Author: pkl204

Crawley Budget savings agreed – and weekly bin collections stay (for now)

Councillors have agreed a range of significant savings to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on Crawley Borough Council’s budget.

Despite grants from central government helping to cover part of the council’s costs tackling COVID this year, the council’s main sources of income have been hit hard by the economic impact, creating a budget gap of over £2m. This equates to a seventh of the council’s total net revenue expenditure.

While two-thirds of this gap has been closed through back-office efficiencies, councillors have been forced to decide where the remaining savings should be made.

Following a large public consultation, during which 1,200 residents gave their views on potential service changes, Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet have jointly agreed savings proposals for the next council year.

While a move to fortnightly bin collections—the least popular option in the consultation—will not be progressed at this time, it’s expected to be an inevitable change in the medium term as new legislation around waste is introduced, as well as the need to increase recycling rates and reduce waste going to landfill.

On play, councillors agreed to the shift to a more flexible model of delivery, which is better targeted at the needs of the community.

This means that Cherry Lane and Waterlea Adventure Playgrounds will be converted into unsupervised play areas while Creasys Drive Adventure Playground in Broadfield and Millpond Adventure Playground in Bewbush will be closed. New capital funding will be allocated to bring forward alternative play provision in Broadfield and Bewbush.

Councillors also agreed to:

  • Reduce the grant funding available for community and voluntary sector bids
  • Close all five fee-charging ‘superloos’ in Crawley, leaving the nine free public toilets open around the town
  • Support greater self-management by clubs and increase income from the hire of our fine turf pitches
  • Price fees and charges more competitively
  • Internal efficiency reviews to generate further savings.

These savings are necessary despite the redevelopment of the Town Hall site being set in the next few years to both generate significant new income for the council and reduce the council’s running costs.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “For six years, Crawley has stood alone in maintaining all our services, despite annual cuts to our grant. We’ve managed this by generating new income streams to make up for the money we’ve lost. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t an option in a pandemic, leaving us with no alternative to making savings.”

“We’ve listened to the public feedback on the options and tried to make savings as painless as possible, but ultimately you can’t cut a seventh of a council’s budget without it being felt somewhere.”

Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition, said: “Thank you to everyone who took part in the consultation that helped to inform us. Covid-19 has brought unprecedented financial challenges to local government and while there are parts of the budget that in normal times we would prefer not to do, we’ve all worked hard to come up with a budget that keeps the council on a sound financial footing and that will protect key services for Crawley residents.”

One last chance to protect our armed forces

Crawley has always been a town which strongly supports the armed forces. To be clear, I’m not just talking about the public displays of recognition we make every year around Armed Forces Day and Remembrance Sunday, but in the consistent solid support we see in the numbers of our young people who sign-up to serve.

As a councillor, I often thought about the friends I had at Holy Trinity who joined the armed forces when I pushed for Crawley Borough Council to be an early adopter of the Armed Forces Covenant and subsequently implemented the Veterans Interview Scheme. No one who has put themselves in the firing line on our behalf, should ever find themselves worse off for it when accessing public services.

Yet, that’s exactly what is at risk of happening with the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. Last month, Conservative MPs voted to do three things:

  • Strip British Forces personnel serving overseas of their right to claim compensation from the MoD for injuries; these are basic employment rights that all of us as citizens continue to enjoy.
  • Reject changes to the Bill to deal with the flawed system of investigations; so the Bill only deals with the prosecution system that would not have helped in more than 99% of cases against our veterans.
  • Reject Labour’s proposal for a new duty of care standard on the MoD to provide legal, pastoral and mental health support to Forces personnel who have been accused; those who have been through the trauma of long-running investigations often say they felt ‘cut adrift’ by the MoD and by their chain of command.

There is one last chance to fix this before the bill becomes law, to ensure the government protects veterans and provides them with the support they deserve, but it won’t pass without the support of Conservative MPs. So, if you care about the conditions facing those who have served, please let your local MP know that it’s not enough to wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday, they actually have to vote to support the men and women who wear the uniforms.

Deadline looms for discretionary business grants applications

Eligible businesses have just a week left to apply for discretionary business grants.

The government has given Crawley Borough Council £2,248,180 in Additional Restrictions Grant, which can be distributed to businesses that have been affected by the lockdown but are not legally required to close. This funding lasts until March 2022.

The deadline for applications is Sunday 13 December but, with only a week to go, the council has received just 221 applications, including 184 from taxi drivers. The council is aiming to make payments as soon as possible after the closing date.

