Crawley Borough Council stands in solidarity with protesters in America and around the world

Crawley Borough Council is standing shoulder to shoulder with the town’s BAME community and supporting the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

Councillors have been participating in events to show solidarity with protesters in the US and around the world, including the UK.

The Mayor of Crawley, Councillor Raj Sharma, and Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, both ‘took the knee’ at 6pm on Wednesday and will observe the minute’s silence at 8pm today in solidarity with people of colour.

Black Lives Matter is a global campaign against violence and systemic racism towards black and ethnic minority people. It has been the driving force behind protests taking place across the world following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.There has been worldwide outrage after a video showing the officer kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck went viral. For the past week, protests have been held in several cities across the globe.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Last month, we commemorated the end of the Second World War in Europe, a war this country entered to defend other nations from unjust aggression. Then as now, injustice could only thrive so long as good people chose to do nothing.

“Tonight, we aren’t being asked to fight a war or face down a hail of plastic bullets and tear gas. We’re being asked to take a minute to remember those who face violence on a daily basis due to their race and make it clear that they don’t stand alone.”

Marilyn Le Feuvre, Chair of Diverse Crawley and committee member of Crawley Campaign Against Racism, said: “This is our Rosa Parks moment and we need to use this for change. This has been happening for centuries but this is now being seen by everyone.

“We’ve had so much support locally, nationally and globally from people of all backgrounds and ages. Taking a knee and a minute’s silence are small things but they make a big difference.”

To find out more about Black Lives Matter, visit blacklivesmatter.com

To find out more about Diverse Crawley, visit diversecrawley.org.uk

To find out more about Crawley Campaign Against Racism, search ‘CrawleyCAR’ on Facebook.

Crawley Live Column, Summer 2020

This is the first digital-only edition of Crawley Live the council has ever produced and it serves as a reminder of the unprecedented times in which we live.

More has been asked of our community than ever before and the responsible action of the vast majority in the town has literally saved the lives of thousands of our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.

Throughout the lockdown we have seen some of the best of our society, with so many volunteering to help support those who were struggling, and the incredible efforts made by key workers to protect our NHS and keep essential services running. Including the amazing work undertaken by Crawley Borough Council staff who restructured almost every part of the council to play a role meeting the needs of the community throughout the crisis. We must not forget those who did their bit when this outbreak is over.

Unfortunately, Crawley’s road to recovery will be longer than most, with so many of our major employers belonging to industries hit hard by the lockdown, and at the same time the council’s income has taken a hammering leaving us far weaker as we start to rebuild the local economy.

I cannot claim that the next few years will be easy, but over recent months the people of this town have shown that they are capable of doing great good throughout hardship, and with so much going for our community, I am confident that Crawley’s best days are still ahead of us.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd June 2020

After weeks of columns on Covid-19, I’m giving people a break and changing topics.

This year is the first year in decades Crawley has not had to go through local elections. While the pressure of not having to run a campaign has been good for my mental health, particularly after the four sets of elections held in 2019, I’ve always supported annual elections as a means of preserving democratic control over the council and keeping councillors out knocking doors, addressing the issues coming up in their neighbourhoods, year-round.

With normal engagement impossible for now we’re having to explore new ways of connecting. My weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions have proven surprisingly successful in encouraging residents to raise questions and have their say on the issues affecting the town. Videoconferencing committee meetings is giving us the chance to provide residents with a permanent online record of decision-making, something I believe should continue when things go back to normal. We’re even producing our first digital edition of Crawley Live.

Having this chance to explore new forms of engagement is important, partly because it enables democracy to continue throughout this period, but even more so because the issues the town now faces will require far better engagement to resolve.

The reality is that recent months have undermined the industry our local economy is built on for years to come and the way we work to rebuild it will have a major impact upon the future of life in Crawley. The decline in the economy has totally undermined the council’s finances, meaning that balancing the budget will involve big changes to the way we provide services. The climate emergency we face and our commitment to address it will also require major adaptions to the town’s infrastructure and the way we go about our lives.

