Labour's Lambeth-import MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed, has had a rough few months in terms of being caught out playing 'fast and loose' with the facts, in his attempts to help Labour win the council election on 22 May. Here, Gavin Barwell (Conservative MP for Croydon Central) debunks some of Reed's facts.
Steve Reed has published the following ten claims about Croydon Conservatives on his website. Some are demonstrably untrue, the rest to a greater or lesser extent misleading. With one exception (see below), I’ll leave you to decide if he is deliberately trying to mislead people or just hasn’t done his research properly.
Claim 1: Croydon Conservatives have rejected funding to freeze Council Tax so they could hike it up to record levels - Croydon residents now pay more than ANY neighbouring council whether Labour, Tory or Lib Dem.
The first claim is misleading. Steve is using cash figures i.e. not taking account of inflation. Pretty much everything costs more today than it did 8 years ago on that basis. The fair comparison is to include inflation and that not only shows that Conservatives have reduced bills, it also reveals a stark contrast with Labour’s record when they were in control between 1994 and 2006.
When Labour came to power in 1994, a family in a typical Band D home was paying £577.94 a year in today’s prices. When they were voted out of office in 2006, that had gone up to £1,200.07 a year. In other words, over 12 years Labour more than doubled your bills after taking account of inflation (if I used cash figures like Steve the increase would be even bigger, but that would be unfair and I don’t need to use dodgy figures to make my point - the truth about Labour’s record scary enough). This year, a family in a typical Band D home is paying £1,146.39, about 4.5% less than they were eight years ago when the Conservatives came to power. We’ve cut your bills - not by much, but every little helps and certainly in sharp contrast with Labour’s record.
Steve’s second claim - that we’re all paying more than we’d pay for a property in the same Council Tax band in any neighbouring council - is demonstrably untrue. Bills are higher in both Reigate & Banstead and Tandridge. And even local Labour councillors accept that the reason bills are higher in Croydon than in inner London boroughs like Lambeth is that the system the Government uses to distribute funding to local councils (which sadly hasn’t changed much from the system it inherited from the last Government) is unfair to Croydon.
Claim 2: Croydon Conservatives have supported plans to cut police numbers below the inadequate level seen at the time of the riots and left Croydon with just one 24/7 police station for the entire borough.
The first claim is misleading. Steve is including some officers that were temporarily deployed to Croydon for a few months in 2011, but were never part of our ongoing police presence. The fair comparison is to look at how many police officers Croydon was budgeted to have in 2011 and how many it is budgeted to have now and in the future. And on that basis we are getting a significant increase. Under the Mayor of London’s Police and Crime Plan, by next year Croydon will have 117 more police officers than it had in 2011. Boris has changed the formula used to divide the Metropolitan Police’s budget between the 32 boroughs in a way that significantly benefits Croydon and he deserves huge credit for that.
Steve’s second claim is true. The police, like every other public service, have to find ways of saving money and they take the view that having more officers on our streets and fewer buildings is the most effective way to spend their budget. I agree with them. Ultimately, however, we should judge this strategy on whether it leads to a fall or a rise in crime. And we recently had some early evidence - crime in Croydon is down by nearly 10% in the last 12 months.
Claim 3: Croydon Conservatives have refused to oppose plans to downgrade Croydon University Hospital’s A&E and maternity unit.
This is demonstrably untrue. Not only are we opposed to downgrading services at our local hospital, we supported plans that would have seen increased investment in our A&E Department and Maternity Unit paid for by downgrading services at some other hospitals in south west London. Steve refused to support these plans - rather than do what was best for Croydon, he did what he was told by Labour high command.
Claim 4: Croydon Conservatives have prioritised building themselves a multi-million pound new HQ in the town centre while telling residents there’s no money for police, schools, or decent street cleaning.
This claim is misleading in two regards.
First, the new HQ is for Croydon Council, not Croydon Conservatives. It doesn’t include any facilities for local councillors.
Second, the Council’s old HQ, Taberner House, needed replacing or major renovation. However it would have been completely wrong to prioritise spending scarce resources on a new HQ over our schools, our roads or our streetlights. The Council therefore came up with an innovative way of paying for the new HQ without using a penny of the money we all pay in Council Tax. The new HQ is actually saving us all money because it is cheaper to run than Taberner House was (being a new, much more energy efficient building with lower maintenance costs).
Claim 5: Croydon Conservatives have failed to prosecute a single person for fly-tipping last year despite a 150% increase in dumped rubbish since they were last elected, leaving 8 out of 10 residents dissatisfied with local streets.
