#Crawley Free School Meals Update

I am determined to ensure that local kids don’t go hungry this Christmas. Crawley Borough Council is not the Education Authority for Crawley, consequently we do not know who is eligible for Free School Meals. We do know the overall figure was 2,511 back in January, but given the job losses which have taken place this year, we expect that in practice the numbers are significantly higher.

I have been speaking with people at our local Education Authority (West Sussex County Council) and with local headteachers, as the people who do have access to these records, to see what we can do to together to put alternative provision in place. With half-term starting tonight and having only found out on Wednesday evening the Government would not be continuing the scheme, it has not been possible to get things in place for this week but we will be ready for Christmas. If people want to help families struggling over the half-term break, I’d ask that they donate to local food charities such as The Easter Team, Open House and Giving Back Crawley.

The reality is that local authority finances have been decimated by COVID-19 and both local councils are having to make big cuts to keep services running, meaning we will need support from the local community through crowdfunding to finance these meals, although we hope to be able to at least part match-fund from a pot of funding which the council can only use for community issues. I would certainly hope large local businesses who have recently made many of the parents of these children redundant consider what support they can offer. A crowdfunding page is in the process of being set up and it will be publicised when it is live.

I know that lots of people in Crawley are currently setting up community initiatives around this, which is great. The goal is not to replace them, but to work together to ensure that every eligible family gets the food-support they need this Christmas. The Government has let down these children, I’m confident that Crawley’s community won’t.

Crawley Borough Council Leader calls on Government to fund free school meals through the holiday

Cllr Peter Lamb, Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council, calls on the Government to fund free school meals throughout the holiday

Even before the pandemic, a third of Crawley’s children were growing up in poverty. Now, with more families in Crawley facing unemployment than ever before, the need to ensure children from low-income households are fed through the school holidays has never been greater.

Cllr Lamb has called on the government to extend free school meals into the school holidays, including the upcoming October half term and Christmas, to ensure no child goes hungry during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, MP’s voted down a Labour Party motion which would have extended free school meals into the holiday period, meaning 2,511 children in Crawley are now at risk of going hungry over the holidays.

The October half term comes as millions of families face a furlough cliff-edge that could see up to 40% of Crawley’s working-age population rendered unemployed.

Cllr Lamb said:

“Crawley’s economy is suffering the impact of COVID-19 harder than anywhere else in the country, the government’s unwillingness to support the aviation sector having cost the town thousands of jobs with thousands more at risk. Now more than ever we need support for low-income families to ensure the mistakes of the government don’t force children to go hungry.”

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 21st October 2020

Local government has a long history in England, its earliest roots going back to William the Conqueror. Over the centuries, various responsibilities were devolved from central government, with different local boards set up to undertake them. As time went on this produced a confusing mess of overlapping structures and, at the end of Nineteenth Century, county and district councils were set up to provide democratic oversight and simplify the system by merging all previous administrative and regulatory responsibilities into two tiers of councils. One responsibility districts took on at this time was regulation of hackney carriages.

When we think of councils, we typically consider the services they provide, yet their regulatory role is vital in keeping the public safe and improving local conditions. When it comes to the regulation of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles, councils have a duty to ensure that anyone driving a Crawley Borough Council-licensed vehicle not only knows the local area well, but can be trusted to get passengers to their destination safely.

Crawley has some of the most stringent taxi licensing conditions of any authority and where drivers fail to meet these requirements, council officers are able to take enforcement action against them. The same isn’t true of Uber. Uber don’t have a license to operate in Crawley and any driver taking bookings through the app won’t be licensed by the council. Unfortunately, since 2015, Uber have been able to exploit a loophole in the legislation to operate in Crawley, without meeting local requirements and without the council being able to protect those using an Uber in same way we can with a Crawley-licensed vehicle.

We’ve been lobbying the Government to fix the loophole for some time, but with work drying up it’s Crawley’s local drivers, almost all of whom live in the town, who follow the rules and pay to maintain the licensing regime necessary to keep people safe, who are suffering every time someone opts for an Uber. Times are tough, let’s stick together as a community with the people who play by the rules, rather than supporting London drivers poaching Crawley jobs.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 14th October 2020

Since April, I have been warning that due to the impact of COVID-19 on local government finances, Crawley Borough Council will be forced to make its first cuts in six years. While the focus nationally has been on the immediate costs of tackling the pandemic, these cuts aren’t just about getting through the next year, they reflect the long-term impact of the virus on council funding.

