Author: pkl204

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th May 2020

The UK is in lockdown. Even when the UK’s Covid-19 alert level is reduced the UK will still be in lockdown. So long as the UK is in lockdown, we must remain at home as much as possible. If it’s necessary to leave home we have to maintain at least two metres of social distancing from those outside our household at all times. No exceptions.

Yet, ever since several newspapers called for an end to the lockdown and the Prime Minister announced plans for gradually reducing restrictions, we’ve seen far more people either ignoring social distancing rules or visiting public places in such large volumes effective social distancing is impossible.

At least sixty members of our community have been killed by the pandemic so far. It’s hard to believe if they had been killed in an act of terrorism or a major accident that such great numbers would treat efforts to limit the death toll with such disdain. Even before the Prime Minister made his announcement the rate of transmission was increasing and, while it isn’t making me any fans, until we see it decrease the council will not relax current restrictions.

It’s hard enough for the police and councils to ensure people continue to follow rules limiting the contagion as it is, the news that the Prime Minister’s chief adviser has repeatedly broken the very rules he helped introduce is a severe blow to this effort. In a democracy, no one is above the law and his actions have jeopardised the national fight to defeat this disease.

Similarly, our MP’s claim that MPs wanting to continue meeting remotely were ‘lazy’ and ‘work-shy’, is not only a slap in the face of the vast numbers working from home, but a deeply unhelpful public message to send when our ‘heroes’ in the NHS and other frontline roles are continuing to put themselves at risk to tackle Covid-19.

Everyone has their role to play in seeing Britain through this crisis. We have a right to expect those taking decisions on our behalf at least meet the standards they set for everyone else.

Labour councillors from across West Sussex unite to demand schools remain closed until safe to open

Over 40 Labour councillors from local authorities across West Sussex have united to sign an open letter to the Tory-run county council urging it to oppose the Government’s plans to re-open schools in the county on June 1st, citing concerns for the negative impact on public health and the risk of a premature unsafe re-opening causing a second wave of coronavirus infections.

In the letter to the Cabinet Member for Education at West Sussex County Council, Nigel Jupp (Con, Southwater and Nuthurst), the Labour councillors express their serious concerns at the Government’s plan to increase pupil numbers on 1 June and the threat this plan poses to the health and safety of pupils, parents, staff and the wider community.

• The councillors warn that the Government has failed to meet its own five key tests; meaning a safe increase in pupils on this day is not possible and state their belief that West Sussex County Council, as the local authority responsible for education provision in the county have a responsibility to speak out to ensure the safety of all those who work in schools, pupils and the wider community.

• They call on the county council to oppose the re-opening and follow the example of at least 18 other local education authorities who have already told the Government they refuse to open due to public safety concerns.  Examples of councils who have already done so include Liverpool, Birmingham, Solihull, Essex, Slough and Brighton and Hove.

• The councillors express their doubts that the Government guidance for introducing children in a safe environment cannot be met. including reducing class sizes, up to groups of 15 children which they believe many local West Sussex schools will find impossible to achieve.

• They also warn of the lack of evidence that children transmit the virus any less than adults, and the serious risk to teaching and non-teaching staff in the school environment, if children can be asymptomatic carriers.

• The councillors further call on the West Sussex Tory Cabinet to make public these concerns and to write to Head teachers of council-owned “maintained” schools and also Multi Academy Trusts in West Sussex to set out that he does not believe the artificial 1st June deadline for re-opening schools is one he expects schools to meet when it will be to the detriment of public safety and public health objectives.

The councillors also call on the county council to ensure that the Government work to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and five tests set out below:

• Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle.

• No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme.

• A national Covid-19 education taskforce with Government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for the safe reopening of schools.

• Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage.

• Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments.

• Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases.

Speaking after sending the letter on behalf of Labour councillors to the Cabinet Member, Labour Group Leader on West Sussex County Council Michael Jones said:

“This headlong rush by the Government to get children back to school risks a second wave of the coronavirus worse than the first.  As local representatives, we could not have it on our consciences to stand meekly by while the county council goes along with this, there are so many health risks and practical problems which can’t and won’t be addressed satisfactorily in the time available.