These are huge issues and a cross in a box at election time won’t provide residents with enough of a say as to how we answer the major questions affecting our future. To do that we are going to need public engagement on a scale this council has never attempted before.

LGA First Magazine Article

With greater access to information than ever before, increasingly the problem we face is not a lack of information but finding the ‘right’ information and avoiding misinformation. In daily life this is a big enough problem, with phrases like ‘fake news’ becoming common parlance, but in a crisis the information gap costs lives.

As the pandemic hit it became clear that for all the briefings, the gap between government guidelines and what they meant on the ground was vast, and that for the lockdown to be effective locally residents needed a simple way to get answers to any questions they might have.

Our solution: give people a single place to get their questions answered in real-time, with a weekly Q&A hour on Facebook Live with myself as council leader

To be honest, I had my doubts anyone would bother to tune in, after all we live in cynical times, but the combined live and catch-up viewings have received between 3,000 and 8,000 unique views, reaching around 15% of the borough’s population. While I’ve only committed to running Q&A sessions for the duration of the lockdown, the response has been uniformly positive and various residents have asked we consider running them, on a less frequent basis, once the outbreak ends.

Several things help explain this surprise success. At a basic level, residents clearly have more time on their hands and are more likely to have questions they need to raise. Yet, beyond that, by giving the public the chance to ask questions directly of a leader, by answering every question–even if it’s insulting or tongue-in-cheek, and by ensuring that answers are honest, unspun and as human as possible, we can re-empower citizens to hold local decision-makers to account and in the process help rebuild the trust which has been lost over the years.

Residents urged to use quieter green spaces

Crawley Borough Council is urging residents to visit green spaces other than Tilgate Park in a bid to ensure social distancing.

During this period of warm weather, Tilgate Park has been extremely busy, making it difficult for visitors to socially distance.

Crawley is blessed with a wide range of green spaces across the town so the council is encouraging residents to explore somewhere different and reduce the burden on Tilgate Park and the residential streets nearby, while the car parks remain closed.

The biggest green spaces are Broadfield Park, Goffs Park, Memorial Gardens, the Mill Pond and Bewbush Water Gardens, Southgate Park, West Green Park and Worth Park. Several of these have free parking if you’re travelling by car.

In addition there are smaller parks and playing fields across the whole town. For more details on Crawley’s gardens and park visit crawley.gov.uk/culture/parks-and-open-spaces/gardens-and-parks

All of these parks offer something different, from wildfowl on lakes, Victorian architecture and large expanses of grass.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “Preventing a second outbreak of Covid-19 means practicing social distancing at all times when away from home. Current visitor numbers at Tilgate Park make enforcing social distancing impossible, which is why we are actively asking residents not to visit the park at this time.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th May 2020

The UK is in lockdown. Even when the UK’s Covid-19 alert level is reduced the UK will still be in lockdown. So long as the UK is in lockdown, we must remain at home as much as possible. If it’s necessary to leave home we have to maintain at least two metres of social distancing from those outside our household at all times. No exceptions.

Yet, ever since several newspapers called for an end to the lockdown and the Prime Minister announced plans for gradually reducing restrictions, we’ve seen far more people either ignoring social distancing rules or visiting public places in such large volumes effective social distancing is impossible.

At least sixty members of our community have been killed by the pandemic so far. It’s hard to believe if they had been killed in an act of terrorism or a major accident that such great numbers would treat efforts to limit the death toll with such disdain. Even before the Prime Minister made his announcement the rate of transmission was increasing and, while it isn’t making me any fans, until we see it decrease the council will not relax current restrictions.

It’s hard enough for the police and councils to ensure people continue to follow rules limiting the contagion as it is, the news that the Prime Minister’s chief adviser has repeatedly broken the very rules he helped introduce is a severe blow to this effort. In a democracy, no one is above the law and his actions have jeopardised the national fight to defeat this disease.

