I’m pleased that today, we have received government approval of a capitalisation direction that will help to balance this year’s budget and support Croydon’s plan to put its finances back on track.
Communities Minister Luke Hall has written to us to confirm that it will allow borrowing of £120m – £70m for the financial year 2020-21 and £50m for 2021/22. The government’s offer, which will help Croydon over the next two years, is conditional on us delivering our renewal plans at pace and providing regular progress updates to the government-appointed Improvement and Assurance Panel. Croydon’s Renewal Plan is a major programme mapping out proposed savings, strengthening governance and financial practices, and new ways of working to put the borough on a more sustainable financial footing.
We welcome this positive decision, reflecting government’s confidence in our robust plans and ability to turn this council’s finances around and transform how it is run for the benefit of everyone in our borough. This means we can now put forward a balanced budget for debate on Monday and it gives us a solid foundation to focus on putting those plans for sustainable finances into practice over the next 12 months.
It’s great that from Monday many more Croydon pupils will return to the classroom, with our schools preparing to welcome them back after many months of absence. Teachers and school staff are putting in a tremendous effort to help this happen as safely as possible, and we are grateful for all they continue to do in very challenging circumstances. We also fully recognise how hard the last few months have been for children, young people and their families, and we will be working closely with all our schools to support them as much as possible in their return.
From staggered start times to social distancing, schools have worked tirelessly to put in place a huge range of measures that will help to protect staff and pupils. An important part of this is offering regular Covid-19 lateral flow tests for all school staff and pupils at secondary schools, to help identify those who may not have any symptoms but could pass the virus on to others. Families with school or college-aged children and young people can now also order free home test kits for themselves and their childcare and support bubbles, so that they can test regularly. The test kits can be delivered to their home address or for collection from a local test centre. Visit www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests to find out more.
The return to school is a hugely important first step forward for all of us and we all have to play our part to ensure that it is a success. Infection rates in Croydon are falling, but they are still high and we cannot be complacent – you can find the latest data here. We must ensure that infection rates continue to fall by following the national lockdown restrictions and the NHS social distancing guidance on hands, face, space. The government’s roadmap to recovery is conditional on meeting several tests, and if we all want to see a return to normality then we need to do all we can to prevent the virus spreading in our communities.
Extra Covid-19 testing
We will be working with NHS Test and Trace to launch extra Covid-19 testing in the South Norwood area, as part of the national programme to track and identify any further cases of the variant of Covid-19 first identified in Brazil.
This follows the government announcement this afternoon that the area is one of the locations across the country where Public Health England have found evidence of a Covid-19 case with the variant.
At this stage there is no evidence of onwards transmission, but as a further precaution extra testing will introduced in the area, as it has recently been in New Addington and Fieldway. We will be asking everyone over the age of 16 in the area to take a PCR Covid-19 test, even if they are not showing symptoms. We will be sharing details of this extra testing programme – including how and where to get tested – as soon as they are available.
We also continue to work with NHS Test and Trace to deliver extra Covid-19 testing in New Addington and Fieldway, after Public Health England detected a case of the variant first identified in South Africa. It’s really important that everyone over the age of 16 living in the area gets tested before extra testing ends on 8 March, whether they have symptoms or not. The people of New Addington and Fieldway have been fantastic with thousands coming forward so once again, a huge thank you to everyone who has helped – residents, businesses, volunteers and council staff. We need as many people as possible to get tested to help prevent the virus spreading, so if you live in the area and haven’t already, please do so now. Find more information at www.croydon.gov.uk/CovidTest. By getting tested, you can help to prevent the virus spreading, protecting yourself and your loved ones, while enabling better understanding of this variant.
International Women’s Day
On Monday 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a global event celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and highlighting the progress still to be made. This year’s theme is Choose to Challenge and this is a call to action for all of us to celebrate women’s achievements, but also to call out gender bias and inequality, so that together we create a more inclusive world. As leader of Croydon Council, I am incredibly proud to celebrate all the women who make a huge contribution to life in our borough and beyond, and to be one of only 10 female council leaders in London. I hope we can all choose to challenge not just on Monday, but every day.
So as we head into the weekend, there is much to feel hopeful about. Our local NHS team have now delivered 89,000 Covid-19 vaccines, infection levels continue to slowly decrease and many of our children and young people will return to face-to-face education next week. This progress is down to the efforts of so many people across our borough, who continue to work tirelessly, as they have done for almost a year now, to help our communities stay safe and resilient during the pandemic. From our schools, pupils and parents preparing for Monday, to the residents supporting extra testing, our local NHS staff delivering the vaccination programme, all our key workers and everyone who is supporting their community by staying at home – everything you are doing is making a difference. If we keep going and continue to pull together, Croydon will emerge from this stronger than ever.
Have a good weekend,
Councillor Hamida Ali, leader of the council