“There are a growing number of councils refusing to agree to the Government’s insistence on re-opening schools on this arbitrary date with the absence of those safeguards to ensure the children, the staff at the school and the local community will be safe.  It’s time West Sussex County Council did the decent thing too, listen to the teaching and support staff unions and add our council to that growing list of authorities who are putting the safety of their residents first.”

Labour county councillor Karen Sudan (Northgate and West Green), who is a former deputy headteacher and is also Labour’s member on the county council’s Children and Young People’s Services scrutiny committee, agreed with Councillor Jones, adding:

“Much has been said about the ways that staff will manage children’s return to school in such a way as to meet the requirements for social distancing.  We have all seen images of teachers rearranging tables in empty classrooms.

“In reality, it is not possible to meet social-distancing and other requirements and, at the same time, manage things so that children are able to thrive and learn. The only way to keep children more than one metre apart from one another at all times would be if they were to sit in one place the whole time.  Even if this was possible – think about your own children and those you know – it is not healthy.  It is essential for children’s well-being that they are active – not to mention the stress and psychological damage caused by expecting young humans to behave in a way that is totally unnatural.”

Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council Councillor Peter Lamb (Northgate and West Green), speaking on behalf of his Borough councillors, said:

“The Government’s own advice shows there is no evidence children are any less likely than adults to catch or transmit Covid-19, only that they are less likely to need hospitalisation if they do catch it. This makes children the most effective carriers of the disease, something you cannot control effectively in a school environment.

“In Crawley we are doing everything we can to stop the spread of the disease, to save lives and enable the fastest possible recovery.  Re-opening the schools now renders pointless all the sacrifices our community has already made.”

Crawley’s Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive gets to work

Crawley Borough Council’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive group met for the first time last week, to great success.

The Executive brings together the council, senior business representatives from across the borough, the local MP, a government representative, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and West Sussex County Council, to evaluate the true impact of the crisis on the local economy and to drive the development of a coherent Economic Recovery Plan for the town.

Crawley’s economy has been impacted significantly by the pandemic, with a recent Centre for Cities report estimating that up to 57 per cent of employment in the town is at risk.

Last Friday (15 May), the Executive group met for the first time to discuss the role of the taskforce, plan further engagement with government, and start the process of building recovery on the ground.

The Executive will provide strategic direction to the development of Crawley’s Economic Recovery Plan, working to unlock and harness public and private investment to the maximum benefit of Crawley’s community.

Further work endorsed by the Taskforce Executive will be undertaken to assess the full impact of Crawley’s economic crisis to gain maximum understanding of its real time impact on Crawley’s economy, community and businesses.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other part of the UK, but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.”

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital, said: “We are taking a leading role in economic recovery for the Coast to Capital area and Crawley has been disproportionately affected due to its unique relationship with and proximity to the airport. We must take urgent action in partnership with local and regional partners to provide targeted economic relief.”

The council is currently consulting with local businesses on the impact of the pandemic on their business prospects. If you’re a local business, you can fill out the survey at https://crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th May 2020

The Government’s guidance is that we need to ‘Stay alert’, that is alert to their five stage Covid-19 alert system. The UK is at level 4, meaning the ‘epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially’. Meaning we must: ‘Stay at home as much as possible’, ‘Limit contact with other people’, and ‘Keep your distance if you go out’.

Let’s be clear: this means the lockdown remains in full force. While the Government has set out how they will scale back restrictions when the infection rate has reduced sufficiently, the timetable remains provisional and almost nothing has changed since the lockdown began.

The UK’s infection rate remains close to peak, decreasing at a far slower rate than other countries, and that means if people spend time outside of their home unnecessarily, if they meet up with people when it isn’t critical, and if they ignore the social distancing requirements infections will increase, and with them death rates.

Covid-19 has killed more British civilians than the Luftwaffe achieved in the whole of the Second World War. Those people aren’t just numbers, they’re people’s friends and family, deprived of their full measure of life.