Similarly, our MP’s claim that MPs wanting to continue meeting remotely were ‘lazy’ and ‘work-shy’, is not only a slap in the face of the vast numbers working from home, but a deeply unhelpful public message to send when our ‘heroes’ in the NHS and other frontline roles are continuing to put themselves at risk to tackle Covid-19.

Everyone has their role to play in seeing Britain through this crisis. We have a right to expect those taking decisions on our behalf at least meet the standards they set for everyone else.

Labour councillors from across West Sussex unite to demand schools remain closed until safe to open

Over 40 Labour councillors from local authorities across West Sussex have united to sign an open letter to the Tory-run county council urging it to oppose the Government’s plans to re-open schools in the county on June 1st, citing concerns for the negative impact on public health and the risk of a premature unsafe re-opening causing a second wave of coronavirus infections.

In the letter to the Cabinet Member for Education at West Sussex County Council, Nigel Jupp (Con, Southwater and Nuthurst), the Labour councillors express their serious concerns at the Government’s plan to increase pupil numbers on 1 June and the threat this plan poses to the health and safety of pupils, parents, staff and the wider community.

• The councillors warn that the Government has failed to meet its own five key tests; meaning a safe increase in pupils on this day is not possible and state their belief that West Sussex County Council, as the local authority responsible for education provision in the county have a responsibility to speak out to ensure the safety of all those who work in schools, pupils and the wider community.

• They call on the county council to oppose the re-opening and follow the example of at least 18 other local education authorities who have already told the Government they refuse to open due to public safety concerns.  Examples of councils who have already done so include Liverpool, Birmingham, Solihull, Essex, Slough and Brighton and Hove.

• The councillors express their doubts that the Government guidance for introducing children in a safe environment cannot be met. including reducing class sizes, up to groups of 15 children which they believe many local West Sussex schools will find impossible to achieve.

• They also warn of the lack of evidence that children transmit the virus any less than adults, and the serious risk to teaching and non-teaching staff in the school environment, if children can be asymptomatic carriers.

• The councillors further call on the West Sussex Tory Cabinet to make public these concerns and to write to Head teachers of council-owned “maintained” schools and also Multi Academy Trusts in West Sussex to set out that he does not believe the artificial 1st June deadline for re-opening schools is one he expects schools to meet when it will be to the detriment of public safety and public health objectives.

The councillors also call on the county council to ensure that the Government work to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and five tests set out below:

• Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle.

• No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme.

• A national Covid-19 education taskforce with Government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for the safe reopening of schools.

• Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage.

• Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments.

• Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases.

Speaking after sending the letter on behalf of Labour councillors to the Cabinet Member, Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Michael Jones said:

“This headlong rush by the Government to get children back to school risks a second wave of the coronavirus worse than the first.  As local representatives, we could not have it on our consciences to stand meekly by while the county council goes along with this, there are so many health risks and practical problems which can’t and won’t be addressed satisfactorily in the time available.

“There are a growing number of councils refusing to agree to the Government’s insistence on re-opening schools on this arbitrary date with the absence of those safeguards to ensure the children, the staff at the school and the local community will be safe.  It’s time West Sussex County Council did the decent thing too, listen to the teaching and support staff unions and add our council to that growing list of authorities who are putting the safety of their residents first.”

Labour county councillor Karen Sudan (Northgate and West Green), who is a former deputy headteacher and is also Labour’s member on the county council’s Children and Young People’s Services scrutiny committee, agreed with Councillor Jones, adding:

“Much has been said about the ways that staff will manage children’s return to school in such a way as to meet the requirements for social distancing.  We have all seen images of teachers rearranging tables in empty classrooms.

