Author: pkl204

Crawley News 24 Column, Wednesday 12th September 2018

Louise Goldsmith, the Leader of West Sussex County Council, tells us that cuts to Open House and other housing support services are necessary because they don’t have the money to fund them any longer. Open House receives a grant of £262,075 and I was able to highlight in minutes where the money to save every hostel in West Sussex, about £1m, could come from.

However, the full cut being proposed is £6.3m, so let’s look if there’s anywhere we can find the remaining £5.3m. For instance, last year West Sussex spent £5,933,666.54 on taxis, with a further £165,299.47 on travel expenses. £5,476,737.16 went to consultants and £831,450.74 on advertising and publicity, well they did increase their Policy and Communications budget by £300,000 last year, so that’s not really a surprise. They also spent £742,319 on books and newspapers, to be clear that figure excludes schools and libraries.

With all the empty West Sussex sites in Crawley alone, it’s not a surprise they spent £212,972.42 on vacant properties and a further £594,443.45 on office removals. Recruitment saw £537,219.64 being spent, alongside a peculiar £143,201.18 for ‘Music and Video’, with a further £198,656.84 on postage and £101,660.85 on stationery.

Now, no doubt there are good reasons for much of this expenditure, but that’s £15m which seems more questionably spent than the £6.3m necessary to support the homeless, vulnerable elderly and victims of domestic violence. I’d suggest Nathan Elvery, who was appointed Chief Executive two years ago at an ongoing cost of £220,166, starts by looking there. That’s before asking himself whether he really needs so many layers of senior management. When I became Leader at Crawley I removed the director-tier, so now heads of services report directly the Chief Executive. At West Sussex County Council they not only still have directors, but executive directors. That seems like the real expense West Sussex residents can no longer afford.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th September 2018

Last month, I raised concerns over the cut in officers numbers at Sussex Police and the spike in drugs and violence in Crawley which followed. Of course, this was met with denials across the board from local police leadership, yet the visible increase in police presence in Crawley immediately after I called them out and the subsequent reduction in reports of drugs and violence says a great deal.

A temporary ramp-up in police numbers isn’t a permanent solution, those officers had to be taken from somewhere else and those areas will have suffered as a consequence and what is to stop our problems re-emerging when the numbers reduce again? Sussex Police are due to recruit an additional 200 officers over the next few years, not 800 as the Police Commissioner tries to suggest. While 200 additional officers is better than a kick in the teeth, its less than a third of the number of police we’ve lost locally under the Conservatives.

Fewer police officers tackling crime means more crime. You’d have thought that was a pretty easy concept to get your head around. However, this week the National Audit Office, an independent body responsible for auditing Government, said that due to a lack of monitoring by the Home Office, Ministers were unaware of the impact cutting police numbers had had on the effectiveness of the police in tackling crime. At this point, no assessment has even taken place looking into the impact of the 44,000 police officer and staff cuts which have taken place under the Conservatives.

How can a Government claim to be taking crime seriously when they aren’t willing to ask the most basic questions? Of course, politically such an assessment could never be produced, because we all know what it will say the impact of those cuts have been and the Government couldn’t possibly publicly acknowledge that fact.

There’s an obvious solution to this: accept the obvious need more officers and get on with recruiting them. Labour has committed to recruiting 10,000 additional police officers, at least one extra officer for every neighbourhood in the county, that seems like a good start.

Crawley Live Column, Autumn 2018

After frantically catching-up following the local elections, Council business usually quietens down over the Summer. This year was different: we’ve redrafted the council’s Corporate Strategy and Transformation Plans (outlining how the organisation will work and what it’s priorities will be over coming years), continued working on redevelopment of the Town Hall site and restructured senior management, ensuring we have the right team at the council to take on the challenges Crawley is facing.

Many residents have contacted me recently expressing concerns over the apparent increase of drugs and violence in Crawley. It’s been a big worry for me too and I’ve been very clear about the need for a greater police presence in the town to take this problem head on. Unfortunately, this isn’t something the council controls directly, but until we get the policing residents deserve we we will keep give up the fight for the police we need.

