Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 21st August 2019

‘I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. And I warn you not to grow old’. Over 36 years ago, these words highlighted those who would be hit hardest when a Government allows public services to crumble. Yet, here we are, in a new century, and they could just as easily describe the UK today.

Just this week, the Childhood Trust has reported poverty leaving children so hungry they are forced to scavenge in bins, the UK has lost its measles-free status with patients unable to access GPs, and 1,000 dementia patients a day enter hospital due to the lack of care leaving them malnourished. This is the state of Twenty-First Century Britain, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where we allow our children and parents to starve and essential public services to collapse, while our Conservative Government remains obsessively-focused on Brexit.

Instead of real action we are presented with smoke and mirrors, with news stories pretending that problems are being dealt with. An announcement of £1.8 billion of new money for NHS trusts turned out to be money they already had, promises of tens of thousands of new police officers which now no longer appears to be a like-for-like replacement of what we’ve lost, and a commitment to put the money back into education which was taken from it and which now appears to focus the greatest investment on the wealthiest parts of the country. Our public services need investment, not press releases. How can we function as a country when we cannot believe a single thing our Government says?

It doesn’t have to be this way. If austerity is over then let’s give our area back the 800 police officers and PCSOs we’ve lost under the Conservatives, so we can tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in Crawley. Lets reinvest in Health, so we can take Crawley’s NHS out of Special Measures and ensure everyone has access to a GP. Let’s give our young people the start in life they deserve again and our senior citizens the dignity we owe them in their old age.

Press Release: Council Leader calls for an end to the ‘Rail Rip-Off’

Following the Government’s decision to allow rail companies to again increase ticket prices above inflation next year, Cllr Peter Lamb—Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Crawley—has called for an end to the ‘Rail Rip-Off’ which has seen fares soar by 40% in a decade.

The price of a season ticket between Three Bridges and central London has risen by over £1,100 since the Conservatives returned to Government. At the same time average real wages have fallen, meaning Crawley’s commuters are not only paying more than ever before to get to work, but they are having to do it out of a smaller pay packet.

While the rail companies have been allowed to keep hiking prices every year, the quality of service endured by commuters has continued to decline, subjecting passengers to more delays, more cramped trains and fewer opportunities to access essential facilities, such as ticket offices.

Cllr Peter Lamb, said:

“Like many residents, I depend upon the rail network to get to work. I know the frustration of being asked to pay out more and more every year for a service that just keeps getting worse. It’s time we had MPs who were willing to end the Rail Rip-Off and give the public back control over the nation’s railways.“

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 14th August 2019

I can understand why people get sick and tired of hearing about Brexit. Three years on from the referendum, the issue just drags on-and-on, providing an endless source of arguments on the news and in our day-to-day lives.

Yet, it’s not something which can just go away, the consequences of bailing out without a deal–by far the quickest approach–are so serious that even our hard Brexit-supporting Conservative Government say they would still prefer to leave with a deal.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives do now seem willing to risk our country’s future on a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, with every part of the public sector being approached to help prepare. After 38 months of uncertainty, for the Government to only be starting on this work with a little over two months left highlights unbelievable levels of incompetence and comes across as more of an attempt to have people they can blame when things go wrong than a genuine attempt to prepare communities.

Despite the deep concerns many of us have with the Government’s approach, councils will all do their best to plan for the consequences of Brexit in order to protect their residents.

However, in all the letters and phone calls with ministers, it is extremely worrying to find almost no detail, just constant requests for information from councils and general requests that we do everything we can to get ready. It comes across very strongly that the Government is aware that they do not have time to prepare proactively for all the potential problems and so are just gearing up to try and deal with them reactively when they arise. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, a failure to plan is planning to fail and it is all of our futures they are gambling with.

A ‘No Deal’ Brexit wasn’t what was offered at the referendum or at the last General Election, it has simply never been put to the voters. If that’s really what the Government thinks the public wants, maybe they should ask us before shutting down Parliament and forcing the UK down a road we are totally unprepared for?

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th August 2019

How many times have we been told ‘there is no magic money tree’? It has been used to explain why we can’t have decent public services, why those with disabilities must go without support for their extra living costs, why the age of retirement keeps being pushed back, and above all why people shouldn’t vote Labour, even when every manifesto pledge has been costed and financed.

