Author: pkl204

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th February 2019

Under the Conservatives the lowest cost season ticket from Three Bridges to London Victoria has gone up from £2,804 in 2010 to, as of last month, £3816 per year. That’s a growth of over £1,000, a 36% rise dwarfing the increasing costs of almost everything else, except perhaps housing. Transport and housing, two things people can not do without and perhaps the two greatest areas of failure of the current government. The fact that the very name of the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has between on-going rail chaos, the failed Brexit lorry park preparations and dodgy ferry contracts become a by-word for incompetence and failure says just about all you need to know.

The trouble is these failures are taking place with things we cannot afford to do without. Next week we’ll get some idea of just how dependent Crawley is upon a functioning rail network when we are forced to do without services between Three Bridges and Brighton for a week so that works can take place. This may be an inconvenience, but I think people do accept that to keep us safe a certain amount of maintenance work is necessary. The issue isn’t the odd closures, it is the on-going poor performance day-to-day.

As a commuter, I can’t remember the time both my morning train and my evening train were on-time. Were this any sector without a natural monopoly, it would be hard to see how the company wouldn’t have been driven out of business by now with those sorts of performance statistics. To pay an ever increasing amount for services which are less reliable, more cramped and with fewer amenities available, really does question how as a country we’re allowing our services to be provided

I’m not going to pretend that the world would be all sunshine and rainbows under a Labour Government, but much more can be done to bring ticket prices under control. At the same time a rail network back in the public’s hands would at minimum restore the accountability that there once was for failure and end the exploitative position the rail companies currently occupy.

Press Release: Protection of frontline services and balanced budget proposed again

Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet has proposed a balanced budget for 2019/20, protecting frontline services, continuing to invest in the town and improving the council’s efficiency.

The budget was debated by the Cabinet on Wednesday (6 February). Members unanimously recommended approval of the budget to Full Council on 27 February.

Crawley will suffer a further 89.7 per cent cut in revenue support from the Government over the next year. The reduction in funding since 2016/17 is £1.72m.

Despite this, the council has identified additional income, efficiencies and savings of £1.26m, meaning that the council’s element of Council Tax is set to rise by just 2.49 per cent, the equivalent of only 9p per week for a band D property.

The Cabinet has also recommended investment in:

·     £6m to purchase investment properties. The rental income generated from these will be used to help fund council services

·     More than £9m over three years for repairs to council homes

·     The purchase of a housing development in Broadfield, giving the council a good payback period and providing tenants with a more efficient service

·     A new integrated housing database to replace the council’s outdated systems

·     The ICT transformation programme.

West Sussex County Council is proposing a rise of £65.79 on a band D property (4.99 per cent), which will be debated at its Full Council meeting on 15 February. The precept for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will rise by £24 on a band D property (14.47 per cent).

If the proposed rises are approved, for every pound paid in Council Tax, West Sussex County Council will receive 77.8p, Sussex Police will receive 10.7p with Crawley Borough Council receiving just 11.5p.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Local services used to be paid from income tax, meaning those who earned more paid more. Due to government cuts to council and police funding, funding for these services increasingly comes from Council Tax which tends to hit pensioners and poorer residents hardest.

“While Crawley Borough Council is responsible for collecting all your Council Tax, more than 88 per cent of it goes to West Sussex County Council or Sussex Police. We’ve worked hard to ensure that Crawley Borough Council’s part of the bill is kept roughly in line with inflation, meaning that the ‘real terms’ increase this year comes exclusively from West Sussex and the police.”

For more details on Council Tax bandings and ways to pay, visit: www.crawley.gov.uk/counciltax

Press Release: Sign up now for Crawley Question Time 2019

Crawley Question Time is back for another year, giving residents an opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them.

The annual event takes place from 7-9pm on Thursday 14 March in the Civic Hall in the town centre.

Crawley Question Time takes the form of an independently-chaired general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns for discussion, such as community safety, Brexit, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

Confirmed panellists include Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council; Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition; Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Economic Development; Rosie Ross, Chief Inspector of Crawley Police; Dr Laura Hill, Clinical Chair NHS Crawley Commissioning Group; Laiba Baig, Crawley Young Persons Council; Vicki Illingworth, Principal of Crawley College.

The event is open to everyone; the public, business leaders and partner organisations. The views and comments expressed will help the council and others to plan work on improving services and the town in general.

Councillor Peter Lamb said: “As a council, Crawley believes that it is important we give residents the chance to hold decision-makers to account. Crawley Question Time is a great chance to ask questions about our town and to raise the issues which matter to you in front of local decision-makers, such as myself.

“These evenings are always full of lively debate, so please sign up now and come along to let us know what you’re thinking!”

