Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th June 2019

The UK’s GDP, the most common measure for assessing a country’s wealth, is the fifth highest in the world. For our country, one of the 2.5% wealthiest on the planet, to fail so comprehensively in the war against domestic poverty is a clear sign of the failure of our political system to select a Government which cares about its people.

As the UN’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston, said: “the bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

The public services and social security which was our inheritance passed down from the generation which fought to stop the Far Right in WWII are being demolished by ministers either too ignorant to realise the consequences of their actions or who simply don’t care about ordinary people. That’s how we’ve ended up with over 30% of Crawley’s children living in poverty.

For Boris Johnson to propose the UK’s wealthiest citizens should now be given a £9.6bn tax cut is simply grotesque. That is money that should have gone towards our NHS, to local schools, to more police officers, to council services, not to mention doing something about rising child poverty. Of course, Boris is running to be the Conservative Party’s new Leader, meaning everything he is currently saying is designed to appeal to Conservative Party members and not the public. Although, doesn’t that say everything you need to know about Conservative Party members.

None of us outside of the Conservative Party will get a vote on who the next Prime Minister will be, that’s the nature of party politics, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a say. Conservative MPs will decide which two candidates go through to party members and one of those MPs is Crawley’s. So, if you feel Crawley’s interests are poorly served by MPs putting tax cuts for the rich ahead of public services and tackling poverty, why not let him know and see if he listens when he chooses our next Prime Minister?

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 5th June 2019

We’re regularly told not to ignore symptoms, that catching something early gives treatment its best chance of success, and we have probably all lost someone who left it too late. That’s why the NHS regularly runs public awareness campaigns to ensure we know the warnings signs of life-threatening conditions and can act while there’s still time. Yet, when it comes to the health of our own NHS, we all too readily ignore the warning signs.

One of the problems in politics is issues tend to be complex yet as people have so many other things on their minds it tends to be tough to get the key points across to the public. As a result, where problems exist campaigners play them up to get the public’s attention. Yet, after a while, people numb to the warnings. We can’t all operate in panic mode all the time and if the consequences take time to make themselves apparent, it’s easy to relax even while problems continue to get worse.

A classic case of this is Climate Change, pretty much everyone accepts it, acknowledges the consequences couldn’t be more serious, but since extinction still seems a long way off and cars are really convenient, few people change their lifestyle much because of it.

In the case of our NHS, we have received regular warnings that it is in crisis, but voters’ actions haven’t matched that seriousness. When GPs got harder to access people didn’t act, when GPs started refusing new patients and shutting surgeries people didn’t act, when the Winter Crisis on the wards became a year-round crisis people didn’t act, when treatments started to be restricted due to lack of fund people didn’t act. With medical professionals regularly stating the NHS is on the brink of collapse, what will it take? Yet, it gets worse.

Now we’re told that far from getting £350m a week for the NHS from Brexit, Trump wants the NHS be on table as part of any future trade deal with the US. Is that taking back control? Is that a crisis for our right to free healthcare?

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 29th May 2019

It’s hard to imagine how some people can argue poverty is okay in the Twenty-First Century and particularly in the United Kingdom, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, for all the many ways people manage to blame the poor for their suffering, the one form of poverty which should be inexcusable to any of us is child poverty.

No one chooses to be born, let alone to be born into a state of poverty. People once claimed it was all due to families having too many children, yet UK birth rates have been in almost continuous decline for over 50 years. People say it’s due to families not working, but over two-thirds of child poverty occurs in working families. None of the excuses hold water any longer.

The latest figures from the End Child Poverty Coalition last month show that in Crawley 8,832 children are living in poverty, that’s about a third of all our children. I write a column like this once a year and every year the figures keep getting worse. These aren’t children living overseas, they’re living in houses near to your own, they are going to the same schools as your children and grandchildren. Why are we as a town okay with this?

As a country we have the money to fix this problem. Great progress was made in the late nineties and early naughties in ending child poverty, so why did it stop? Because the things which voters chose to prioritise when they went to the vote changed. Even charities are now openly stating that the problem has been caused by changes to Government policy, changes which could easily be reversed if that was what voters wanted.

The result on Sunday showed that Brexit remains one of the strongest, if not the strongest, reason for people now selecting a party to vote for. Voters have the right to decide what matters the most for them, but I would ask that the next time an election rolls around people at least consider there might be other causes out there desperately crying out for their help.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd May 2019

In 1991, following several high profile incidents of children being mauled by dogs, Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act. The law sought to regulate the availability of breeds of dogs which were deemed to be dangerous, in addition to creating a number of requirements for owners of such breeds to limit the risk their pets posed to members of the public.

While most people would agree that there is a need to have some legislative restrictions and requirements for keeping the public safe from more aggressive breeds of dog, the problem is that the Act was very poorly drafted. In the rush to respond to the wave of media and public pressure in the wake of dog attacks, Parliament lacked the time to ensure the wording of the Act accurately reflected what they were trying to achieve. The end result was a law filled with absurdities, my favourite being that it left it unclear whether it was the owner or the dog which needed to be fitted with a muzzle when they went for a walk.

