Author: pkl204

#Crawley Live Column, Winter 2020

For the last six years, Crawley Borough Council has bucked the trend. Despite huge cuts to local government funding, every year we have managed to generate enough new revenue to make up for the cuts without having to put council tax up above inflation. Due to the pandemic, that streak has come to an end.

Throughout the lockdown, the money-making parts of the council were forced to shut, while various new costs arose. Unfortunately, the financial consequences will last long beyond this one year, with the economic impact resulting in a significant ongoing cut to the council’s income from business rates and council tax.

As a result, for the first time in six years we are having to make real cuts to balance the budget. We will do everything we can to make savings humanely and minimise the impact on frontline services, but there will be real consequences for service delivery.

This could not come at a worse time. The policies for tackling the coronavirus have hit Crawley’s economy harder than any other in the UK, resulting in thousands of job losses. Putting in place the support local families need takes money, yet the council’s income is dropping and support from Government has been very limited.

Regardless, we continue to work with other public bodies, companies and representative bodies to support and up-skill local job hunters, while attracting new industries to the town. It’s a long, slow process, but we together we will create a better future for the town.

#CouncilsCan

Today you will see various local government accounts tweeting #CouncilsCan, as part of an annual day-long effort co-ordinated by the Local Government Association to highlight the work that councils do. Over recent years we’ve seen practically every cause allocated a ‘day’, ‘week’, ‘month’, and even ‘year’ dedicated to raising awareness or encouraging activity around a given cause. The timing of ‘Councils Can’ day isn’t randomly selected, with the Government’s Spending Review due to be announced on the 25th November, local government is trying to remind people what we do and how little will remain if we’re forced to go through another decade of cuts.

Local government provides around a quarter of all public services. Even before austerity, local authorities were rated the most efficient part of the UK’s public sector and since then we’ve faced the harshest cuts. At peak, Crawley Borough Council had £27m net revenue expenditure, post-COVID it’s down to around £12m. I cannot think of any other organisation in the public or private sector which could maintain its output as well after losing 56% of its revenue.

It is councils which have led the efforts to tackle the spread of COVID-19 on the grounds and to ensure the needs of the community were met through the crisis and despite the promises of the government at the time, we have yet to be compensated for the gap the pandemic has left in the council’s finances. With Crawley Borough Council already being forced to make its first real cuts in six years and a lockdown now set to decimate council finances further, I think it’s fair to say that #CouncilsCan, but for how much longer?

Remembrance in the shadow of COVID

Today is Remembrance Sunday. In any other year, this morning would see a packed service at St John’s, large numbers gathering to lay wreaths at the war memorial, coupled with a parade through the town centre and refreshments at the TA Centre. Despite the New Town not having been built at the time of the First and Second World Wars, our community is one which never fails to turn out in large numbers to remember this day and reflect on all those who have been affected by war.

While the lockdown has made marking today in the usual way impossible, I am very glad that it has been possible for a small number of community representatives to lay wreaths in a socially-distanced way to ensure the day is not entirely without the usual ceremony.

Yet, remembrance itself is not tied to formal events, it is something each of us has the ability to do in our own time and I hope that many will use today in the way it is intended. This year, perhaps it is also appropriate to take time to think of all those who have lost their lives to the pandemic which has so far claimed the lives of almost 50,000 of our countrymen. More lives lost than through the entire Blitz and vastly more than all the deaths of British servicemen in all conflicts since the Second World War. It is also worth noting that it was a century ago this year that we managed to end the outbreak of Spanish Flu which had taken more lives than all those which had been lost in the recently-concluded First World War.

Let us remember the lives lost, those who are still suffering, and the key workers who are working to overcome this new enemy. Let us come together to do everything we can to get our community through the next few months and then work to build a better future for our country.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 4th November 2020

Despite the government’s claim no one could have predicted we’d need a second lockdown, we are going back into lockdown, as everyone else predicted. By this point there was little alternative, all restrictions have been driven by the need to ensure the demand for intensive care beds doesn’t exceed supply. The UK has only 6.6 intensive care beds per 100,000 people–compared with 11.5 in the rest of Europe–and we’re running out of them. Had we locked down when the scientists said, starting at a lower level and with schools shut over half term, we’d have reduced the length of lockdown needed, but now it will be a month at minimum.

The UK isn’t alone in facing this pandemic. Looking at other countries we know if you act quickly, limit opportunities for exposure, and have an test, track and trace system, you can avoid repeated lockdowns. The government may blame the public, but it’s not as though the British have a reputation for breaking rules; unclear guidance and a lack of enforcement powers have made it much harder to ensure compliance in the UK.