This is demonstrably untrue - the Council prosecuted 243 people between April 2013 and March 2014.
Claim 6: Croydon Conservatives have been slammed in a BBC documentary for forcing homeless families into squalid, damp, overcrowded and insect-infested accommodation.
It is true that Croydon Council was placing some families in bed & breakfast accommodation for more than the statutory limit of six weeks due to the acute shortage of housing. But it has recently been praised by the Government for its efforts that have ensured that no-one is in that position any longer.
Claim 7: Croydon Conservatives have left Croydon with the biggest shortage of school places in the country and more students at underperforming schools than any other London borough.
The first claim is demonstrably untrue. The number of primary school age children in the borough is certainly increasing very quickly and the Council is having to work very hard to provide sufficient places but as things stand there is no shortage - every parent who applied for a primary school place by the January deadline was offered one. A record proportion (94%) were offered one of their top three choices.
Why is the number of primary school age children increasing? In large part, because the last Government allowed hundreds of thousands of working age people into the country every year. But they did nothing to prepare for the inevitable increase in the birth rate. This Government, as in so many other areas, has been left to sort out the mess. It has put a lot more money into providing new school places and changed the formula Labour used to distribute that money between different parts of the country. As a result, Croydon is getting over £142 million between April 2011 and March 2015, more than eight times what we got from the last Government during the previous four years.
The second claim is misleading in several regards and on this occasion Steve knows it’s misleading because I explained it to him in front of a large audience at a recent Tech City event.
First, it is misleading to look at the number of pupils at under-performing schools. Most boroughs have far fewer pupils than Croydon. A fairer comparison would be what percentage of pupils are at an under-performing school. On that basis, several other boroughs perform worse than Croydon.
Second, Steve has not counted those schools that were under-performing last year and were closed as a result. Say three schools in Lambeth got GCSE results below the minimum expected level last summer, but they were all closed and replaced with new academies. Steve is saying no pupils in Lambeth were in under-performing schools last year because those schools no longer exist.
And finally and most importantly Steve is using this statistic to give the impression that many Croydon schools are failing. He neglects to mention that there is only one failing school in the whole borough and that on average Croydon schools do better than the national average and are improving more quickly. He also neglects to mention that when Labour ran Croydon Council back in 2006 our schools were worse than the national average.
Claim 8: With unemployment in Croydon above the London average, the Tories refused to back a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund training to get people back to work and tried to impose the biggest funding cut in the country on Croydon College.
The first claim is demonstrably untrue. Under Labour, unemployment in Croydon was above the London average, but last month the unemployment rate in Croydon was 3.7% compared with 3.8% across London. The only bit of the borough with unemployment above the London average is the bit Steve represents. Maybe if he did more to talk up the area he represents, more businesses would want to locate there and more of his constituents would be in work?
Steve neglects to say that unemployment in Croydon is down by over a quarter under this Government. When Labour left office, there were 9,223 people in the borough out of work. Today, there are 6,810 and the number is falling fast.
The second claim is misleading. Bankers pay income tax on their bonuses. This Government has introduced a levy on the banks to ensure they help pay to fix the mess they were in part responsible for creating, something the last Government failed to do.
It is true that the Government’s proposed changes to funding for further education would have particularly impacted Croydon College, but Steve neglects to mention that I lobbied Ministers and secured some extra funding.
Claim 9: Croydon Conservatives did a secret deal to sell off all Croydon’s libraries to a private building company who immediately made vast profits by flogging them off to a developer.
Demonstrably untrue. Croydon’s libraries have not been sold-off. A private company operates them under a contract, but the Council still owns them.
Claim 10: Croydon Conservatives have blocked plans to register lettings agents and landlords to curb unfair fees of up to £1000 imposed on hard-pressed tenants.
It is true that we have blocked Ed Miliband’s latest idea - to ban the fees charged to tenants by letting agents. The reason is that everyone who knows anything about housing - from Shelter to the Residential Landlords Association - says that it would lead to higher rents. Letting agents will pass on the charges to landlords and they will pass them on to tenants. Like many of Mr Miliband’s ideas, it sounds attractive at first but quickly unravels once you think about it. Don’t take my word for it - read this.
One final thought. Throughout this list, Steve calls for more spending - on the police, schools, street cleaning, housing, training and Croydon College. He also says tax is too high.
You can cut taxes if you cut spending.
You can raise spending if you raise taxes.
But you can’t raise spending and cut taxes unless you borrow the money to pay for it - which is of course the disastrous mistake the last Labour Government made. Sadly, some people never learn.