#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 2nd March 2011

At the last council meeting Labour and the Tories set out two different paths for the town.

One path, the Labour path, maintains Crawley’s services using a small part of the millions the council has stored away for difficult times. The other path, the Tory path, proposed immediate cuts to the services local people depend upon.

With twice as many councillors the Tories won the day and Crawley lost out.

Crawley Borough Council has well over £100 million in the bank, it is simply untrue to claim these cuts were ‘necessary’. Even Tory ministers have singled out Crawley as a council which should use its reserves this way. The council leader went so far as to attack his own Secretary of State – a man who stopped attempts to reduce the burden on local services – for suggesting Crawley should use its reserves.

As a Labour councillor you wouldn’t expect me to like a Tory budget, but there is more to this debate than party politics: it’s about the future of the town.

If  – and it’s a big ‘if’ – these cuts are about reducing central government expenditure then they’re temporary, just until we balance the books . If that’s the case we can use some of our reserves to prop up local services until the economy recovers.

An improved economy would mean more money for local government. As people find work they pay more tax and claim less in benefits, so central government would have more money for councils. Locally we would also raise more as greater employment means an increased number of people paying council tax benefit and occupied office buildings start paying rates.

The fact that the Tories have opposed this solution tells us something different; these cuts aren’t intended to be temporary, they want to permanently reduce the size of government. While ‘smaller government’ might sound like a nice thing (a bit like ‘Big Society’) what it really means is reductions to public services, your services.

I was proud that the Labour Group voted to keep investing in Crawley, I only wish the Tories had done the same.

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