Unfortunately, since the Government’s announcement we are seeing far greater numbers of people on our streets, very often ignoring the social distancing requirements. That continues to breach the guidelines, those individuals risk being fined by the police and their actions jeopardise all that has been achieved to limit the spread of the disease.

Controlling the coronavirus has come at a huge cost. The size of the UK economy is shrinking quickly, with tens of thousands of local jobs at risk, and the council facing a 15% cut in its budget. To help the disease to spread now is allow all that sacrifice, the pain of which we will only begin to feel after the lockdown ends, to be wasted for no reason.

The council is preparing plans to reverse the lockdown in Crawley, but until the infection rate has dropped significantly, we won’t do anything which will jeopardise local residents’ health or put our NHS at risk.

How is COVID-19 impacting your business?

Tell Crawley Borough Council about the impact of coronavirus on your business.

The council, working together with Manor Royal BID, has released a new survey asking businesses to report how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

In response to the pandemic, the council has formed an Economic Recovery Task Force alongside local businesses, community and stakeholder representatives to evaluate the true impact of the crisis on the local economy and develop a coherent Economic Recovery Plan for the town, including how the forthcoming Crawley Towns Fund programme should be spent to aid recovery.

This survey will provide the council and Manor Royal BID with “real time” information on the impact of the crisis on day to day business activity in Crawley and help the council and the BID to understand what additional support is needed for local businesses at this time.

Businesses will be asked how staffing levels and turnover have been affected, what Government business support schemes they have used and what further support they may need.

All responses to the survey will be treated with confidence and the results will only be read by those involved in formulating a response to the COVID-19 crisis as part of Crawley’s Economic Recovery Plan.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “Our initial aim was to support businesses as quickly as possible, using the Government’s Small Business Rates Relief Grant and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant. Now we need to look at our long term recovery plan and this includes hearing from businesses and finding out where further resources need to be directed.”

Executive Director at Manor Royal BID, Steve Sawyer, said: “How we come through this will depend on our ability to work together for an even better Crawley. We will work enthusiastically alongside the council as part of the Crawley Task Force, which begins with collecting meaningful data from businesses so we can design a place-specific collective response. We encourage all businesses to complete this short but important survey.”

To fill out the survey, visit crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation

Crawley News 24 Column, Monday 18th May 2020

It’s six years since I became Leader of Crawley Council. At the time I thought the challenges we faced were huge. The council’s budget was almost half what it had been when the cuts began, empty shops littered the town centre, and Crawley hadn’t built council housing in large numbers for decades. How on Earth would we keep services going, regenerate the town centre, and ensure the next generation of Crawley residents could afford somewhere to live?

We worked extremely hard and over the following years the council avoided any further cuts by generating new revenue to replace that lost by ongoing Government cuts to Crawley, the town centre became one of very few in the UK whose footfall increased and saw significant private sector investment, and affordable housing was built in Crawley on a scale the not seen in decades.

Then Covid-19 came. We now know that Crawley’s economy will be the hardest hit in the UK by the lockdown, with tens of thousands of jobs at risk, and 15% of the council’s revenue lost in the process. The challenges facing Crawley when I became Leader were tougher than any the town had ever faced before, but they are a paradise compared to what we face today.

Economists have predicted without Government intervention over half of Crawley’s jobs are at risk. That was before BA and Virgin made their announcements. To be clear, that doesn’t just mean aviation, Gatwick’s economic footprint is so big there will not be a single sector untouched by the airport’s decline. Crawley is regularly rated as having the highest level of employment in the UK, we do not even remotely have any experience of what we face once furloughing ends.

Yet, if the Government acts now all the pain can be avoided. Our economy depends upon aviation. The money from aviation flows across our entire local economy. It is a growing sector and one important enough that the Government were prepared to give away billions of pounds of public money for Heathrow to build a third runway. The only reason aviation is struggling now is due to the Government’s restrictions and those the sector will continue to face once the lockdown ends. By spending a fraction on what they would have spent on a third runway propping up aviation they can preserve a nationally important industry, ensure our sub-region remains one of the biggest sources of economic growth and tax revenue for the Government, and in the process safeguard the livelihoods of tens of thousands in our community.

