Local Government Finance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 3rd February 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central 6:52 pm, 3rd February 2010

A worrying trend is being revealed in this debate. It is incumbent on local authorities to be concerned primarily about services, rather than about building new town halls. If Croydon council desires to move location, the best way of doing so would be for it to become a tenant of Stanhope, which has the real desire to start developing on the site next to East Croydon station. No doubt many Members have taken a flight from Gatwick and seen the desolate site next to that station, which gives a bad impression of the town. If the development of that site can begin, that would provide confidence to others to invest in the town. Such an approach from the local authority would have more vision and would have a multiplier effect on investor confidence in Croydon.

It is also important to stress that local authorities face great dangers in being obsessed with their own party political propaganda. In many ways, I can often see little difference between what is produced by the chief executive's office and by the campaign of the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Croydon, Central. A recent example of that could be seen during the launch of a petition calling for extra police for Croydon. It is extraordinary that the council should be campaigning for extra police given that it has discretion to provide funding for extra police and that it is of the same party as the Mayor of London, who could decide to provide more police to Croydon. Indeed, the local London Assembly member, Steve O'Connell, is also chairman of the finance sub-committee that could decide to provide extra money for police. It is nonsense, and it is an abuse, for Croydon council to be spending money on this matter, given that at the same time as the council launched the petition it was also launched through e-mails from the Conservative parliamentary candidate. It is an inappropriate use of public money to have such a close relationship between a parliamentary campaign and the spending of council money.

As many Members have said in Westminster Hall debates, there are also great dangers in councils trying to get into the media business. The number of newspapers being produced by councils is unacceptable and risks undermining things. I know that Mr. Slaughter, who takes a great interest in the performance of Hammersmith and Fulham council, has been very critical of the way in which his local authority does that. I believe that the Your Croydon newspaper wrongly continues to be run so closely with the Conservative parliamentary party campaign and to give great prominence to things during this election purdah period.

Finally, I wish to return to the issue of the role of business, because the pro-business borough was at the very heart of Croydon's success in the 1960s. I know that, in many ways, the approach taken then had many weaknesses: it was very municipalist and dirigiste, and it was perhaps a little old-fashioned compared with the more appropriately aggressive and laissez-faire approach taken in the London borough of Wandsworth. Nevertheless, co-ordination and co-operation between the council and businesses has an important role to play.

It is fundamental to note that moneys are taken away through the business rate and the supplementary business rate, but we have no prospect of any of that supplementary business rate being reinvested in Croydon's economy. We need to deal with the significant issue of trying to improve confidence and reduce the fear of crime in the centre of Croydon-a justifiable fear, bearing in mind the number of killings that we have had along the A23 corridor-and of trying to leave some money behind. May I call on the Government-I know that the London Mayor also has some discretion-to try to use their persuasive powers so that some of that money comes back?

I am very impressed by the campaign that is being run by Max Menon of Allders, the only remaining Allders store in the country. Calling for some discretion and for moneys to be returned to Croydon means that we can defend an exposed and fragile economy that, unfortunately, has not been helped by some real lack of vision from the local authority in Croydon.

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