Eligible businesses are those who:

  • Are not entitled to Local Restriction Support Grants (were not mandated to close), and
  • Were open and trading the day before national restrictions were imposed (Wednesday 4 November), and
  • Can prove that they were severely impacted by the restrictions.

Applications for the Additional Restrictions Grant can be made at grantapproval.co.uk

There are different types of grants based on the rateable value of property/property costs or business type.

Businesses can check if they’re eligible for the Additional Restrictions Grant by visiting gov.uk/guidance/check-if-youre-eligible-for-the-coronavirus-additional-restrictions-grant

There is further guidance and a copy of the West Sussex countywide policy on the council’s website at crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “While we haven’t been allocated enough funding to help every local business, we will do everything we can to support as many Crawley businesses as possible.

“If you need support please get in touch via the council’s dedicated webpage.”

Applications for the Local Restriction Support Grant opened on 17 November. Businesses forced to close by the second lockdown can apply for this grant at grantapproval.co.uk

For more details on help available for businesses visit crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers

Small Business Saturday 2020

Today is Small Business Saturday, the day of the year where we are all encouraged to show our local small businesses some love. Of course, this year many of these businesses need it more than most.

While a range of income and grant based support has been made available to try to keep these businesses afloat through the various sets of COVID-19 restrictions, the reality is there are major gaps in current support which mean for many there is now a race against the clock to see whether the pandemic ends before their business is forced to.

So, please do take the time to support a local small business, both this Saturday and beyond. The reality is if we don’t use them, we are going to lose them.

You can find a local small businesses using this tool from the organisers of Small Business Saturday: https://smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/small-business-finder

487 small businesses in Crawley at risk of closing before spring

New analysis ahead of Small Business Saturday reveals almost 500 small businesses in Crawley might not make it to Spring.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the Labour Party has revealed many of the small businesses reopening this week may not make it to Spring due to the government’s failure to get a grip on the virus and the shrinking support available for small businesses. New analysis of official data reveals an estimated 487 small businesses in Crawley are worried they won’t survive the next three months. Almost 657 small businesses have seen turnover plummet by more than half – even before the second national lockdown was imposed.

Labour has also revealed that 1,293 small businesses in Crawley do not have cash reserves to last beyond three months. Yet, the vast majority of businesses required to close have received much smaller grants from government than they did during the first lockdown – with most receiving either just a third or half of what they received in March or nothing at all.

Crawley’s economy has already been harder hit than any other the country, with many of the town’s main employers forced to announce large redundancies following the government’s decision not to support their aviation industry, something every other major industrialised nation has done.

These new figures show the consequences of the government’s decisions are being felt well beyond the aviation industry, with businesses of every size now struggling to survive.

The analysis of the ONS ‘Business Impact of Coronavirus’ survey shows:

  • 15% of very small businesses and 9% of small businesses have low or no confidence of surviving the next three months. If this proportion is replicated in Crawley, this would represent almost 487 small businesses.
  • 20% of very small businesses and 16% of small businesses saw turnover plunge by more than 50% over a fortnight survey period, before the second national lockdown was imposed. This would represent almost 657 small businesses.
  • 10% of very small businesses and 6% of small businesses had no cash reserves, and a further 28% of very small businesses and 32% of small businesses had cash reserves to last them for under 1 month to 3 months. This would represent more than 1,293 small businesses.

Crawley Council Leader, Cllr Peter Lamb, said:

“Since last April it has been clear that Crawley would suffer more than anywhere else in the country due to the government’s restrictions. Yet, despite repeated correspondence with central government, not only has no additional support been provided, we still have yet to receive the funding Crawley residents were promised before the last General Election. It seems that as far as this government is concerned, Crawley simply doesn’t matter.”

Council Leader joins call to end discrimination costing disabled people in Crawley £2.6m

On the UN Day for Disabled People, Labour representatives across the country are calling for the Government to end the discrimination disabled people are currently facing in financial support through the pandemic.

The Government’s refusal to increase Employment and Support Allowance in-line with Universal Credit is set to cost disabled people more than £2.6m in Crawley alone.

The £20 uplift in Universal Credit was not applied to Employment and Support Allowance, with Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey stating in May it may take “several months” to do.

Since then, almost 2,522 ill and disabled people in Crawley have not received any additional support.

Disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Almost three in five people who have died from COVID-19 have either been disabled or with a long-term health condition, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported in October that disabled people have experienced difficulties in accessing care.

