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Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 21st July 2021

Why is there a law against murder, or assault, or theft? Surely, we know these things are wrong and whatever the benefit to ourselves of crossing that line, it could not justify the impact on others? Why have rules to prevent them and a system in place to ensure that people follow the rules or are removed from posing any further risk to others?

As James Madison–author of the US Constitution–put it, ‘if Men were angels, no government would be necessary’. We have rules because not everyone can be relied upon to know right from wrong, or to avoid doing what they know to be wrong when it is to their benefit.

COVID-19 case numbers are almost back at peak, hospitalisations are picking up again, and unfortunately so are deaths. This is usually the point in the cycle when we start putting more restrictions in place, instead they are being stripped back.

Let’s be completely honest with ourselves about this, the Government’s ‘Freedom Day’ was an arbitrary date. They refused to move from it for political reasons even when the data made it clear it wasn’t safe or, as the country’s Chief Medical Officer put it several days before the lifting of restrictions, ‘Epidemics are either doubling or they’re halving, and this epidemic is doubling’.

The end result? More than likely another lockdown in a few weeks’ time, with further large numbers needlessly dead or disabled by the disease, and an even greater expense for businesses.

Now is not the time to focus on exactly what should be done with a Government which would do this to their own people. The important thing is this: six months ago when cases were this high the scientists were screaming about the importance of wearing masks, sanitising our hands, observing social distancing, limiting contacts, and tracing exposures. None of the science behind this has changed.

If Government is no longer prepared to look after us, we must look after each other and act to limit COVID, not because of any rules but the simple truth people will die if we don’t.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 14th July 2021

Congratulations to Gareth Southgate and the England team on getting nail-bitingly close to a win at the Euros. Sunday was heart-breaking, but only because our hopes had been raised so high by their remarkable performance throughout the competition, made all the more significant for Crawley due to Gareth’s background in the town.

It has really felt like we needed these last few weeks, particularly in Crawley, after so many months of bad news and tough choices. Unfortunately, despite the brief respite, we’re not out of this yet.

As the Government, continues to act as though the pandemic is over in the face of rising infections, hospitalisations, and deaths, we have been seeing the systems put in place to maintain jobs through the pandemic being rolled back, including the significant tapering of support for furloughed workers.

Figures show that the tapering has triggered large numbers of businesses have to remove workers from furlough. While this has been presented as part of the UK getting back to normal, there is no evidence at this point that those removed from furlough are actually back working rather than being let go. For sectors which have been almost entirely shut down over the last 16 months, it has been hard enough to cover their fixed costs, without a genuine return to normal there is going to be little chance of keeping people on payroll.

Crawley’s economy has been the hardest hit in the country by the COVID restrictions, with our largest employment sector largely dependent upon Summer trading booked months in advance. For our community, winding down furlough before local businesses have had the chance to find their feet again could be devastating.

While we work to attract new employment sectors, we depend on systems like furlough to prevent local families from major hardship. As general schemes are rolled back, the obvious solution is new targeted support for disproportionately hard-hit communities and sectors. This is something only the Government has the power to do and, despite calling for it for months, there remains no sign of any interest in Whitehall for supporting communities like ours.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th July 2021

Like many people, the joy of England making the semi-finals for the first time in a quarter of a century was only slightly tarnished by how old it made me feel realising Euro 96 is now 25 years ago.

A lot has happened since then. 25 years ago, papers were questioning whether footballers were suitable role models for our kids, with pictures of Gazza in a dentist chair having tequila poured down his throat. Today, when England play they will be booed by alleged ‘supporters’, not because of anything they’ve done wrong, but because they refused to turn their backs on what they believe.

All lives matter, that has never has been a counter-argument to Black Lives Matter, it’s the whole point of the movement. The problem is in countries around the world the way authorities act towards black members of their communities doesn’t show a recognition that black lives do matter. A few minutes looking online for stats on police shootings in the US by ethnicity should answer any doubts about that.