Patients waiting longer for emergency treatment

The latest A&E waiting figures were released last month and, as you might imagine, it’s not good news. In the Crawley area 4,473 patients were left waiting over four hours for emergency treatment.

At a time when Crawley’s GP provision is on the verge of collapse and the NHS body responsible for paying for all of our treatment is in financial special measures, to see our acute services struggling leaves you wondering what will be left of our NHS by the end of this Parliament.

Only Labour is committed to the future of our National Health Service, so vital to all of our lives.

Crawley News 24 Column, Friday 7th September 2018

Debate about Brexit may be focused on the Government’s shambolic negotiations with the EU, but that sort of misses the point. Don’t get me wrong without a decent deal we face serious difficulties, but a trade deal means nothing unless we have an economy fit to compete on the global stage and, more than anything else, that means having a workforce with the necessary skills to either make the goods or sell the services the world wants.

To fail on skills, is to fail as a country. If the next generation lack the skills they need to compete then not only do UK living standards fall, but public services lose the taxes they need to function. Older generations can no longer rely upon a liveable pension or access to free medical care, and with even less money going into education the next generation will struggle even more. It’s a vicious circle which puts Britain into terminal decline. This doesn’t end with a Brexit deal, it ends when we start putting money back into our schools.

This week it was revealed that the number of primary school infants in classes over the legal limit of 30 pupils has nearly doubled under the Conservatives, that’s 11,432 children Crawley’s area alone. How are teachers supposed to educate our children when they are spread so thin? How can children grow when we fail to invest the time and attention that they need to learn? We are betraying not only the next generation, but a whole nation who depends upon their success for our quality of life to continue.

Thank goodness, Labour has pledged to restore the class size cap, ensuring we deliver a fair deal to our children and grandchildren, and give the UK the chance it needs to succeed, regardless of what happens with Brexit.

Railway travel in the South East is about to get worse

For all the complaints about Southern (of which I have a considerable number), many of the problems we face with train reliability and capacity actually come down to Network Rail and what resources they’ve been allocated to keep the network running effectively, with Network Rail’s funding determined by a part of the Government.

Here comes the bad news. In calculating what they need to provide our local rail services, Network Rail worked out that £4.3bn was necessary over the next five years to keep things running effectively, and the Government has given them…£2.9bn. So, I guess it’s sorry Crawley commuters, your ticket prices are going up year-on-year but the quality of your rail services certainly won’t be.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 5th September 2018

Crawley Open House is at threat of closure due to West Sussex County Council cuts, but some people seem more interested in ‘managing the politics’ than playing any useful part in saving the charity. So, let’s quickly run through the facts.

Crawley Borough Council is Crawley’s housing authority, helping people access housing and managing council properties, but West Sussex County Council has responsibility for vulnerable adults. That’s why the Government has always given the money to look after rough sleepers, domestic abuse victims and elderly residents with special housing needs to the county council. To this day, West Sussex owes a responsibility towards these residents.

Under Labour funding for these services came in the form of a ring-fenced grant which could only be spent supporting those groups. In 2011, the Conservative Government removed the ring-fencing. The key point here is the money wasn’t cut, the Government just said it was up to the county council how they spent it and until now they’ve continued to fund services for vulnerable adults, including Open House.

West Sussex are now planning to cut all of this funding, not only closing Open House but every other shelter and support for the elderly with special housing needs, a cut amounting to £6.3m out of their £529m budget. Henry Smith says Crawley Borough Council should step in to make up the difference. We’ll always do what we can and already make a significant donation to Open House, but we have a budget of just £14m. Having been the Leader of West Sussex and served as a borough councillor, Henry Smith knows what he’s suggesting isn’t realistic, but for him this seems to be a political issue which needs managing, rather than the moral issue I believe it to be. At the time of writing, he still hasn’t signed our petition to save Open House.