Of course, even without the rush, things can be missed. Policies often have unintended side-effects and can be left open to misinterpretation, resulting in outcomes which need to be resolved. Government isn’t a perfect science, at the end of the day the people taking decisions are just members of the public and open to the same human mistakes as everyone else.

Over recent years, as the council’s grant has been cut to zero by the Conservative Government and considerable efforts have been made to make services self-funding, such as Tilgate Park. This has been very successful, avoiding the need to cut, privatise or raise council tax above inflation, but it has meant more things have had to be charged for, such as when people run events in the park.

Such policies were never designed to stop charity walks, they were designed to ensure the costs of cleaning up after events didn’t fall on taxpayers. Clearly the policy needs revising to make that clearer, which is what I kicked-off as soon as the problem became clear.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th May 2019

A huge thanks to those who turned out to do their democratic duty and vote, I’m particularly grateful to those who voted for their local Labour candidates and to my own residents in Northgate and West Green.

Going into this election, boundary changes had already affected the council’s composition. Northgate and West Green wards were merged, meaning the four Labour seats went down to three. Likewise, Broadfield’s two wards were merged meaning four seats Labour had held were cut to three. Meanwhile, Conservative-held Three Bridges went up from two seats to three. In 2018, Labour had 20 seats to the Conservatives’ 17, the new boundaries meant both parties notionally started the campaign with 18 seats each.

On Thursday, Labour won the Conservatives’ seats in Ifield and Southgate but lost our seat in Tilgate, meaning the final result of 19 to 17 represented a net Labour gain of one seat. On top of that, Labour won 47% of the popular vote to the Conservatives’ 41%, which in a General Election would mean Labour won the seat with a majority of over 3,000. Despite a surge in support for minor parties, helping the Conservatives to retain their seats in several areas, the council remains entirely Labour or Conservative.

So, for a fifth election running Crawley Labour has been chosen to run the council, and while I am very grateful to residents for giving us the chance to continue working for you, this result was far closer than opinion polls had suggested.

All the political chatter, both before and after the Local Elections, has been about Brexit, how it is affecting political support and what should now be done. The problem is, in speaking with thousands of Crawley residents over the course of this campaign, behind every door there seems to be a different position on Brexit, with those saying that they weren’t voting for Labour because of Brexit fitting into both the Remain and Leave camps, making it far from clear exactly what people were trying to say to politicians.

Regardless, on the ground our concern is the town, and this result means Crawley Labour can go on delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st May 2019

This Thursday is Election Day. By now you’re probably aware there have been boundary changes in Crawley, meaning every seat on the borough council is up for election and as a result you’ll have two or three votes you can cast, depending upon the number of councillors representing your area.

On the day you will be able to vote from 7am to 10pm, you won’t need your polling card to vote and if you have a postal vote you haven’t posted it can still be handed in at any Crawley polling station. Every year in Crawley we have seats which are won by less than 50 votes, at the 2005 General Election even the constituency came down to 37 votes, and when the Conservatives took control of Crawley in 2006 it was on the draw of lots as a seat was tied. In Crawley, your vote can always make the difference.

While Conservative-run West Sussex County Council is responsible for road maintenance and parking, schools, and adult social care and our Conservative Police Commissioner is responsible for preventing crime and antisocial behaviour, Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is responsible for delivering facilities like K2 and the Hawth, building new affordable housing, and maintaining services like the weekly bin collection.

What happens to these services and facilities is the question at this election. Do we want a council which will continue working to maintain and improve these services and facilities, which prioritises the things residents ask for and is building affordable homes for local people on a scale not seen in decades, or do we go back to the same programme of cuts we saw when the Conservatives last ran Crawley.

While Crawley Labour’s manifesto has been produced following careful consultation with the public and council officers to ensure we are not only committing to the things residents want but which can actually be delivered, the Conservatives’ ‘Plan’ for Crawley appears to be unfunded and the only thought on ‘delivery’ seems to be delivering more votes, rather than the things they are promising. Voters have seen this before and I’m sure they know what to do.

Press Release: Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP, will today announce that the next Labour Government will scrap ‘permitted development’ rules for new homes, ending a get-out clause which allows developers to dodge social housing obligations and build slum housing.

Permitted development rights introduced since 2013 allow developers to bypass the normal planning process by converting commercial spaces into housing without the consent of the council and local community. This gives developers a get-out from requirements to provide affordable housing and meet basic quality rules such as space standards creating ‘rabbit hutch’ flats.

These Conservative changes were introduced to boost house-building numbers, but the measures mean housing units just a few feet wide in former office blocks are now counted in official statistics as ‘new homes’. There are 42,000 new housing units that have been converted from offices since 2015.

Research by the Local Government Association has estimated that over 10,000 affordable homes have been lost as a result of permitted development in the last three years alone.

Research for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors found that permitted development has “allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed”, with only 30% of homes built through permitted development meeting national space standards.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said:

“Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.

“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.

