Representing Crawley at national events, I get the chance to speak with mayors and council leaders responsible for running local services across the country, with funding council services during Austerity being one of the most regular topics of conversation.
Through all these conversations I’ve yet to find another authority which, despite annual cuts from Government, is still spending the same on residents’ services as five years ago, yet that’s what’s happening at Crawley. So, is Crawley just lucky, as the Conservatives claim every year?
Well, when the Conservatives ran Crawley we had budget cuts every year and again last month the leader of the Crawley Conservatives criticised me for not making budget cuts. I wonder if they’ll be brave enough this year to put the same demands they make at council meetings in their election leaflets, or is it one face for the public and another for council meetings?
When I became Leader of Crawley, I took a deliberate choice to focus on generating the revenue we needed to provide the services residents deserved, rather than passing cuts from Government onto residents. It worked. By contrast, at Conservative-run West Sussex County Council, where Crawley’s Conservatives are in the Cabinet, cutting early has just led to further cuts being needed every year, they’ve lost control of their budget and we’ve lost our services.
To be clear, when I talk about generating revenue, I’m not talking about hiking up council tax. Crawley Borough Council’s council tax is going up roughly in-line with inflation a ‘Real Terms’ freeze, at less than a fiver the lowest increase in the county. In contrast, West Sussex County Council are putting council tax up by almost 5%, a £66 increase, and the Conservative Police Commissioner is increasing their precept by 14.5%, a £24 increase. Meaning just 11.5% of your council tax will stay in Crawley this year, the rest going to Chichester and Lewes.
With West Sussex cutting funding for organisations like Open House, Crawley has also budgeted to ensure those charities can keep running and, as this is Lent, might I encourage anyone who can afford it to consider donating too.