Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 28th November 2012

Surely one reason for giving politicians a column in the local newspaper is to allow them to get past the Punch and Judy politics of the daily news cycle and instead engage seriously with local residents on the issues that really matter. It’s not like there aren’t enough of those.

We could discuss how to deal with the local housing crisis or the crumbling road network, or we could bring up Crawley’s successes in Britain in Bloom and the opportunity that town centre redevelopment represents. But again I find my Group being attacked over decisions taken – not years but – decades ago. The sad thing is even those arguments are a distortion.

When we raised concerns about the Hawth being handed over to a private company we were brushed off with the claim that Labour did the same with refuse collection. That is a half-truth at best.

At the time the Conservative Government of the day forced councils to accept the lowest-bidder for a service, no matter how poor the quality, under Compulsory Competitive Tendering – something even the Conservatives have criticised in this paper in the past. Since the Labour council’s in-house refuse service was second to none the Council resisted, was taken to court and was forced to hand the service over. If the best example the Tories can come up with to excuse their own actions involves the Government having to take the Council to court, they may wish to rethink their line of argument.

Over recent years the Labour Group has campaigned to see assets like the Hawth and Tilgate Nature Centre run in-house for the benefit of the community and to ensure that all options are considered, including in-house management, before we doll out millions of taxpayers’ money to private companies. Yet we are accused of being dogmatic and extreme examples, like publicly-owned window factories, are brought up to suggest that it’s somehow wrong that we run a local arts centre. It isn’t dogmatic to look for the best community value when spending public money.

At a time when people are increasingly hard up, choosing to focus on archaic debates rather than current problems shows just how out of touch this Conservative administration really is. Hopefully next week we can get back to the issues which really matter.

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