It’s with surprise I find myself now Crawley’s second longest serving council leader, the longest serving of course being the late great Alf Pegler, whose serving I doubt will ever be equalled. While the years have gone in a flash, it’s amazing to see how much we have had to weather in that time.
When I became Leader in 2014, the biggest question facing the council was if we could keep services running at all given the pressures we faced from the longest and hardest period of public sector cuts in the country’s history. We found a way and until last year we managed to maintain council’s expenditure at consistently the same level, while balancing the budget, and despite having the lowest council tax increases in the county.
Since then, we’ve had to navigate Crawley through the implications of Brexit on the ground and support the efforts of our NHS beating pandemic. COVID recovery will be the priority for the next few years. The council itself has already taken most of the hard choices on the budget last year, but we now face major challenges in the town.
Unemployment, the need to reskill for the jobs of the future, the mismatch between housing demand and its affordability, and the decline of retail on the High Street. Some new problems, some existing, all made far worse by COVID. It’s going to be a tough few years, but if looking back tells me anything it’s that any problem will eventually be overcome.