To register to attend the debate visit www.crawley.gov.uk/getinvolved

Press Release: ‘Shocking’ Statistic: 2,226 Patients For Every GP In Crawley

In Figures Revealed Following A Request Made By Labour Councillor Geraint Thomas

This week it emerged that the ratio of residents to General Practitioners in Crawley is one of the worst in the UK; the figures show that there is 1 doctor for every 2,226 residents in Crawley. To put that statistic into perspective, Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire has nearly one GP for every 1,200 residents.

The ratio for Crawley came out following a request by Northgate Councillor Geraint Thomas after BBC analysis earlier this month showed that access to GPs in some areas could vary by as much as threefold that of others.

Although the Royal College of General Practitioners chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said the national findings were “shocking”, many Crawley residents will be unsurprised.

Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: ‘It’s a travesty that so many in Crawley are being left unable to access their GP for medical treatment, or in some cases to even register with a local GP. Two years after Crawley’s NHS entered Special Measures, our community still sees no action on the part of the Government to get the problem stored. It’s increasingly clear that only a party which really believes in our National Health Service will give it the investment it needs to ensure Crawley’s medical needs are met.’

In 2017 a lack of funding and reports that many residents were unable to register to their local GP surgeries led the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing Crawley to be placed into special measures, where it has remained ever since.

A ‘shocking’ new statistical analysis from the BBC has shown that in Crawley there is one doctor per every 2,226 residents.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th February 2019

This evening, Crawley Council’s Cabinet will set the budget we’ll be sending to Full Council for members to agree later in the month.

I’ve often written about the unfair way the Government has cut the amount councils and the police get from Income Tax–where those who earn more pay more–and have demanded that we increase Council Tax instead–which hits pensioners and those on low incomes hardest. Well, now they’ve come up with a new bright idea, the ‘Fair Funding Review.’

Under this review, Crawley looks set to have almost a million pounds taken from us, on top of the existing planned cuts to what we get, and have that money given to councils in wealthier areas. Apparently, that’s what ‘Fair’ means when it comes to this Government and our community will have to suffer the consequences of it.

Despite the cuts, Crawley Borough Council are set to spend the same on services next year as when we regained control of the council five years ago, we’re probably the only council in the country that can say that and it hasn’t been easy. When Crawley residents trusted us with their council, we decided to try and find ways to avoid passing the Government’s cuts down onto residents and so far we’ve managed to succeed, finding new ways to raise revenue equal to what the Government are taking.

Contrast that with Conservative-run West Sussex, whose decision to cut from the start has simply forced them to make bigger and bigger cuts over the years. The sad reality is, as a forward-looking council, Crawley’s hard work means our community are now being asked to pay for the incompetence of others.

Still, we’re never without a plan. Our decision to knock down the Town Hall and replace it with a new building with far lower running costs, Grade-A commercial office space for rent, a combined heat and power plant selling low carbon energy across the town centre, and hundreds of new homes, with 40% affordable for local people means that–despite the Government’s best efforts–Crawley Labour will keep delivering for Crawley.

Press Release: Thomas Bennett Academy Listed Among The UK’S Worst Performing Schools

Local Labour Party Continues Call For The Beleaguered School To Return To Public Hands

Last week, Tilgate’s struggling academy school Thomas Bennett Community College was officially marked down by the Department for Education as one of 382 secondary schools failing to meet the government’s minimum standard.

Mismanagement and repeated cuts handed down by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) are likely to have contributed to the assessment result.

Crawley’s Labour Party continues its call for the school to be returned to public hands at the first opportunity, a demand that has become increasingly popular among Crawley residents as well as teachers, pupils and parents.

With the full support of Crawley Labour, hundreds of Crawley residents marched through the town centre last summer in protest of a series of cuts planned by TKAT. It became the largest protest the town had seen in decades.

To date, thousands of concerned members of the public have signed different petitions calling for the return of Thomas Bennett to local authority control and for the school to be properly funded. Crawley Labour wholeheartedly endorses both aims.

Council Leader Peter Lamb said: ‘Thomas Bennett was once one of the best value added schools in West Sussex, it’s a very sad day to see how far it has fallen since academisation. No parent in Crawley should be forced to send their child to a failing school. The public must now be given back control over Thomas Bennett, to make the school accountable to the community once more.’

Ms. Kiran Khan is a former Thomas Bennett pupil who worked on the Save Thomas Bennett Camapaign, and is now standing to be Labour Borough Councillor for Tilgate in May’s local elections.

Kiran Khan said: ‘Thomas Bennett Community College was widely recognised as a good school before it became an academy. So many parents, teachers and former pupils have spoken to me about their fond memories of the school. If we want to turn back the clock to better days, returning the school to local authority control is how to achieve it.’

