20 security guards eliminated in latest Croydon ‘stealth cuts’
CROYDON IN CRISIS: Union leaders want to replace council staff with high street bounty hunters who receive a commission on every fine they issue, using a company that has been accused of ‘profiteering from poverty’.
EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Whoever is elected mayor next week will inherit a borough with 20 fewer Neighborhood Safety Officers than in Croydon last year, in another stealth cut implemented at the cash-strapped council.
The council is cutting the majority of its NSOs to achieve savings of £1.1m this financial year and next.
The Labor group, which has done so much to bankrupt the council, wants to replace the NSOs with bounty hunters from the security firm Kingdom, who would impose £60 fines on the spot for even the most insignificant breaches. Under similar arrangements with other councils and landowners, the Kingdom typically keeps 85-90% of the fines imposed, with the balance going to the commissioning body.
Croydon could therefore pocket £10 a pop every time the Kingdom’s private police pounce on an unsuspecting member of the public. This should slowly reduce the council’s £1.5billion mountain of debt…
Maybe that’s what Labor mayoral candidate Val Shawcross means in her election literature when she talks about “A New Direction”?
Like the “stealth cuts” of Meals on Wheels revealed exclusively by Inside Croydon, the decision to drop the ONS was not publicly discussed by the leadership of the Labour-controlled council. The decision was contained in a single line in about 800 pages of financial documents approved at the council’s cabinet budget meeting last month. The report’s authors include three of the top Labor advisers who are running for re-election on May 5.
The withdrawal of at least two-thirds of the ONS team effectively marks the abandonment of the Labor Council’s flagship policy to tackle illegal dumping, littering and other anti-social behavior in the borough.
The council’s website still reflects the original position of the ONS, introduced nearly eight years ago: “Our Neighborhood Safety Officers (ONS) work closely with the Police Neighborhood Safer Teams, internal teams and departments and other partner agencies to support community safety.
“NSOs apply national legislation in accordance with local and statutory legislation to deal with anti-social behavior and environmental offences.”
The advice says NSOs can “request a person’s name and address for Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) and offenses that cause injury, alarm and distress to another person or damage or loss of another’s property”, and do the same with “a person acting in an antisocial manner”.
The NSOs also had the power to confiscate alcohol from anyone under the age of 18; confiscate alcohol from any person in a designated public place; and confiscate cigarettes and tobacco products from anyone under the age of 16
The advice says NSOs “also act as professional witnesses, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses and perpetrators and taking statements that can be used as evidence in court.
“In addition, they undertake a series of prevention, intervention and diversion activities [for example] refer a youth for Acceptable Behavior Agreements (ABAs).
Tory and Labour-controlled Croydon Council floated the idea of privatizing its high street patrols for the better part of a decade, embracing the idea of security guards dressed in ‘tough man’ uniforms which make them look a lot like police officers, as they hide in corners to catch accidental trash in a throwback to some of the more questionable practices of the 19th century.
The fines imposed by the commission had, according to the report, “led to a corruption of the sentence. The official imposing the fine has a financial interest (direct or indirect) in punishing the persons. Their concern becomes not to perform a public service, but to find people to turn to. There is no room for leniency, nor for issuing a warning, because every missed fine is missed revenue.”
Even the Magistrates’ Association frowned upon this practice, shifting the powers of the public court system into the hands of private bounty hunters.
“The trial court is much more transparent and consistent,” a spokesperson said. “It does justice beyond what private enterprise can deliver.
“Private companies don’t report to anyone, the public can’t question it – there are very limited appeal provisions.”
The Manifesto Club said: “People are being fined for increasingly insignificant incidents – from a match being dropped to a piece of cotton falling from a glove. More worryingly, these fines are often imposed by private companies that work on commission.
“The report argues that such lucrative punishment runs counter to the interests of justice and public service. We recommend that fines be used only in proportion to the offense and when necessary in the public interest.
On the company’s website, Kingdom boasts of “£6m raised for local authorities in 12 months”.
They say, “You can deploy professional and tactful law enforcement teams to your problem hotspots. Which makes their staff sound like some kind of hemorrhoid cream.
But it may seem much more sinister than that.
“I believe this company is profiting from poverty,” a former Kingdom employee said in interviews with the Grauniade newspaper in 2019.
Kingdom Services Group, which is headquartered just outside Manchester, has denied any wrongdoing and says it maintained “high standards”. The company says its agents go through a comprehensive training program and “operate under some of the strictest legal guidelines.”
But The Guardian was contacted by whistleblowers who alleged that staff were encouraged to compete to issue as many fines as possible, even while exploiting a leaderboard in one area.
A training crew has been accused of tricking staff into hiding logos on their uniforms and hiding in bushes or behind cars to improve their chances of catching members of the public.
The Kingdom reportedly generated £1.4m in fines in just eight months in just one area of the council.
A new direction for Croydon, indeed…