So what next? The government needs to use this month to deliver the world-beating test, track and trace system they promised so outbreaks can be contained without needing general lockdowns. We need every employee who can work from home to do so indefinitely and ongoing support to enable sectors to remain closed where the transmission risk is high, rather than encouraging people to go out and spread the virus by using them. Yes, the government is accruing huge debts, but the only way to pay them off is through future tax receipts. The longer this goes on, the worse for businesses. Businesses closing pushes up government expenditure on benefits and reduces the tax base. Keeping businesses afloat costs more now, but medium-term it’s the only way the country is going to pay off the debt.

Unfortunately, lockdown also means no Remembrance Sunday services this weekend, but please don’t let that stop you from taking time on Sunday to reflect on all those who have been affected by war.

Supporting ‘Youth Work Week’ 2020

This week is ‘Youth Work Week 2020’, a week dedicated to recognising the important contribution youth workers make to our community, providing young people with the support and encouragement they need to realise their potential.

Unfortunately, youth work is to a large extent now a career in decline, as councils balance their budgets by cutting those services targeted at young people to focus on their statutory services. I was first elected as a Northgate councillor shortly after West Sussex County Council had cut youth provision in the neighbourhood and over the years which have followed, where once youth services were provided across West Sussex by the county council those services which are left are a patchwork of independent providers organised on a charitable footing.

Despite the challenges these groups continue to do amazing work with the limited resources they have at their disposal. Yet, how far can this be sustained? Demand for youth work has trebled since the start of the pandemic, with young people losing access to many other support structures. Youth work provides open-access support, guidance and non-formal education to young people across the UK, with a safe space for young people to go to, things to do and someone to talk to who knows what is needed.

Commenting on the situation, Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Through the government’s response to the pandemic, young people are seeing their futures disappear, exacerbating mental health challenges, hitting younger workers’ jobs and pay, and widening educational inequalities.

“Crawley already has amongst lowest levels of social mobility in the country and everything which is happening now can only make that situation worse. At this time of crisis, youth services are a vital lifeline, providing our young people with a safe space and the support they need to get through this. Now is the time for the government to take investment in youth services seriously again, rather than allowing what remains of them to slip away.”

Crawley council services lockdown arrangements

With the England lockdown starting on Thursday, several Crawley Borough Council buildings and services will close or operate differently.

The Town Hall will close at 4pm on Tuesday 3 November. Despite this, our services will continue to operate and we will be providing additional services for our most vulnerable residents and distributing the latest round of grants to local businesses once we have received guidance from Government.

With the Town Hall closed, there are several ways to continue to access council services. Visit crawley.gov.uk for service information and my.crawley.gov.uk for access to rubbish and recycling updates for your home, your Council Tax account and our extensive library of forms.

To pay by debit or credit card you can do so online at crawley.gov.uk/payments, over the phone by calling our automated payments line on 01293 438312 or at your bank.

The full list of changes is:

  • The Town Hall will close to the public at 4pm on Tuesday 3 November
  • K2 Crawley and the Bewbush Centre Gym will close at 10pm on Wednesday 4 November
  • Tilgate Nature Centre will close at 4pm on Wednesday 4 November
  • Community centres will close from 6pm on Wednesday 4 November except for  those where pre-schools and crèches  are in operation
  • The Hawth will close at 10pm on Wednesday 4 November
  • The Employ Crawley Youth Hub will continue to operate with virtual appointments. To arrange an appointment call 07814 903871 / 07909 730956 or email employcrawley@crawley.gov.uk
  • All public toilets will close except the toilets next to the car park at Tilgate Park. All toilets will remain accessible to people with a Radar Key
  • Tennis courts and multi-use games area will close from 6pm on Wednesday 4 November.

Waste, recycling and garden waste collections will continue as normal. Pest control and housing repairs will continue as they have over the past few months. All council play areas and outdoor gyms will remain open, although as resources for cleaning them are limited they are to be used at people’s own risk.

Applications for business grants will open shortly. Businesses forced to close due to the new restrictions will be able to apply for Local Restrictions Support Grant of up to £3,000. Other businesses affected by the lockdown but which are not legally required to close can apply for a one-off discretionary payment.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “I know this second lockdown will be tough for many, but to save lives and get things back to normal as quickly as possible, it is important that everyone does everything they can to make sure this lockdown effective. When it comes to contagion, the bad behaviour of a small number can have a huge impact on everyone.”