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said:

“At a time when everyone is struggling, it’s easy to forget that some people may be struggling more than others. For people with disabilities, being overlooked is all-too-often a part of their day-to-day life. The majority of those who have lost their lives due to the Government’s haphazard approach to COVID-19 have either had disabilities or a long-term health condition. Yet, while additional support has been put in place for almost every other part of society, people with disabilities have been forgotten again, despite the higher costs they face keeping safe through the pandemic.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 2nd December 2020

In George Orwell’s 1984, one of the ways the fictional totalitarian government controlled the British people was through ‘new-speak’, an approved version of the English language where the meanings of words were subject to constant change to manipulate the ways people thought about issues. I’m reminded of this every time I hear a government funding announcement, where for years the careful choice of words has not only managed to suggest public service cuts weren’t happening, but that some were receiving record funding.

Using such tightly-worded statements you can make a statement which is technically true, but which in no way relates to the meaning you want the public will take from it. Talk to anyone running services in any part of the public sector and you will find that the reality on the ground rarely reflects the statements made in the House of Commons.

One of the worst examples of this is the government’s claim it has increased the ‘core spending power’ of councils and the police, because it doesn’t actually mean they’re increasing funding–in fact, they could be cutting it. It actually means that so long as these services increase your council tax by the maximum amount they would have more ‘cash’. The reality is they often have to increase it by the maximum amount just to cover inflation, as the value of cash decreases every year.

Furthermore, these figures relate to the sector as a whole, not individual councils. So, while West Sussex County Council are permitted to increase your council tax by 5%, Crawley Borough Council is limited to a 2% increase. In a normal year this would be hard enough, but with the council’s other main sources of funding decimated by the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, that increase in ‘core spending power’ means that even with a 2% increase in council tax, Crawley has to cut over £2m from the budget, right when people need services the most.

Before the Conservatives entered government, Crawley had net revenue expenditure of £27m, today it’s just £12m, ignoring over a decade of inflation. If things continue, even basic services will have to go.

Tier 2 – Crawley Council Services Update

With Crawley moving into tier 2 on Wednesday (2 December), some Crawley Borough Council buildings will reopen.

The Town Hall will reopen for appointments only from 10am-4pm on Wednesday. To book an appointment visit crawley.gov.uk

The Hawth, K2 Crawley, The Bewbush Gym and Tilgate Nature Centre will all reopen on Wednesday.

Other facilities reopening on Wednesday are:

  • Tennis courts, multi-use games areas and outdoor gyms
  • The BMX track and skate park
  • All public toilets.

The Employ Crawley Youth Hub in the Town Hall will reopen on Monday 7 December. To arrange an appointment call 07814 903871 / 07909 730956 or email employcrawley@crawley.gov.uk

All council play areas will remain open although as resources for cleaning them are limited they are to be used at people’s own risk.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “While facilities are re-opening, until mass-vaccination has been completed COVID-19 remains a constant risk. To avoid another lockdown, please ensure you follow the rules, maintain social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands regularly.”

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

Keynote speech to the DIVERSECrawley AGM 2020

Could I start by passing on my thanks to Ashwin for inviting me today and my gratitude to all those who contribute to the work of this wonderful group?

I was asked if I could talk today about how we manage diversity in Crawley, the reality is that we don’t really ‘manage’ it. You manage problems, but diversity itself is and never has been a problem.

The very words I’m using are a creole of Germanic and Romance languages, far closer to Dutch than to our island’s original Celtic languages.

My notes were written using letters inherited from the Romans, who took them from the Greeks, who learnt from the Phoenicians, whose simplified script was copied from the very same hieroglyphs which line the burial chambers of Egyptian tombs.

The very mathematics which enables us to talk online today finds its origin in Hindu India, by way of Islamic Arabia.

We talk of a ‘clash of cultures’, but far from conflict it is the meeting of cultures which time-and-time again has allowed civilizations to grow and to prosper…and that is very much where I see the power of diversity running through the history of Crawley.

The truth is that immigration is part of the very foundations of our town…literally, it was Irish labourers who moved to the UK who built the first phases of Crawley New Town, laying the roots for the substantial Irish population living in the town to this day.

Each new culture which have come to the town over the following 73 years have followed that same pattern of bringing new cultural aspects to our town and setting down roots. Every time I visit the Sanatan Mandir at the Apple Tree Centre, I’m amazed by the intricacy of the craftmanship and proud to have something so beautiful in our town. While the highly modern architecture of the Crawley Islamic Centre and Masjid sat at one of the key entrances to the town, makes a powerful statement about Crawley as a proudly multicultural town.