Under West Sussex’s constitution, with enough signatures we can force a full debate on the proposed cuts and hopefully save Open House, but we need the support of everyone who genuinely cares. If you want to do your part, please go to:

Press Release: “Callous and despicable” abolition of housing support fund by West Sussex Tories will cause a “homelessness epidemic” warn Labour councillors

Tory-run West Sussex County Council has triggered outrage and concern across the county as they release a last minute change to the council’s Forward Plan, outlining proposals to abolish the council’s “Supporting People” fund which makes a significant contribution to the running of all the housing-related support services provided by charities and voluntary organisations across the county.

West Sussex made this shock announcement late yesterday afternoon, which also includes reducing the Local Assistance Network (formerly the discretionary element of the old Social Fund) by three quarters, and will have serious implications for those councils and housing associations in West Sussex who provide elderly sheltered housing and extra care services, including the countywide “Lifeline” service.

Funding to support these services used to be provided by the county council through a ring fenced Government grant which was taken away entirely by the Tory-led coalition Government in 2011, since when the County Council has continued to fund services from its base budget.

The county council has decided to consider abolishing virtually all of the entire £6 million fund for “Supporting People” because it is not a minimum statutory obligation required of them by the Government, and the Forward Plan states “the discretionary nature of the services involved” means the Cabinet Member for Housing Amanda Jupp (Con, Billinghurst) “will be asked to approve a process which could lead to the termination of current housing support contracts with providers from April 2019 onwards.”

Many providers across the county will be affected by such moves.  These will include: Crawley Open House, Worthing Churches, Bognor Housing Trust, Stonepillow, Safe in Sussex Home Group, Crawley Foyer, Quick Access Beds for Youth Homelessness, Southdown Independent Living Scheme, Crawley Life House, CGL, Peabody South East, Sanctuary, Life Housing and YMCA Downslink.

Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council Councillor Peter Lamb responded to the news with the following statement:

“This proposal will effectively close every homeless hostel in West Sussex, casting our most desperate residents out of safety and onto the streets. It’s deeply immoral and the consequences will be felt by the whole community. Crawley Borough Council will do what it can to help our local hostel, but the money to pay for these grants were baselined into county council grants in 2011 and they have a moral duty to help support vulnerable adults.”

Labour county councillor Michael Jones agreed with Councillor Lamb, adding:

“Trying to abolish the entire homelessness support funding the county council provides is not only incredibly callous and despicable of this Tory leadership, it is also immensely short-sighted.

“The county council will end up having to pay the consequences later when these vulnerable people deteriorate and then require services that they are statutorily required to provide, so most of the savings are likely to be lost quite quickly.

“Anyone who has seen first-hand the dedication of the staff at these organisations trying to help people in this terrible situation turn their lives around, and go forward with a roof over their heads, would not doubt for a second the benefit to the community they provide.  The price it costs is relatively small as opposed to the costs that will undoubtedly emerge if they aren’t there, particularly to the health service and the Police.

“In the meantime, I fear these cuts will trigger an epidemic of homelessness.  This is likely to mean rough sleeping in the town centres, public places and open spaces, street begging and all the anti-social behaviour that can unfortunately accompany it, in a way that people in West Sussex will simply never have seen the likes of before.  Where else will people seek help if these places aren’t there?”

To sign the petition calling on West Sussex to drop the cuts, please go to:

Let’s End The Tory Rail Mayhem #AllChangePlease

Crawley Labour councillors and activists were up bright and early this morning discussing our three point plan for fixing the railways with Crawley commuters.

Under the Conservatives, the cost of a season ticket from Three Bridges to London Victoria has risen by £1,014, while at the same time railway conditions and reliability have dropped substantially. We need a railway system that works for the many, not just the railway bosses.

A Labour Government will deliver fares which are capped, a more reliable train service and more investment in our railways by undoing the crazy franchising system which means that railway companies do better by delivering less for commuters.

We’re standing up for Crawley commuters and I hope we can count on your support.