3,297 schools and academies in England are subject to the government’s standard, a performance threshold with a particular focus on English and Maths. Thomas Bennett is one of 382 schools to have failed to achieve sufficient progress.

Crawley Labour says the answer to the disastrous academisation of  Thomas Bennett is to return the school to public control, so that its management is directly answerable to Crawley’s voters.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 30th January 2019

Around the year, whatever the weather, I’m out every weekend with other Labour councillors in Crawley asking residents what matters to them and what the issues are in their area. Most of the time people say they have nothing to raise with us, but sometimes people do highlight ways we can help their family and our community. In either case, it’s a good chance to check if the things we’re working to deliver as elected representatives are the right priorities and to get feedback on how we’re doing.

On Monday we received some major feedback with the publication of Cities Outlook 2019 by the Centre for Cities, the UK’s leading urban policy thinktank. While Crawley does not have the Royal Charter required to call itself a city, nor the population size typical of cities, our economic weight justifies our inclusion in the report. Cities Outlook rates cities’ performance annually and yet again Crawley has come out close to the top.

When I became Council Leader in 2014, I made the council’s priorities homes, jobs and the community, all the while working to find new income sources to make up for Government cuts.

The figures prove this strategy has worked. Cities Outlook shows Crawley has suffered fewer cuts than almost any other area since 2010, although for some reason the county council is investing less in our adult social care for the elderly than they do in Worthing.

Our jobs market remains strong, with local workers making amongst greatest contribution to the UK economy and we’re innovating, with the sixth highest number of patents. Wages remain high too, although still far too few local people are getting the best paying jobs.

My favourite stat is on housing though, an issue where we know the local need is desperate. Despite being the second smallest of the areas covered, we’re delivering the seventh biggest increase in housing stock in the country. We’re working hard to build affordable homes for local people.

It’s always good to get an independent opinion, and the independent report this week proves that Crawley Labour are delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Post Office to close

Despite over 200 responses and protests from both local councils, Post Office Ltd have decided to close the Crown Post Office and franchise some of the services out to WH Smith in County Mall.
 
Be in no doubt, this will drastically reduce access for those with disabilities, amongst other groups of users, and mean many services will no longer be available in our town. Totally unacceptable from an organisation still wholly-owned by the UK Government, and yet where this Government is unwilling to act to protect residents’ services.
 

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 23th January 2019

Is there any end to the chaos? Another week goes by and control slips further from Theresa May’s grasp, and the country is left wondering when we will again have a Government focused on the real challenges people face every day.

When will we have a Government ready to give us the police we need to crack down on the drugs and violence we have seen in Crawley over recent months on an unprecedented scale?

When will we have a Government ready to invest in healthcare, so we can get Crawley’s NHS out of financial Special Measures, and restore patients’ access to GPs without the need for rationing?

When will we have a Government ready to listen to the headteachers unable to provide children with the education they deserve due to a lack of resources, with ‘ Special Educational Needs going unmet?

When will we have a Government ready to take the shackles off councils, so we can again build affordable housing on the scale necessary to fix the UK’s housing crisis?

When will we have a Government ready to ensure our nation’s most senior citizens can live their final years without fearing they will be left without the support they need or else face financial ruin to access care?

When will we have a Government ready to deliver the transport infrastructure we require to get to work and go about our daily lives?

When will we have a Government ready to help people access meaningful work, with decent conditions and long-term prospects?

For the last three years we’ve been left without a Government, as Theresa May has bet everything on trying to deliver one thing, the one thing it transpires she cannot deliver.

As a country and a community, don’t we deserve better? The Government has shown they either cannot or will not deliver for local people. For that to change it is now clear that the Government has to change. Until that happens, my team and I at the council will continue on the ground, focusing on the needs of local people as we go on delivering for Crawley.

Press Release: Crawley joins money-saving insurance mutual

Crawley Borough Council has become one of the founding members of the Local Government Mutual, helping to save money every year.

The mutual aims to save its members money by offering an effective alternative to the conventional insurance products and services available to local authorities.

Any surpluses the mutual generates may be used to reduce the cost of insurance, improve the claims process or returned back to members as income.

The structure of the mutual means the council will not pay insurance premium tax, currently set at 12 per cent, on the vast majority of insurance products.

As well as saving money, the mutual puts councils in control by working together, sharing knowledge of best practice and reducing members’ risk exposure without increased costs.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “It’s great to see Crawley Borough Council become a founding member of this initiative. The mutual is another way the council is saving money to put back into services and to reduce the forecasted budget gap.”

As a member, the council can still choose between the mutual and private companies for its insurance. However, the mutual can offer price matching or better cover that is up-to-date with changes in local authorities’ organisational and operational activities.

The council can insure through the mutual from 1 April 2020.

Find out more about the Local Government Mutual here: http://www.local.gov.uk/new-local-government-mutual