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VOTE 2014: Where does Labour stand in Croydon?

In the first of a series of articles looking at where Croydon's political parties stand on key issues for the 2014 council elections, chief reporter Gareth Davies talks to Labour leader Tony Newman

Before the last election you promised to introduce free school meals for all primary school pupils – do you remain committed to this pledge?

Tony Newman: "Given the Government cuts to local authorities across the country, everything that anyone has previously pledged is under review. We're very actively looking at breakfast clubs, targeted at schools in areas with the greatest deprivation. In times of austerity there are a lot of children missing that meal. Some of the clubs are already up and running and there's a lot of evidence that they work. But, in terms of the school lunches I think, at the moment, it's unrealistic. In the light of the cuts we're having to be very hard-nosed."

You've been an outspoken critic of the council's new headquarters and the council's town centre Urban Regeneration Vehicle (CCURV). What would you do with it if elected?

"We've made it very clear that a complete review of CCURV will be one of our day one agenda items. One of our clear priorities will be a dramatic expansion in the building of affordable housing. We think there's potential for CCURV to be redesigned to help deliver that, but if that potential doesn't exist then the future of CCURV would be up for grabs. We are currently looking at all, and I mean all, options. Yes [that includes pulling out completely] but I'm confident we will be able to renegotiate CCURV to deliver Labour's priorities."

Would a Labour council raise or freeze council tax?

"In each of the last four years we've voted with the Conservatives to freeze it and my expectations we would do that next year. What I can't do, effectively two years out, is go beyond that but I will say a Labour administration would be determined to keep council tax as low as possible."

Would Labour reinstate the ten school crossing patrols recently axed by the council?

"Assuming the schools and the parents want them, the answer is yes.

The only caveat is if they are on an automated crossing [a number of the affected patrols were] the answer might be different.

If it's an automated crossing that works, it might not need to be looked at. Where there's a zebra crossing and no other protection for children the answer is yes."

What would you do to tackle the issue of homelessness in Croydon?

"The critical thing is the supply of housing, both to buy and rent, and where there are new homes being built making sure that a higher proportion are affordable. So not the ten per cent [cabinet member for regeneration] Jason Perry looks for, but 30 per cent. We're absolutely committed to that as a minimum."

You have criticised the council's pensions investment in the tobacco industry – would this stop under Labour?

"That would end as soon as possible. The idea you could have a huge organisation, responsible for public health, investing in the country's biggest killer is completely unacceptable."

What would a Labour council do to create more school places?

"I think we still have reasonable space in the borough [in which to build new schools].

The bullet we might have to bite is that, while there is land across Croydon, we may have to build some schools and then transport children across the borough if need be.

To me converting former office blocks into schools smacks of desperation.

I would much rather be planning properly, which is what isn't happening at the moment."

You have also criticised the decision to introduce fortnightly black bin collections. Would you reinstate weekly collections?

"This will be another thing we will review very quickly. One thing I can say is you may not have the same frequency of service everywhere. There are places where there is a high density of housing where a weekly collection may be the answer. There are other places where it may not be."

Labour is often highly critical of fly-tipping and the state of Croydon's streets – what would you do to tackle the problem?

"We're looking at having a very highly publicised, simple number to ring for people to report fly-tipping and we're going to make it an absolute priority to clean up those parts of the borough that need it.

We're going to make a very high profile attack on fly-tipping, seek the most punitive penalties possible for those caught doing it and clean up the mess in the mean time."

Can you categorically rule out closing any of Croydon's libraries in your next term, if elected?

"I can categorically rule out closing any libraries. We will also look pull out of the contract with John Laing [which has an agreement to run libraries for the council]. I want to see the libraries back initially under the arm of the council and then we want to see a model where local communities, if they want to, can take control and run their libraries."

VOTE 2014: Where does Labour stand in Croydon?

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