Growing up here, you think nothing of it. Even at an overtly religious school like Holy Trinity, I had friends of all the town’s major faiths. Our families might have celebrated different festivals at different times, but any other differences were only skin deep.

To be clear, I am not talking about ‘integration’ in the way people often use it to mean the sacrifice of one’s culture in order to be accepted, that has characterised far too many dark chapters in the history of the world, my own great-grandfather took on the name ‘Lamb’ to try to avoid the discrimination which came with bearing a Polish name like ‘Ivaniski’.

Crawley’s motto is ‘I grow, and I rejoice’ and that is what is how I see diversity in Crawley. The continuous meeting of cultures, helping us to continue to grow forward together.

Of course, that isn’t inevitable, in fact that harmony has seemed increasingly at risk over recent years. While there are valid arguments both for and against immigration, and for and against the EU, in the wake of the EU result we saw an increase in racially-aggravated crimes across the UK, including in Crawley.

In some ways this isn’t surprising. As a country we have spent decades failing to build the housing the country needs, we have allowed working conditions to decline and public services to be cut to the bone. Is it any wonder that when people can’t get a place of their own, when they have no guarantee of decent paying work, and can’t get a doctor’s appointment when they need one, is it any wonder that the idea of more people moving into an area seems totally unreasonable.

Now, none of these problems were caused by diversity, nor would they be resolved by somehow turning back the clock on it. But anger is powerful, and for the unscrupulous stoking these emotions into a full-blown culture war is a far easier route to political power than actually fixing the problems which have caused it.

In the USA, this approach to culture war culminated in a President failing to condemn actual Neo-Nazis for starting a race riot in Charlottesville. In Britain, it has not yet gone so far, but I like many others was horrified to find that Far Right groups like Britain First now feel that sufficient support has been stoked up that they can tour towns like ours to get support.

But in that lies hope. For in the end, it wasn’t the police which sent them running, it wasn’t politicians, it was the community itself which made its feelings clear. The lesson today is the same as it was at the Battle of Cable Street, the only thing which has ever stopped Fascism is good men and women prepared to put themselves in its way.

If we want Crawley to continue to be a town which takes strength from its diversity, it cannot just be a case of stopping the most extreme forms of this culture war. We have to demand of politicians that they stop working to divide us. That instead of invoking Churchill and the Second World War to whip up nationalistic feeling, they remember why we actually went to war: to end the threat of Fascism. That real patriotism is found in what you do for country: housing the homeless, ending the scourge of poverty pay, and rebuilding the welfare state that the soldiers returning from war voted for.

It is only by working together as a community to overcome these threats that we can be certain we will again be a town confident in our diversity.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 25th November 2020

Since the first lockdown, Crawley has gained the reputation for being England’s ‘furlough capital’ due to 40% of working age residents either being forced onto furlough or claiming Self-Employment Income Support. This should come as no surprise, with Crawley’s economy the hardest hit in the country by government restrictions, the number of people necessary to keep the remaining businesses running over this period has been far lower.

However, all of this is changing…and not in a good way. With each passing month, we are seeing large numbers of Crawley residents made redundant. Wages are not the only cost employers face and the vast majority of Crawley’s businesses have not qualified for any financial support from the government so far, while working in some of the most vulnerable sectors. With so many businesses either going under or downsizing in preparation for a long road back to full operation, the reality is that these redundancies are not going to end any time soon.

Since last May, local leaders have been calling for targeted support for those communities which have been hardest hit by the government’s restrictions in order to save local jobs, but despite being the worst impacted community in the country the government has yet to provide any significant support.

If we cannot save those jobs and with residents facing unable to access new jobs–Crawley has seen the sharpest fall in new jobs being advertised in the country, the reality is many local families now face years stuck on Universal Credit.

Just under 13,000 local residents are already claiming Universal Credit. This was not a situation they chose and until things return to normal, they don’t have any alternative. So, why is the government in the midst of a crisis planning to cut Universal Credit by £1,000. For households already struggling to adapt to unemployment, this is a cruel blow, particularly when those earning up to £37,500 can continue to claim 80% of it from the government?

It’s wrong. Labour nationally and locally are calling on government to wake up to the financial crisis facing families this Christmas and cancel the cuts to Universal Credit .