For up-to-date information visit http://www.crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus and follow Crawley Borough Council on Twitter (@crawleybc) and Facebook (@crawleycouncil).

Zero-tolerance for littering in Crawley

An ex-Crawley resident has pleaded guilty to giving false information to a Community Warden after being caught littering.

Crawley Borough Council successfully prosecuted ex-Crawley resident, Natalie Bunting of Redehall Road, Horley under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, for providing a false or inaccurate name or address and non-payment of the Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN).

Mrs Bunting was stopped in the town centre in August 2019 by a Warden, after she threw her cigarette butt onto the floor. She was issued with an FPN and asked for her name and address details.

The FPN was not paid and a summons was issued by the council but was later returned as undelivered. At this point the council did not know if Mrs Bunting had given a false name as well as a false address.

A thorough enquiry led by the council’s Investigations Team, established that she had in fact given her real name but a previous address. Mrs Bunting was then interviewed and admitted to giving a false address, but stated she did so because she didn’t know if the Warden was who he said he was, despite him wearing the uniform.

Mrs Bunting received a six month conditional discharge and ordered to pay towards the councils costs.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council said: “Littering puts animals and wildlife at risk, it looks awful, and costs taxpayers’ money to resolve. The council will always take a zero-tolerance approach to littering. We all have a responsibility to look after this town as residents and visitors.”

The Community Wardens patrol the whole of Crawley and will issue an FPN to anyone they see dropping litter.

The councils Investigation team will investigate all aspects of fraud and criminal activity in Crawley. They can be contacted for free and in confidence by emailing investigations@crawley.gov.uk

Council Leader calls for release of #Crawley’s Town Deal Funding

It has been over a year since the government announced Crawley would receive up to £25m as one of 100 Town Deals, yet 13 months on Crawley has not seen a penny of the money.

The government announced ‘Town Deals’ last year in the run-up to the General Election, with the stated purpose of ‘supporting towns to build prosperous futures.’

Since that time, the impact of the government’s COVID-19 restrictions coupled with their decision not to follow the example of other major economies by supporting the British aviation industry has resulted in Crawley’s economy being hit harder than any other in the UK. Yet, requests to ministers for support have failed to deliver a commitment to the area greater than the Town Deal.

Although Crawley’s economy has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other, Crawley has been excluded the first tranche of Town Deals announced today, leaving uncertainty as to when—if ever—the funding will be made available. Furthermore, despite having been told that the maximum amount an area could bid for was £25m, the £39.5m allocated to Blackpool, suggests that much needed funding could be lost out on due to inaccurate information from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Cllr Lamb said:

“This money was promised to Crawley before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. Since that time, Crawley’s economy has been hit harder than any other by the government’s regulations, with thousands of jobs lost, and despite the promises we have yet to see any of the funding.

“There is simply no excuse for Crawley not forming part of the first tranche of Town Deals or for the government misleading councils as to the amount they could bid for.

“Every day they delay further they costs Crawley more local businesses and more local jobs.”

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 28th October 2020

No child should go hungry over Christmas. That’s why, despite MPs voting to discontinue free school meals over the holiday, Crawley Borough Council will be stepping in to put a local scheme in place.

Crawley has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other part of the country. The government’s decision to ignore the example of almost every other major economic power by denying support to the British aviation industry, means for the first time in Crawley’s history we face large numbers of families desperately struggling to make ends meet this Christmas. Now is not the time to make things harder for them.

On the back-foot, some MPs now allege that the government has given councils money to provide food over the holidays. There is no truth to that claim. Funding has only been made available to help councils close budget deficits caused by the government’s COVID restrictions. Yet, even with the most recent funding announcement, Crawley BC’s deficit remains at £1m and guidance issued by government previously stated hardship funding should not be used to duplicate the free school meals holiday scheme.

All the energy which is being spent spinning and pointing the finger would be better used doing something about the problem. Free school meals in Crawley have always been the responsibility of West Sussex County Council, our local education authority, but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is getting children fed. We’re having to start from scratch and we have no legal access to the data on who is eligible, but these challenges will be overcome.

We will be kicking off a crowdfunding initiative this week, with the council looking to match-fund donations. The money raised will be used to buy supermarket vouchers, which local schools can then issue to eligible families. This approach is financially achievable and it avoids all the data protection problems around reaching eligible families. Most importantly it will mean Crawley’s children get fed this Christmas. Now isn’t the time for political games, local representatives either need to get on board with the council’s local scheme, or get out of the way.