Author: pkl204

Crawley Live Column, Autumn 2020

With Local Elections–including by-elections–banned until May 2021, you could be forgiven for having thought this was one year there would be no political changes at Crawley Borough Council. Surprisingly, that was not the case, with the resignations of two Labour councillors pushing the council into no overall control, so called because no party has the majority they need to take decisions.

At any ordinary time this situation would be unfortunate but manageable, we are far from ordinary times and for the council to have been left unable to take decisions in the midst of a crisis would have been simply unforgivable. Instead, Labour and Conservative councillors have negotiated an agreement which will provide stability until the voters can decide who they want to run the council next May.

Under the agreement, Labour remains in minority control, with a Conservative Mayor, committee chairs shared between the groups, and new arrangements for ensuring decisions have majority support by the time they reach Full Council. The decision to put politics aside this way is a first for the town, but one circumstances demand.

Over recent months we have endured a pandemic, in the wake of which we now face a crisis of unemployment and a huge budget gap opened up in the fight against the outbreak. Each of these issues poses great risks for the town and will take tough decisions to overcome, but as a council we are committed to getting Crawley through these troubles and onto the better times ahead.

Gatwick Airport cuts, #Crawley Observer piece

In normal times, a local employer announcing a 600 job cut would be one of the year’s biggest stories. Yet, these redundancies come after thousands of local job losses already been announced by airlines, cargo handling companies, and travel firms.

Every job lost is a family tragedy, particularly after the country has spent ten years cutting support for the unemployed and the council has less money to help than ever before.

At the council, we’re working to attract new employers to Crawley and help the unemployed retrain, but we must be realistic that with 40% of local jobs at risk it will take years to replace the jobs we’re losing.

The only way Crawley can avoid years of hardship is if the Government provides targeted support for the aviation industry, something we’ve spent months calling for. The sector is only struggling due to Government restrictions and given they planned to spend billions of public money at Heathrow for no direct financial return, clearly the Treasury recognises how important aviation is to the UK’s economy. Only the Government has the power to end the local job losses and save our town, by just targeting the money already committed to COVID-support more effectively.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 2nd September 2020

Some of the most important dates in Crawley’s Civic Calendar are focused on the military. From Armed Forces Day to Remembrance Sunday, Crawley residents come out to thank those who have served or are currently serving in the military. On such days, I often find myself remembering the words of famed socialist George Orwell: ‘people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.’ While we must constantly work for peace, so long as some in the world would seek to resolve national differences through warfare, it is vital that the UK maintains the ability to defend itself, and others, from the risk of harm.

Which is why after years of cuts, many have greeted the proposal that the Ministry of Defence to scrap all of Britain’s tanks with concern, with former Army Chief of Staff General Lord Dannatt describing the proposal as ‘misguided’. Similar proposals to halve the number of fighter jet purchases, appear set to leave the UK far weaker at responding to new and growing national defence threats over coming years.

At the same time, the Government faces significant questioning over its defence procurement. It has been five years since the UK announced it would build three new military support ships, yet they have yet to place the order. Now concerns are growing due to the Government’s refusal to rule out using foreign ship yards to build the new support ships, something no major military nation has ever done before due to the obvious security issues. Putting aside the military implications, the loss of the £1.5bn contract would be a major blow to the UK’s shipyards at a time when the UK’s economy is trying to emerge from its deepest recession on record.

Yet, without firm plans for growing the economy out of the current recession and the Government appearing to rule out tax increases for very high income earners, all parts of the public sector–including the military–will be set for yet another round of spending cuts after a decade of them. Britain deserves better.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 26th August 2020

Like many people, I’ve found that one of the few benefits of the pandemic has been the greater willingness of my employer to let me work from home. While there are both pros and cons to home working, one big advantage has been cutting out the time and cost of the daily commute, indeed remote working has highlighted just how expensive the daily journey to and from work has become.

This week the Government confirmed fares will be going up again in five months time, bringing the total cost of a Three Bridges to London season ticket up to £3,987. This means that ticket prices will have increased by 42% under the Conservatives, a whopping £1,183, far outpacing inflation.

After rent, the cost of a season ticket is for many the biggest single draw on their income. Yet, while we’re being asked to pay more and more for the privilege of going to work, it’s not as though the quality of the service has been getting better.

