive the uniqueness of our Town, rather than simply be a different version of Bromley, Kingston, Bluewater or Westfield. Allders gives this town opportunity. Opportunity to have a retail sector with proper career development, from the bottom up.
Valuing what we have - Croydon College
Croydon College has done very well with its new deal with Sussex University, yet this deal is the third in the last 10 years to offer degrees and a wider range of courses. Ive often heard Croydon politicians and officers talk down Croydon College. Ive rarely heard them value it for delivering a huge range of courses for youngsters across South London.
Valuing what we have - diversity
Walk down London Road and you see very clearly where local people set up shop. This road is an emporium of unique local businesses, yet all you ever hear is the Council going on about the Town Centre. That attitude has to change, because the Town Centre can only exist in partnership and co-operation with local shops and businesses. It would also help if the Tory Council didn't think that in order to be sensitive to a diverse area, you have to brand the post riots Christmas Shopping campaign as 'Winter Festival'. I'm proud to be a Christian, I'm also proud to wish Muslim friends a Happy Eid, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Friends a happy Divali and Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah.
Croydon has a lot to be proud of and a lot to improve. It doesn't take loads of money, it takes hard work and dedication. Maybe if we had some of this from our Council, we wouldn't have lost 850 Nestle jobs and we would have a fighting chance to create jobs, careers and wealth by keeping the employers we have, encouraging others to grow here but above all supporting our micro and small businesses to grow and thrive.