Almost a decade into cuts we find Crawley’s NHS stuck in financial special measures and residents unable to register with a GP, law and order breaking down as losing 800 police officers and PCSOs makes its mark, and local headteachers marching on Downing Street to make it clear they do not have the budget necessary to educate our children. So, it’s welcome to see that our new Prime Minister appears to have found that elusive magic money tree.

However, it does raise a few questions. Firstly, if the money was always there, why have we been forced to go through years of pain with people unable to access the medical care they need, with stabbings and drug dealing taking place openly on our streets and letting a generation of our young people being down?

Secondly, the investment in services and the numbers of police officers which are being discussed are equivalent to what was provided by the last Labour Government, is the limit of the Conservatives’ ambition to be as good as a Labour Government or do they have a vision of their own for our services?

Lastly, given the Prime Minister’s extremely poor track record on seeing through his commitments when Mayor of London, is he really being honest with what he is promising now or is it simply a last minute bid before a snap General Election to buy our votes before giving us more of the same. Given that the investment in the NHS promised this week all appears to be at hospitals next to marginal Labour constituencies, when frankly East Surrey could do with the investment, it makes you wonder if Mr Johnson is taking us all for a ride. Again.

Press Release: Peter Lamb signs letter to Boris Johnson calling for more funding for councils

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, has joined with other Labour Leaders from across England and Wales to call on Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister, to end cuts to local government. Tory cuts mean councils have lost 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour Government was spending on local government in 2010. Pressures on councils are increasing – adult social care is crumbling, more children are being taken into care than ever before, and there is a dire shortage of council housing. Hard-working council staff who deliver our services have lost the equivalent of £1 out of every £5 they earned before, and are now the lowest paid in the public sector.

The letter has been signed by over 100 Labour Council Leaders from England and Wales and it calls on the new Prime Minister to immediately invest £2bn in children’s services and £2bn in adult social care, reverse the changes to the council funding formula that have forced the biggest cuts on the most deprived areas, and pledge to use the Spending Review to restore council funding to 2010 levels over the next four years.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Peter Lamb, said:

“This letter has my full support. Along with other Labour Council Leaders I am calling on the new Prime Minister to immediately invest £2bn into children’s services and £2bn into adult social care, as well as using the upcoming Spending Review to restore funding to local government to 2010 levels over the next four years.”

“We are delivering a powerful message to the Prime Minister and Chancellor that councils simply cannot take any more cuts. Further cuts to local government by central government will mean that there will be devastating effects for children at risk, disabled adults, and vulnerable older people, as well as on community services up and down the country.”

Press Release: Crawley Labour condemn MP’s failure to support a Woman’s’ Right to Choose and Marriage Equality

Crawley Borough Council Leader and Labour Parliamentary candidate, Cllr Peter Lamb, has called out Crawley MP Henry Smith over his failure to vote to enable access to abortion and same sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Last week the House of Commons passed an historic measure, providing women in Northern Ireland with the right to access an abortion and same-sex Northern Irish couples the right to marry for the first time. In both cases, Crawley’s MP failed to cast a vote. In England and Wales, abortion has been legal since 1967 and same-sex marriage since 2013.

Speaking about Mr Smith’s absences, Cllr Lamb said:

“This was an opportunity for all decent men and women in Parliament to stand up and be counted. Unfortunately, when the time came Crawley’s MP was nowhere to be found, leaving residents wondering just how far women and the LGBT community can rely upon Mr Smith to defend their basic rights.

Open Letter to the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

 

Friday 26th July 2019

 

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London

SW1A 2AA

 

 

Dear Mr Johnson,

Firstly, congratulations on your recent appointment as Prime Minister, after so many years seeking the role it must come as something of a relief to have finally made it.

I write as the Leader of Crawley Borough Council, in order to seek a number of assurances on behalf of my community. During your time in public office you have made a number of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks and the idea of having a national leader who genuinely holds such disparaging views of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community is clearly a cause of concern for many living in Crawley.

Could confirm these are things you said solely to secure electoral support from those who hold such abhorrent views and not because you actually believe them? I know it is rare to hope that an MP cannot be taken at his word, but such are the times in which we live.

As part of your campaign, you also made a number of spending commitments—perhaps finally recognising that the austerity your party has put our citizens through was a political choice and not a necessity, these included reversing the loss of tens of thousands of police officers which has taken place under the Conservatives and reversing the £4.6bn cuts to schools which have taken place under the Conservatives, both of which commitments are urgently needed in Crawley.