I wonder if those shouting abuse at the side lines ever consider just how young these players are; Jude Bellingham, who came on against Ukraine, turned 18 just over a week ago. Yet, despite their age and income, we have a generation of footballers more interested in ensuring children have enough to eat over the school holidays than hedonistic self-indulgence.

There will always be those who claim principles have no place in sport, there always have been and history has never looked kindly on them. Speak to any South African and it was the ban on their participation in international sport which played more of a role in ending Apartheid than any economic sanction, had we listened to those voices then where would we be now? Even our greatest sporting movie, Chariots of Fire, is based on the runner Eric Liddell who refused to race on a Sunday due to his Christian faith.

Those who would give up their principles for a chance at glory deserve neither. I, for one, feel incredibly proud of our national team.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 30th June 2021

This year marks the 300th Anniversary of the death of Elihu Yale, the British politician after whom Yale University is named. It was a death marred by scandal, not due to the pivotal role Yale played in maintaining the slave trade and the countless lives it cost, but because he was living with a woman who was not his wife. How often we focus on politicians’ personal lives, when it is the appalling decisions they’ve taken in office on which they really should be judged.

Closer to home, 2021 is also the 75th Anniversary of the New Towns Act, the post-war Labour Government’s legislation which directly led to the creation of Crawley and dozens of other ‘new’ towns across the UK.

At the time, the Act was incredibly successful at creating well-balanced communities, with decent public services, and housing affordable to everybody. This wasn’t luck, at the heart of the New Town movement was the belief that many of the social ills of the day could be resolved through effective planning and that’s what they set out to do.

Unfortunately, the UK has lost its way over the years since. The restrictions on council house building in the 1980s are at the centre of our current social housing shortages. Worse, planning has shifted from actively building successful communities to just trying to limit the damage private developments have on those communities.

In theory, in our system developers are required to contribute towards an area’s affordable housing needs, while paying for the increased pressures their development will have on local public services to ensure existing residents don’t suffer. Instead, we have a national system which defaults in favour of developers, making it increasingly hard to reject an application and easy for developers to shirk their responsibilities to the community while turning huge profits.

The Government’s ‘Developers’ Charter’ is set to make things worse, effectively handing planning decisions over to developers, depriving residents of a say on changes which will hugely affect their way of life and at a time when developers are sitting on 1.1m unused planning permissions, impossible to justify.

Crawley Live Column, Summer 2021

After the dreariest Spring for some time, which saw snow falling in April, the arrival of Summer has been more than welcome.

Due to the gap between writing and publication, it is always risky making predictions. Yet, barring the sudden growth of new variants, it does feel as though we have entered the final stage of the pandemic and can look ahead to the world beyond COVID.

It is thanks to the amazing efforts of our National Health Service that this has become a reality, with practitioners going well beyond their day jobs to save as many lives as possible and get the vaccines out as quickly as possible. The vaccine centre at Saxonbrook in Maidenbower was even paid for up-front by the GPs and given planning permission by the council in record time to limit the delay in getting Crawley protected.

Clearly the town faces many challenges over the next few years as we look to rebuild local employment and deal with the knock-on consequences of being the hardest hit economy in the country, particularly when it comes to homelessness and council finances. However, not all of this has to be bad, we now have an opportunity to attract greener jobs with better employment conditions.

Beyond this, we all have a part to play in supporting Crawley’s economy: making sure to use local restaurants and hospitality where safe to do so, and avoiding online shopping where possible. Ultimately, a town centre only survives when people choose to use it.

Free car parking for NHS and social care staff and volunteers extended at Orchard Street multi-storey car park

Crawley Borough Council has extended the provision of free parking for NHS workers, social care staff and volunteers until 21 September 2021 at Orchard Street multi-storey car park. The national scheme ended on 21 June 2021 so the costs of the extension will be covered by the council.