In fact, under the model of franchise used in our area, it’s not even worthwhile for Southern to make things better. Instead of getting money from ticket sales, the company is paid a fixed rate for their services, meaning that they can essentially only make profit by making cuts, with customers forced to suffer the consequences.

With a large proportion of Crawley’s workforce already having to commute to work, a figure only set to grow as the impact of COVID restrictions and lack of Government action creates thousands of local redundancies, this isn’t something we should just be forced to accept. Indeed, if we are going to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, the importance of an efficient railway network that everyone can afford cannot be overstated.

The reality is railways are a natural monopoly where the market mechanism cannot operate effectively and so long as we have a fragmented, privatised network we will keep having to pay more year-on-year for less. Railways are a vital part of our national infrastructure and by restoring public ownership we can ensure that once again passengers are put before profit.

Be scam aware, warns #Crawley council

Crawley Borough Council is warning residents to be scam aware following a rise in reports of conmen knocking on doors.

The council has recently received reports of two different scams, where residents are asked to pay thousands of pounds up front for work that isn’t needed or shouldn’t cost anywhere near that amount.

In the first scam, a group of men were knocking on residents’ doors claiming to be from a boiler company and saying that they had been sent to check on boilers.

This happened to a resident in Bewbush, who was told their boiler needed to be fixed at a cost of £4,000, which he was told to withdraw from his bank without telling anyone. This particular tenant was vulnerable but fortunately the bank staff knew him well and questioned why he was withdrawing such a large amount of money.

His support worker was then notified and the incident was reported to the police. Additional security measures have been put in place for this tenant.

The second scam was reported in Gossops Green, where a resident was scammed for fencing at a cost of £3,500. This was reported to the police and fortunately the cheque was cancelled before the scammers got their money.

Scams come in many different forms and not just on the doorstep. Other scams include emails, phone calls and text messages. We are encouraging tenants to be extra careful when buying products or services online or in person.

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • You are asked to pay money up front, for example to cover delivery costs or to ‘release funds’
  • You have ‘won a prize’ in a lottery or competition you have never heard of, much less entered
  • You are pressurised or hurried into making a decision – e.g. told to ‘act now’ as the price will go up if you don’t buy immediately
  • You are told to not tell anyone else about it – for example ‘it’s an exclusive deal only for you’
  • Unsolicited emails, phone calls, text messages or letters
  • Emails from sources you don’t recognise that include attached documents or other files
  • Emails that appear to be from your bank, HMRC or another trustworthy source that ask you to reveal personal data, such as your account details.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “There will always be a small number of people who seek to take advantage of others, but we can protect ourselves from scams by taking a little extra time to check people are who they claim to be.”

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th August 2020

When the Government announced the furlough scheme in March, I expressed my support for it on Twitter. To this day it remains my most commented upon tweet, with over 1,400 people calling me a traitor. Yet, it was clear to me at the time the main employment sectors in Crawley could not survive under the restrictions necessary to tackle a pandemic and the alternative would be mass unemployment.

While the UK has emerged far more rapidly from COVID restrictions than most other European nations, despite the country still having a far higher level of infections and excess deaths than comparative nations, the rate of infection does appear to be stable enough for many industries to resume operation without the need for the furlough scheme.

Inevitably there are industries which are hit harder and for longer than most, requiring ongoing support, and in Crawley we have more jobs in these sectors than anywhere else. So, while there is a limit to the financial resources available to the Government, it’s hard to understand why the Government continues to pay out billions in public money to businesses who no longer need it while refusing to commit to ongoing support for those sectors who are struggling precisely because of the COVID restrictions the Government is currently forcing them to operate under.

The council has repeatedly asked the Government to take such steps to safeguard local employment, but while the Labour Party has made such a commitment nationally, after five months of lobbying there is still no real action from the Government of a scale which would enable us to avoid mass unemployment in Crawley.

So, it’s left to those of us on the ground to do what we can and Crawley Borough Council has pulled together local businesses, public sector bodies and other organisations to provide employment support, invest in skills training, and speed up infrastructure delivery to attract new employers. Yet, the reality is after a decade of cuts, no part of the public sector now has the resources to protect our community from the pain to come, only the Government can do that.