Can you confirm that you do intend to honour your word on these things and that they were not made solely to secure electoral support?

Lastly, you have proposed to both cut the tax rate on company profits and to reduce the taxes paid by those on high incomes. Child poverty has grown considerably during the Conservatives’ time in office, at this point almost one in three of Crawley’s children are forced to live in poverty, over two-thirds of whom live in a family where at least one adult is working. The idea that our country’s Government would make a tax cut on corporate profits and for high earners a bigger priority than tackling poverty in the UK, at the very least for our children, turns the stomach.

Would you be willing to commit to making tackling poverty a bigger priority for your administration than tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations?

Yours sincerely,

 

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader of the Council

Crawley Borough Council

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd July 2019

Imagine if over the last nine years you’d seen your family’s income drop by half, while the Government placed more and more financial obligations on you. Would you have confidence the things you could afford were going to be of the same standard as the things you bought nine years ago?

It is too easy to forget, or just get bored of hearing, that this is what public services–like local councils–are facing.

Bit-by-bit public services are failing. Had voters been told this is what would happen to their services in 2010, and it is worth noting Austerity became Conservative policy only after the General Election, there would have been an outcry. But over nine years the process has been slow enough people either don’t notice or have just come to accept this is the way things are now in Britain.

While all eyes are on Brexit, a third of councils are on the verge of no longer being able to afford to provide the most basic services they are legally obliged to deliver. That’s why here at the Annual Conference of the Local Government Association councils of all parties have come together to stress how serious the situation is as part of the ‘Breaking Point’ campaign.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are now making it clear through their leadership campaign spending promises that even the Conservatives believe that there is plenty of money available for services, if we had a Government interested in funding them. Instead, we see these two prospective Conservative leaders do what men like them always do: fight over who can give the biggest tax cut to their wealthy backers.

This is not a priority for our country and certainly not a priority for Crawley. Crawley’s NHS is in financial special measures, local headteachers have marched on Downing Street for better funding for our schools, and we see daily reminders of the disappearance of Police Officers from our streets.

The Government has the money, what it lacks is the will, unfortunately until voters are willing to do something about it, failing public services is the new normal.

Crawley Live Column, Summer 2019

With Crawley’s first all-out elections in fifteen years over, and all the bureaucracy involved in starting a new council year complete, it’s a relief to again be able to focus solely on the challenges facing our town.

The Government has taken the last of Crawley’s grant and I’m determined to avoid cuts, which means trying to make up the difference through money-generating schemes such as the redevelopment of the Town Hall site. Housing continues to be a huge challenge and while we are building hundreds of new affordable homes every year, the challenge we’re now working on is finding new land for homes without losing valuable green space. Gatwick has also changed ownership and there are questions as to what changes at the airport might mean for Crawley.

While the path of our country remains uncertain, whatever happens you will continue to have a council which is on your side.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 26th June 2019

Even now, I suspect there are those who do not realise Crawley’s Crown Post Office has closed, with a reduced range of services being franchised-out to the County Mall branch of WH Smiths instead.

Last year, Crawley Labour members went door-to-door to try and build public pressure to stop the closure. Despite our sizeable petition and the overwhelming opposition expressed in their consultation, the closure went ahead.

Many of us might not be hugely affected by the change, at least until the next set of service reductions, but for those with mobility issues it means accessing their Crown Post Office has gone from parking right next to the building in a disabled bay, to paying to park in County Mall and making the whole way through the shopping centre to access those services. It’s a huge step backwards in accessibility for Crawley’s disabled and elderly residents no longer so stable on their feet, frankly it’s hard to see how it’s legal under the Equality Act.

Adding insult to injury, Post Office Limited have only now sent a representative to the council to answer questions about the closure and, worse, they couldn’t answer a single question about the branch, its profitability before closure, complaints they’ve received about the new franchise or what was done to reduce the impact on vulnerable residents. Crawley has been treated with contempt by what is supposed to be a public service.

The Post Office was never set up to be a business, it existed to provide local access to government services including the postal network. Write to the Government and they say these decisions are left to the Post Office, but write to the Post Office and they say the Government has instructed them to commercialise. So year-by-year services are lost and franchised off, sacrificing the needs of citizens for those of business.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Labour’s announcement that they’d protect branches and used them to create a national bank would give branches the financial stability they need to preserve services for future generations. The question is: will people vote for it?