Over the last decade, grant funding from central government has essentially ended, meaning councils can only spend what they raise locally. By 2014, Crawley’s revenue had dropped from it’s high point of £27m to just £14m, a level we maintained it at despite ongoing grant cuts throughout my time as Leader by finding new income streams.

Crawley’s funding essentially now comes from three sources: business rates, council tax and income generation. With Crawley’s economy the hardest hit in the UK, there are fewer businesses paying businesses rates, increasing numbers no longer liable for council tax due to unemployment, and no real opportunities for the council to generate new income.

The end result is we’ll be £2m worse off next year. It’s not possible for a council which had a £27m budget to maintain all the same services after a 55% cut in its revenue and over a decade’s worth of inflation. Local government is being asked to run a quarter of the UK’s public services on a shoestring. Not to depress people too much, but this is the best case scenario. Another lockdown or changes to the funding formulas and things will get even worse.

In July, both parties on the council agreed to work together to get through this crisis and we’ve already found large back office savings, but it’s not enough. As there aren’t sufficient reserves to tough this out and any council which fails to balance their budget has Government commissioners sent in to do the job, there is no alternative to frontline cuts. The options aren’t great, but they are the least harmful cuts we can find and we’d like people to let us know what they think by going to: https://crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation

#Crawley on the Centre for Cities Podcast

Since their formation, the Centre for Cities has provided an invaluable stream of research and thinking on the economic and social issues facing the UK’s leading urban areas, one I have made extensive use of in considering how to address various opportunities challenges facing Crawley.

While we knew from the start that Crawley’s economy would be highly vulnerable to the lockdown, it was research from the Centre for Cities which first revealed the scale: that Crawley would be one of the hardest hit economies in the country.

This week, the Centre for Cities podcast is focused on the economic consequences of COVID-19 and I was invited to appear the podcast to discuss how the virus has impacted Crawley and what it means for the town’s future. You can access the podcast using the link below.

City Talks: Politicians on levelling up during the Covid-19 pandemic, Centre for Cities, 08/09/20: https://www.centreforcities.org/podcast/city-talks-politicians-on-levelling-up-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Financial impact of coronavirus on #Crawley BC

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on Crawley Borough Council’s finances.

The lockdown and subsequent restrictions meant that the council’s income from K2 Crawley, The Hawth, Tilgate Nature Centre, car parking and community centres was significantly reduced.

At the same time, expenditure on services for our most vulnerable residents increased.

While the government has given us £1.4m to help pay towards this shortfall, we are still £1.2m short. This figure will grow to at least £1.7m in 2021/22.

This means that bold decisions are needed to save money in the current financial year and in future years. It’s highly likely that several council services will have to be reduced. This is despite the development of new income streams for the council, for example the commercial space in the new Town Hall.

These potential savings options are being explored in parallel with a number of internal efficiency reviews and other initiatives. The council has already made internal savings of £500,000 without reducing or removing services.

We are now proposing to plug the remaining budget gap by:

  • Reviewing waste services, potentially moving from weekly to fortnightly rubbish collections and considering the introduction of a weekly food waste collection. Fewer than one in five councils still have weekly collections. This would increase our recycling rate, helping us move towards our aim of being carbon neutral by 2050 and saving taxpayers’ money
  • Post-Covid, reviewing the support the council gives to the community and the voluntary sector. We currently spend more in this area than other districts and borough councils in West Sussex
  • Closing or reducing the operating hours of public toilets
  • Reviewing adventure play, moving to a more flexible model of delivery
  • Reviewing the number, type and specification of cricket squares, bowling greens and croquet lawns
  • Where appropriate, pricing our fees and charges accordingly so that costs are covered.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “For the last six years, Crawley Borough Council has bucked the trend. Despite huge cuts to local government funding, every year we have managed to generate enough new revenue to make up for the cuts without having to put council tax up above inflation. Due to the pandemic, that is no longer possible.

“Throughout the lockdown, the money-making parts of the council were forced to shut, while various new costs arose. Unfortunately, the financial consequences will last long beyond this one year, with the economic impact resulting in a significant ongoing cut to the council’s income from business rates and council tax.

“As a result, for the first time since I became Council Leader we are having to make real cuts to balance the budget. We will do everything we can to make savings humanely and minimise the impact on frontline services, but there will be real consequences for service delivery.”

We are asking for your views on these proposed savings in our four-week consultation. Visit crawley.gov.uk/consultation to have your say.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th October 2020

Why is the UK the only country in Europe, indeed almost alone amongst all large economies, not to have announced a significant package of support for our aviation industry through the pandemic?

