As we enter the third month of the Covid crisis, we are still proud to be playing our role in shielding and looking after 15,000 of Croydon’s most vulnerable residents and at the government’s request, playing an ever-increasing role in keeping Croydon’s 123 private sector care homes as safe as possible from the pandemic.
For everyone, the last three months have taken their toll and as we enter another bank holiday and the start of the spring half term, I hope some of you are looking forward to a break – perhaps a rest from managing home-schooling alongside work, or at least the opportunity for some time to relax.
However, I am very aware that for many of you this will not be the case and so I want to start by thanking once again, all of our residents and key workers who continue to be at the forefront of the response to Covid-19. That’s those working in hospitals this weekend, those volunteering, and our own council staff working in services from social care to street cleansing.
I want to mention those who have been working this week at our newly-reopened household reuse and recycling centres, to manage them safely and ensure everyone is observing social distancing. The centres have been incredibly busy this week and tend to be busiest first thing in the morning – so we would urge you to only come if your visit is essential and try to avoid the peak times. Thanks to all those who have worked with us to follow the new rules – you can find details here.
I also particularly want to mention our schools across Croydon, who I know are working around the clock now to prepare for some pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6 to return from 1 June onwards. This has been an absolutely mammoth task for school staff and I want to pay tribute to them for their absolute dedication in all the work they have been doing, and to our own council staff in education who have been supporting them in this. It goes without saying that we all want our children back in education as soon as possible but teachers, parents and the children themselves must first have the reassurances that it is safe for them to do so.
Schools will be making their own individual decisions about what is appropriate for them in terms of children returning, and we are working with them to support them as they implement those decisions, to ensure that the appropriate risk assessments have been carried out and that they have plans in place to address them before opening. I know schools have been in consultation with parents about their plans, if so you have any questions or concerns about your child returning please do speak to them.
We also continue to work closely with our partners in transport and in the town centre to prepare for the reopening of some businesses from 1 June. This will mean more people start to travel around our borough and while we are all keen to begin to revive our local economy, your safety remains our priority. And so we will be putting in new measures in our streets and public spaces to support you to follow the social distancing guidelines and to walk or cycle rather than use public transport, building on the success of Streetspaces programme. We are aware of course that some people have no alternative, and we are working closely with Transport for London and others, to do all we can to help prevent crowding around stations and on buses and trains.
Many of you will have seen media coverage about local government finances this week, with councils up and down the country raising very legitimate concerns about the lack of government funding for our response to this crisis. As is absolutely right, local authorities have been at the forefront of the response to Covid-19, caring for those on the government’s shielded list and our most vulnerable residents and we would not have it any other way – they have been and remain our absolute priority. The welfare response has been a huge operation in Croydon, and we are all proud of the way our community has united as one strong partnership to care for those in need – working with the voluntary, public and private sector. But we must be fairly funded for this, and the government must now deliver on its promises of support made at the start of the pandemic. Despite saying they would ensure all councils were fully reimbursed for the tens of millions rightly spent as the Covid crisis unfolded, to date we have only seen a fraction of that money paid back to us. In these challenging times, everyone is having to make tough choices, and local authorities are no different, so once again we are looking at all our services and what matters most to our residents. Our most vulnerable residents will always be our top priority, but if we do not receive the support we were promised from central government, we may have no alternative but to make some very difficult decisions. So be assured that we will are joining local authorities across the country in lobbying central government hard to deliver on their promises.
Some of you will have this week received consultation information from Network Rail about exciting plans for the future of East Croydon station and the expansion of the Brighton Mainline. This is great news for our town and demonstrates their confidence in Croydon, as an important economic centre. We will be working closely with Network Rail as they develop their plans and would urge you all to get involved – find out more at www.networkrail.co.uk/croydon. We may be facing tough times but this is a reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that the confidence in Croydon as a destination, which we had seen growing at pace prior to Covid-19, is still there and will return. We are also acutely aware that this health crisis for many families is also becoming an economic crisis, with so many people furloughed and so many companies unsure of their future. So we are already planning hard for the economic revival of our town, to get our town up and running and people back into employment. We will be leading on this as your council, bringing together businesses, transport, trade unions, the community and our partners right across Croydon, and I look forward to updating you on this important piece of work in the coming weeks and months.
Until then, have a good bank holiday weekend,
Councillor Tony Newman, leader of the council