“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Council and Parliamentary candidate for Crawley, said:

“In Crawley, perhaps more than anywhere else, Permitted Development is creating havoc in local neighbourhoods and robbing public services of the money they need to adapt to new housing. When I met with the Conservatives’ Housing Minister to discuss the damage his policy was causing to Crawley he spent the meeting playing with his phone rather than listening to the concerns of residents. Labour have listened and are backing local Crawley residents, rather than helping developers to fill their pockets at the cost of our community like the Conservatives.”

Crawley News 24 Column, Tuesday 30th April 2019

For almost two years Crawley NHS has been in financial ‘Special Measures’, unable to afford the treatments residents need on the money they get from Government. We get daily reminders Sussex Police can no longer cope having lost 800 officers and PCSOs since 2010. Local headteachers have even marched on Downing Street because Crawley’s schools cannot survive on their allocated budgets.

That public services stand on the brink is unsurprising given the Government has been focused on only one thing for the last three years and have been proven unable to deliver even that one thing.

I don’t say this because I believe the situation is hopeless, I say it because it can be fixed if only we had the will to act. Crawley Borough Council is building affordable homes for local people on a scale not seen in decades, we’re one of only a sixth of councils still providing a weekly bin collection and by investing smartly to generate income we’re still spending the same on services as when I became Leader, despite the Government taking all of Crawley’s grant and our council having the lowest council tax increase of any council in the county for most of my five years. In opposition, local Conservatives told me these things couldn’t be done, we showed them that if you have the vision and determination to do it anything is possible. The same is true on the national level.

At these Local Elections voters are posed with a simple choice, put the same people back in control who spent eight years cutting our services last time, who are failing to run our local county council and police effectively, and nationally have driven the country into chaos, or keep Crawley Labour running the only tier of the town’s governance which is delivering for Crawley.

Delivering for Crawley: Crawley Labour’s pre-election Crawley Observer article

Speaking with residents over recent weeks and months, I’ve heard the fear and uncertainty grow as it has become increasingly clear the Government is either unwilling or unable to deliver the things which will ensure our common security and prosperity.

Locally, we can’t promise to fix all the problems MPs have failed to resolve, but we can promise to continue to deliver on the ground those things which matter to our community.

Five years ago Crawley Labour said there was an alternative to cuts, that we could focus on raising revenue rather than making cuts and today we can proudly say we’re spending the same on services as when we regained control of the council, probably the only council in the UK which can claim that. We’ve even achieved it with the second lowest council tax in the South East–particularly considering Crawley gets only 11.5% of your council tax with the rest set by the Conservative County Council and Police Commissioner, even so local Conservatives still criticised us for setting budgets which ‘failed’ to cut despite the money we raised meaning we didn’t have to.

Yet, holding ground isn’t nearly enough for us. Experts have shown many of Crawley’s jobs could be lost to automation over coming years, so we’ve produced Crawley’s first ever Employment and Skills Plan and we’re working with employers and educators to get the town’s workforce ready to adapt as automation occurs. With housing out of reach for far too many, we’re also building hundreds new council homes annually for the first time in decades, rather than the extremely unaffordable large ‘aspirational homes’ out-of-touch local Conservatives told us would fix Crawley’s social mobility issues.

Lastly, while Crawley Borough Council controls relatively few services, we don’t hold back when a service is failing local people regardless of who runs it. From demanding more police on Crawley’s streets to calling out our local Highways Authority, West Sussex, for their failures on parking. While those running the local Conservatives are literally on the county council’s payroll, Crawley Labour at least will go on speaking up and delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 24th April 2019

April is a month of many festivals, from those with wide public awareness in the UK, such as Christianity’s Easter and Judaism’s Passover, to Sikh Vaisakhi and Hindu New Year. Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just enjoying the bank holidays, I offer my best wishes.

For councillors, this time of year is far from relaxing, with only a week to go before local elections. New boundaries mean these elections are really significant, with every councillor up for re-election together for the first time since 2004 and control of Crawley Borough Council hanging in the balance.

With all the chaos of central Government right now, some people might be considering staying at home, but these elections aren’t about central Government or Brexit, they matter in their own right: they’re about the local services we all rely upon day-to-day. So much is at stake.

Crawley is one of only 17% of councils still providing a weekly bin collection, that’s because rather than giving into cuts like Conservative West Sussex County Council, Crawley Labour has worked hard to replace all the money the Conservative Government has taken from Crawley. We’ve achieved it without relying on council tax. While West Sussex is putting your tax up by £65.69 and the Conservative Police Commissioner by £24, Crawley’s £4.95 increase reflects inflation.

However bad things gets, we remain focused on delivering for Crawley. We’re the same local party that built Crawley and delivered top-notch facilities for residents, like: K2, the Hawth and Tilgate Park. We’re members of this community and we want it to thrive. That’s why we’re asking for your support to continue delivering for Crawley.

Because every councillor is up for election, you will have as many votes on your ballot paper as there are seats in your ward, please make sure to use all your votes. Polling stations will be open on Thursday 2nd May from 7am to 10pm, and you don’t need your poll card to vote.

Postal voters will have already had their ballots through, but any which haven’t been posted by Election Day can be handed in at any polling station in Crawley.