Croydon Council declared bankrupt for third time

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Croydon Council HQImage source, Croydon Council
Image caption,
The council has debts of £1.6bn

Local libraries, a retail park and community hubs may have to be sold off by a south London council after it declared bankruptcy for the third time.

Croydon Council said it had to issue a Section 114 notice to declare bankruptcy after it realised it faced a £130m black hole in next year's budget.

Its Conservative mayor Jason Perry blamed "toxic historic mismanagement".

The authority first declared bankruptcy in 2020 and was given a £120m bailout loan by central government.

It needs to pay £47m a year to meet its £1.6bn debt.

Since the first bankruptcy filing, the council has made about £90m in savings and £50m in asset sales and has proposals to save £44m during the 2023-24 financial year.

It estimated it could raise about £100m by selling off 18 properties it owned in the coming years.

This includes the Colonnades, a retail park it bought for £53m in 2018. It was one of a number of investments made by the council to try to bring in more money to fund frontline services. It had hoped the Colonnades would provide an annual income of £1.4m.

But the measures taken have still not been enough to put it on a sustainable financial footing, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) said, as £48m of extra costs needed to be added to next year's budget.

More savings needed

Cabinet member for finance Jason Cummings said: "We have got that £100m but there isn't much more than that that this council can sell to repay the debt."

He added: "It is not the sort of thing we should be buying or investing in, it is part of this legacy of trying to make money on the property market.

"The council borrowed money for the Colonnades and we still have that debt.

"This particular one has pretty much broken even, but in our current position we can't sit on an asset of that value which isn't providing any service and it presents a risk for us."

As well as the retail park, possible sales include libraries, the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Centre, Winterbourne Youth Hub, Purley Way pavilions, Davis House and Cemetery Lodge.

Image caption,
Conservative mayor Jason Perry gained control of the council in May

To balance the books, the council would need to reduce spending by £130m in the next financial year, which would leave the organisation "financially and operationally unsustainable", according to Mr Perry. He has now written to Levelling Up, Housing and Community Secretary Michael Gove asking for more money.

"The previous administration has left a legacy of unprecedented financial mismanagement, toxic bad debt and a lack of governance and transparency that shames Croydon and continues to have a long-lasting impact on the sustainability of our council," said Mr Perry.

"Despite the hard work of staff to support the council's recovery, the toxic level of historic debt means that Croydon is trapped in a vicious cycle.

"Even with government support, the coming years will be incredibly financially challenging for Croydon Council. Ultimately, this will mean the council needs to do and spend less, with significant spending reductions."

He added the authority would become a much smaller organisation.

A government spokesperson said it had appointed an independent panel to "address the significant governance and financial failings in Croydon and would continue to monitor progress to ensure the council delivers for its residents".

'Scoring political points'

The council's Labour group has previously denied it is to blame, saying the current administration inherited an underspend as well as a £27m reserve.

Councillor Stuart King, Labour group leader at Croydon council, said: "It is a sad day for Croydon that the council appears to be going backwards.

"We accept that the previous administration made mistakes that contributed to our town's financial challenges.

"However, the Conservative government's own improvement panel acknowledged Labour's "creditable progress" in addressing the council's financial problems since they came to light.

"This is a shared problem which requires a shared solution, where both parties must work together in the interests of our residents.

"Unfortunately, the mayor seems more interested in scoring political points rather than working together to fix our town."

The council's cabinet will meet on 30 November to discuss its medium-term financial strategy.

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