The council has taken this decision to extend the free parking to show its continued support for the NHS during the pandemic. The Orchard Street multi-storey is located at the junction of Orchard Street/Pegler Way and is a secure, 24-hour car park less than five minutes’ walk from Crawley Hospital.

Parking concessions for COVID-19 can only be used when on official duty as an NHS staff member, health and social care worker or NHS Volunteer Responder. Local authorities, NHS Trusts and the Royal Voluntary Service will be distributing the pass to those they deem to be eligible.

If you believe you are eligible for a pass, please contact your workplace who will then provide the necessary details to the council to update systems. Please be aware that this can take time, and you need to make sure you have the appropriate permissions in place to be eligible to park without charge.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “The NHS staff, social care workers and volunteers continue to work tirelessly to help people in need during this pandemic. We believe that they should not be paying parking charges during this critical time.”

Please note that charges for on-street parking and at other locations still apply unless advised otherwise.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 23rd June 2021

This Saturday is Armed Forces Day, the annual day for recognising the contributions of those serving in the British Armed Forces. While the celebration is now in its fifteenth year, for the second year in a row the pandemic means the day will be marked in a more muted way than the usual annual fanfare.

Crawley has a strong association with the Armed Forces, with many of our young people choosing to spend time serving in one branch or another and the town enthusiastically showing its support in turn.

We were an early adopter of the Armed Forces Covenant, setting out how Crawley would work to support serving members of the forces, veterans and their families. We implemented the Veterans Interview Scheme to ensure those who had served would have the chance to show at an interview what they could bring to a council job, as it might not be apparent from their CV.

We also remember those we have lost, as proven by the large community participation at every Remembrance Day event, and in recent years a number of new roads and buildings have been named after the town’s sons and daughters who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet, while we are constantly seeking as a town for ways to show our support, as a country we must do much better. The House of Commons is currently debating the Armed Forces Bill, which not only fails to deliver on the Government’s past commitments made to Armed Forces personnel, but cuts existing support for veterans. Frankly, it’s a national disgrace.

We need to bring the Armed Forces Covenant fully into law and build a comprehensive national plan for improving support for veterans to stop former servicemen and women from falling through the gaps when it comes to areas like employment, affordable housing and healthcare.

This week the Labour Party have launched a survey for veterans to give them a say in how we redesign our systems to truly recognise the contributions of those who have served. I would encourage all Crawley veterans to make their voices heard by going to: labour.org.uk/veterans

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 9th June 2021

Throughout the pandemic, whenever mistakes have been uncovered we’ve been told that the Government has never had to deal with anything like this before, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

For the UK, it is true that we haven’t had to deal with a pandemic like this in a century. Where this argument collapses is that we aren’t alone in going through COVID-19, in fact we were one of the last major economies to contract the disease. Yet, despite all the opportunities to learn from the actions of other Governments and the strong advantage we had as an island to minimise the spread of the pandemic, when you compare our Government’s performance to that of others their record has been abysmal.

So, why bring this up now? Because the UK is about to make a huge mistake again. Last week the Government’s own Education Recovery Tsar Sir Kevan Collins resigned after it was revealed that the amount the Government was prepared to spend on educational recovery was one tenth of what he had identified. Again, the Government is letting Britain fall behind.

We are not only letting our children down, this affects all of us. Education is the bedrock of future economic performance, a stronger economy delivers greater opportunities for everyone and greater tax revenue, enabling better public services and paying down the debt the country has accrued through COVID-19.

The word ‘invest’ is often thrown around in politics to describe expenditure, but education spending is a genuine investment in that it pays back far more than what the country spends on it. To fall behind other major economies in this investment now is to yet again force Britain to compete with one hand tied behind its back.

Children in Crawley deserve better. We already have the lowest social mobility in the South East and COVID-19 has greatly reduced the strength of our local jobs market. We need to take our children’s future seriously and that’s why I’m pleased that Labour has put forward an alternative Children’s Recovery Plan which would genuinely deliver for Crawley’s children.