Your efforts to create new jobs in Croydon are to be commended. In my humble opinion however, I fear that attracting public sector jobs from central London will prove difficult for the reasons set out below.
The background is that Croydon’s historic job creation record has been poor. However, in the past, the buoyant London economy provided jobs for Croydonians willing to commute. But London’s current subdued job market makes commuting far less of an option than it was in the past. Worryingly, in recent years, Croydon has become very dependent on the public sector – which is undergoing a real employment squeeze. In Croydon, we’ve already seen 760 jobs losses at the UK Border Agency (“UKBA”) and 310 at the Council. Also, Croydon seems committed to a big population increase – at least 45,000 new residents (per Croydon’s planning department) in the next 20 years, possibly many more given the spate of residential skyscrapers that are planned. Given this background, your focus on job creation is both timely and wise.
The recent independent Centre for Cities assessment of Croydon’s employment prospects is brutally frank. This study forecasts that almost 10% of existing public sector jobs in Croydon may be lost. Croydon is especially vulnerable given its current reliance on the Council and the UKBA – two organisations that are undergoing a real squeeze. Alas, much of the job loss predicted by the Centre for Cities has already crystallised given the recent announcements from the UKBA and Council.
But is there an opportunity to attract new public sector jobs from central London? The honest observation is that the overall public sector workforce is contracting as the budget savings bite. In an environment where the overall workforce is shrinking, relocating staff to a new location is difficult. What tends to happen - certainly for bigger departments - is that operations are focused in a smaller number of the most cost efficient existing locations. Also, the Centre for Cities report makes the good point that even if Croydon can persuade government departments to relocate from central London, the local employment benefit will be slow to emerge if most of the existing staff choose to transfer.
The UKBA provides a good case study of some of the issues outlined above. The UKBA is undergoing a big contraction in its overall headcount of 23,000 staff. As well as its large Croydon operation, it also has large centres in Sheffield and Liverpool. These cities will almost certainly argue that their economic needs are greater than the relatively prosperous south-east of England. Also, taking a long term view, the UKBA will argue that basing the great bulk of operations in Sheffield and Liverpool will almost certainly be cheaper than maintaining a sizeable Croydon presence.
There are also a number of policy hurdles that militate against relocations to Croydon. A government report - the Lyons Review - recommended that the regions should receive priority for government departments relocating from central London. Also, the following quote from the Cabinet Office’s website regarding the government’s estate pulls no punches: "Moving organisations out of expensive property in London and the South East will save money in the long term and provide huge efficiencies."
So, what to do? In my humble opinion, an important part of the strategy should be to retain the employment that Croydon already has. In particular, although it’s not an action that garners huge PR kudos, it’s important to lobby the UKBA to maintain the relative size of Croydon compared to its Sheffield and Liverpool cousins. This focus on preserving what we have also applies to Croydon’s largest private sector employer – Nestle.
Maintaining the employment Croydon already has is a crucial, but essentially a defensive action. In my humble opinion, the best offensive action would be to put a high emphasis on securing Enterprise Zone (“EZ”) status. The discounts on business rates that EZ status provides would be a powerful incentive in persuading new private sector companies to relocate to Croydon.
In conclusion, it’s to your credit that you have focused on jobs as being a key issue. Every Croydonian is agreed that we need to prioritise job creation in this age of austerity.