This failure to act is clearly a massive problem for Crawley, with thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly at risk due to the problems facing Gatwick. Yet, the Government’s unwillingness to support an industry which is struggling solely due to restrictions imposed on it by that same Government, is not only creating misery for thousands of Crawley families: it’s letting Britain down.

Just last year, the Government was committed to delivering a third runway at Heathrow at a cost of between £14bn to £31bn for no direct financial return. This wasn’t charity on the Government’s part, it was to ensure the UK remained a global leader in a growing industry. Yet, now the sector is on its knees, the Government won’t spend a fraction of what they’d planned to spend on Heathrow to keep British aviation alive.

The pandemic will end and things will slowly return to normal, but while every one of Britain’s competitors will have protected their aviation sector, the entire supply-chain for UK aviation will be in ruins. We’re witnessing an act of national vandalism, the end of a sector the UK has played a leading role in since its creation.

If the Government’s blindness to this crisis wasn’t clear enough already, it was driven home by the news that they are now looking to end duty free at airports, taking billions from aviation in consumer spending when the industry is at its weakest. You couldn’t make it up.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently racking up record levels of debt trying to stimulate the economy, some of it effective, some of it wasted. How will we taxpayers ever afford to repay those debts if we allow our leading industries to collapse? The only way we can afford what is happening right now is by focusing Government spending on preserving the engines of our nation’s prosperity, rather than throwing it away on freebies.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 30th September 2020

September and October form party conference season, the time of year members of major political parties gather to hear from their leaders and debate the key issues of the day. Clearly, getting large numbers of people together from across the country in one place, often in cramped conditions, isn’t a good idea in the midst of a pandemic. So, while physical party conferences won’t be taking place this year, last week Labour held a virtual conference, giving party members the ability to participate in a range of sessions and to hear from party leaders on the crisis facing the country right now.

While Keir Starmer’s speech was the centrepiece of the virtual conference–setting out how under his leadership the party would stand for fairness, openness and security, it was the Shadow Chancellor’s speech which was of the greatest importance to Crawley.

Anneliese Dodds is a great friend of the town, she previously served as one of our MEPs and I have welcomed her to Crawley on many occasions, most recently taking her to Gatwick to discuss the extent of the impact the Government’s restrictions are having on our local economy and securing her support for our campaign to save Crawley’s jobs. In her speech she spoke of the importance of providing targeted support for hard-hit sectors to save jobs through the pandemic, while criticising the haphazard way public money has been wasted through poorly-targeted interventions so far. For Crawley, the hardest hit town in the UK, targeted support will be vital to getting our local economy back on its feet and saving residents from years of unemployment.

Following her speech, we did hear from the Chancellor that there would be a scheme to replace furlough at the end of the month. This is a positive step from the Government, unfortunately reading through the detail it’s clear the support will be far too little to offer any hope of saving jobs in Crawley’s largest employment sectors. The Treasury needs to think again and act to save our community from mass-unemployment, while stopping viable industries from being lost from the UK.

Self-isolation support payments

Residents on low incomes who are told by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate – either due to a positive Covid-19 test or being in contact with someone who has tested positive – may be entitled to financial support during self-isolation.

From today (Monday 28 September), people across England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Breaking this law could now lead to a fine of between £1,000 and £10,000.

When self-isolating, people must not go to work, school or any other public spaces. Any exercise should be taken within the home, and friends or family should be asked to buy food or other essentials.

Benefits claimants who need to self-isolate but are unable to work from home and will lose income as a result are eligible for a lump sum Test and Trace Support Payment of £500. In Crawley, these payments are being managed on behalf of the government by Crawley Borough Council.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “With case numbers in Crawley on the rise again, breaking the chain of transmission is critical. So if you are told to self-isolate, please do exactly that to protect your friends and family and break the chains of transmission.”

To claim you must have a notification from the NHS Test and Trace service asking you to self-isolate. You must be in-work, unable to work from home and receive at least one of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-based Employment Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit or Pension Credit.

To claim you will need:

  • The unique ID number from your NHS Test and Trace notification
  • To provide details of your employment, including the email address of your employer so they can confirm that you are unable to work from home
  • A recent bank statement, business accounts or evidence of self-assessment tax returns if you are self-employed
  • Your bank details and a recent bank statement
  • Your National Insurance number.

To apply for a Test and Trace Support Payment, complete our online form at crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus

An eligibility checker is available at gov.uk/coronavirus