“In reality, it is not possible to meet social-distancing and other requirements and, at the same time, manage things so that children are able to thrive and learn. The only way to keep children more than one metre apart from one another at all times would be if they were to sit in one place the whole time.  Even if this was possible – think about your own children and those you know – it is not healthy.  It is essential for children’s well-being that they are active – not to mention the stress and psychological damage caused by expecting young humans to behave in a way that is totally unnatural.”

Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council Councillor Peter Lamb (Northgate and West Green), speaking on behalf of his Borough councillors, said:

“The Government’s own advice shows there is no evidence children are any less likely than adults to catch or transmit Covid-19, only that they are less likely to need hospitalisation if they do catch it. This makes children the most effective carriers of the disease, something you cannot control effectively in a school environment.

“In Crawley we are doing everything we can to stop the spread of the disease, to save lives and enable the fastest possible recovery.  Re-opening the schools now renders pointless all the sacrifices our community has already made.”

Crawley’s Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive gets to work

Crawley Borough Council’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive group met for the first time last week, to great success.

The Executive brings together the council, senior business representatives from across the borough, the local MP, a government representative, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and West Sussex County Council, to evaluate the true impact of the crisis on the local economy and to drive the development of a coherent Economic Recovery Plan for the town.

Crawley’s economy has been impacted significantly by the pandemic, with a recent Centre for Cities report estimating that up to 57 per cent of employment in the town is at risk.

Last Friday (15 May), the Executive group met for the first time to discuss the role of the taskforce, plan further engagement with government, and start the process of building recovery on the ground.

The Executive will provide strategic direction to the development of Crawley’s Economic Recovery Plan, working to unlock and harness public and private investment to the maximum benefit of Crawley’s community.

Further work endorsed by the Taskforce Executive will be undertaken to assess the full impact of Crawley’s economic crisis to gain maximum understanding of its real time impact on Crawley’s economy, community and businesses.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other part of the UK, but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.”

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital, said: “We are taking a leading role in economic recovery for the Coast to Capital area and Crawley has been disproportionately affected due to its unique relationship with and proximity to the airport. We must take urgent action in partnership with local and regional partners to provide targeted economic relief.”

The council is currently consulting with local businesses on the impact of the pandemic on their business prospects. If you’re a local business, you can fill out the survey at https://crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th May 2020

The Government’s guidance is that we need to ‘Stay alert’, that is alert to their five stage Covid-19 alert system. The UK is at level 4, meaning the ‘epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially’. Meaning we must: ‘Stay at home as much as possible’, ‘Limit contact with other people’, and ‘Keep your distance if you go out’.

Let’s be clear: this means the lockdown remains in full force. While the Government has set out how they will scale back restrictions when the infection rate has reduced sufficiently, the timetable remains provisional and almost nothing has changed since the lockdown began.

The UK’s infection rate remains close to peak, decreasing at a far slower rate than other countries, and that means if people spend time outside of their home unnecessarily, if they meet up with people when it isn’t critical, and if they ignore the social distancing requirements infections will increase, and with them death rates.

Covid-19 has killed more British civilians than the Luftwaffe achieved in the whole of the Second World War. Those people aren’t just numbers, they’re people’s friends and family, deprived of their full measure of life.

Unfortunately, since the Government’s announcement we are seeing far greater numbers of people on our streets, very often ignoring the social distancing requirements. That continues to breach the guidelines, those individuals risk being fined by the police and their actions jeopardise all that has been achieved to limit the spread of the disease.

Controlling the coronavirus has come at a huge cost. The size of the UK economy is shrinking quickly, with tens of thousands of local jobs at risk, and the council facing a 15% cut in its budget. To help the disease to spread now is allow all that sacrifice, the pain of which we will only begin to feel after the lockdown ends, to be wasted for no reason.

The council is preparing plans to reverse the lockdown in Crawley, but until the infection rate has dropped significantly, we won’t do anything which will jeopardise local residents’ health or put our NHS at risk.