In the long-term this would pay for itself and in the short-term it would ensure our community avoids destitution. I think it’s an open and shut case. I hope the Government agrees.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th May 2020

The news that Virgin and British Airways are set to pull out of Crawley forms a very sad episode in the history of the town and has come as a shock to many, not least to those individuals now facing unemployment and their families.

I’m afraid to say that as things stand these job losses are only the beginning of what we seem set to face over the next few years. From the start of the lockdown I’ve warned that Crawley was likely to be one of the hardest hit communities in the country and analysis by Centre for Cities and Hatch Regeneris confirmed this weeks before BA made their announcement.

While Virgin are set to cut 3,000 jobs, the data indicates that 53,000 jobs–57% of the town’s employment, is at risk. Many of these jobs are of course attached to the airport and its supply chain, but almost no sector of employment will be entirely untouched.

Gatwick Airport is the largest source of employment between London and the coast, the amount of money it brings into the local area is vast and it circulates through all local businesses, not least through the pay packets of its workforce. Reductions in aviation means less money circulating through the local economy and that will affect everyone.

I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate how serious this is, but the more daunting things seem the more important it is that we fight for our community. Before BA’s announcement I co-wrote a letter with our local MP setting out the problem facing the town and the types of Government support which would help to avert an economic crisis in Crawley, recent news only confirms how vital it is that they act.

While the current crisis cannot be weathered without Government intervention, that is no excuse for those on the ground to sit idle, which is why Crawley Borough Council are bringing together local businesses and other public bodies to identify actions we can take individually and collectively to deliver economic recovery for Crawley. Times are tough, but if we stick together we will make it through.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th May 2020

Seventy-five years ago this week, victory was declared in Europe. To a generation which had twice in their lifetimes witnessed millions of lives lost in global warfare, the notion that after thousands of years of bloodshed we had seen the end of war in Europe would have been inconceivable.

Yet, that is the legacy of all those who fought in that conflict, a war which we fought not out of narrow national self-interest, but to stop the rampant Nationalism of another country. A Nationalism which not only claimed millions of lives through warfare, but millions more of that nation’s own countrymen with six million Jews murdered alongside Romani Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, socialists and many others. All killed with the support of a public which believed that removing those they saw as different would make them feel safer.

It is right we remember the sacrifices of all those who saw service and all those who suffered on the Home Front, in doing so creating the world in which we now live.

The question for us now is what are we doing with the legacy of the greatest generation? Are we living up to the principles which this country went to war to defend? Are we doing as they did and leaving the next generation better opportunities than we inherited from those who came before? Or are we squandering that legacy?

Over recent weeks we have faced our greatest national crisis since the Second World War and we have seen some of the best of people, with volunteers and essential workers putting themselves at risk to ensure the needs of others are met, along with some of the worst. This crisis will not last forever and as we emerge from it we have to decide how we will rebuild our country. Will we do as the soldiers returning from war did, build a country with first-rate public services, where everyone has a house of their own, and where the opportunities for the next generation are greater than the last? Or will we choose to restart along the road we were on?

Crawley Council Leader launches campaign to support #CrawleyOnline businesses

Cllr Peter Lamb, Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council, has launched a campaign encouraging online shoppers to support local small businesses that have moved online during the coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking about the campaign, Cllr Lamb said:

“Over recent weeks, we have heard that Crawley’s economy has been hit harder than any other in the country. Yet, even now, we can see green shoots of growth, with more Crawley businesses going online than ever before. While we can’t support local companies with our physical footfall right now, we can offer then digital footfall to support them through this difficult time. I would encourage every resident to do their bit to help sustain local businesses online, until they can find their feet again.”

“If you know a Crawley business that is still trading online and you want to help support our town, then please do let people know about them by using the #CrawleyOnline hashtag.”