Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st December 2021

For the last eleven years, I’m proud to have represented a party which has seeks election to safeguard Crawley’s public services, not to cut them. Despite endless reductions in funding from Conservative Government, for the first six years after Labour regained control of the council, we managed to protect frontline services from any cuts by finding new sources of income to cover what was lost. The only council in the country to manage that feat.

Last year’s Budget was by far the hardest of my time as Leader, with the pandemic not only incurring high costs, but far more significantly cutting off all the council’s potential sources of income, leaving us with no alternative but to make cuts. At the same time, as a hung council we had to work hard to reach consensus across the parties about to how to address this challenge. Nonetheless, consensus was found and we collectively took the tough decisions necessary to stabilise the council’s finances.

So, a year on, I’m pleased to be able to report that the Budget Strategy going to Full Council should again deliver a balanced budget without needing any frontline cuts, alongside providing substantial resources for new council homes, investment in Crawley’s infrastructure, and funding for the major changes required by the first year of our new carbon reduction plan. There will even be a real-terms cut in Crawley Borough Council’s share of your council tax, although as Crawley only keeps 11% of your council tax and both West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police are likely to increase their rates substantially, this isn’t something you’re likely to notice in your final bill.

That isn’t to say that we’re out of the woods yet. COVID-19 remains a considerable cost to the council and it’s likely we will end this year in deficit. Yet, as we rebuild our local economy, create better job opportunities for residents and see the new Town Hall generate new rental income, even as the Conservatives cut our income, Crawley Labour can continue to work to protect local services and deliver a better future for our town.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 24th November 2021

I recall writing a column almost a decade ago, in the early days of the Conservative Government, in which I wrote that one of the worst things about austerity was the way it was being used to play-off different parts of society against one another, dividing communities at the exact time a stagnant economy meant people increasingly needed to rely upon one another.

A decade of Conservative economic policy finds Britain’s economy no better off and the Government continuing use divide and conquer tactics to cling to power at any cost. Nowhere has this tactic been more heavily used than in their attempts to divide older and younger voters along culture war issues and spending priorities.

Yet, over recent months the mask has begun to slip, with the Conservatives now so secure in their belief older voters will support them no matter what that they can break manifesto promises made at a General Election just two years ago, removing the triple-lock pension guarantee.

It should have been obvious this was coming when the Government announced their plans for social care earlier in the year. At the time these plans were rightly criticised for once again shifting the burden of taxation from the wealthy onto average and low earners in the form of a National Insurance increase. Yet, what was missed in the debate around National Insurance was how bad a deal it was for most pensioners.

Are you a pensioner or likely to retire soon? Do you have £86,000 in the bank? No? Then Boris Johnson’s social care plan won’t do a thing to help you keep your house. Whether or not you believe in inheritance, the fact that the Government has created a scheme which will ensure that the assets of millionaires are protected, while most people who have worked hard their whole lives to get what they have lose out is clearly wrong.

The dividing line has never been between young and old, or any other division the Conservatives have tried to carve out. It’s between people who believe in fairness and decency and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.

Crawley Live Column, Winter 2021

Christmas is almost here and like many I welcome the chance to recuperate from the turmoil of recent years. Yet, as we settle down to celebrate, there’s still much we can do to support Crawley this Christmas.

For instance, shops and other town centre businesses have really struggled through the pandemic. If we value having these any other local businesses here in Crawley then we can help them to survive using our custom this Christmas.

All the applause and rainbow posters for the NHS last year were great to see, but just because the clapping stopped doesn’t mean their job has got any easier. Much of the public sector is still struggling as much now as a year ago and in there are lots of little ways we can help these services get through, such as by limiting the demands we put on them and continuing to show our appreciation for those still fighting on the frontline.

For many people, unemployment, rising energy costs and cuts to Universal Credit will mean real hardship this Christmas, but we can help them get through, either by supporting people that we know or contributing to local charities who offer support to those in need like Open House.

Lastly, we can support each other by protecting own health, taking vaccines when they’re offered, wearing masks, socially distancing, and keeping our hands clean. The more we do to limit the spread, the more lives we save, and the quicker life returns to normal. Merry Christmas.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 17th November 2021

It comes as no surprise that when the public are asked what makes them most proud of the UK, the NHS consistently comes top of the list. The idea that medical treatment should be based upon people’s need rather than their personal wealth now seems so blindingly obvious now, yet it was considered revolutionary at the time Labour brought the NHS to life.

Over seventy years later, it is that same health service which has managed to limit the numbers who have lost their lives to COVID-19, even as the Government’s too-little-too-late approach to the pandemic has allowed the UK to suffer greater case numbers than almost any other major economic nation.

Yet, all of this has come at a huge cost to the service and the latest figures from Crawley’s local NHS trust reveal that there are now 31,061 patients waiting for care in our area, 119 of whom have been waiting for over a year. Nationally over one in ten people in England are currently on an NHS waiting list.

The Government has yet to publish its plan to address the vast NHS waiting list, with hospitals around the country already reporting unsustainable pressure and an inability to provide high quality care. While COVID-19 has made the situation worse, the problems facing the NHS didn’t start with the pandemic and won’t end with it, only a shift in the politics of the Conservative Party could result in the National Health Service receiving the support it desperately needs.

Nationally, the NHS is short of 100,000 staff, including 7,000 doctors and 40,000 nurses. In the Budget last month, the Chancellor failed to set out any plan to recruit, train, or retain the staff needed to solve this waiting list crisis.

The members of staff who make up our NHS do amazing work, but they are lions led by lambs, once again waiting for Boris Johnson to deliver a plan to resolve the problems he has helped to create. They deserve better, as do the thousands of Crawley residents left wondering when, if ever, they will get the treatment they need.

Crawley Borough Council welcomes new head of service

Crawley Borough Council has appointed a new senior manager.

Amanda Kendall will take on the role of Head of Crawley Homes from 1 December following a rigorous selection process, which included panel interviews with officers and councillors.

Amanda will oversee Tenancy Services, Asset Management, Responsive Repairs, Older Persons Services, Facilities and Projects, the Nuisance and Anti-Social Behaviour Team, Lifeline and Leasehold Services.

Amanda brings a wealth of experience with her from her 23 years in the housing sector, both in local government and with registered housing providers. Amanda has primarily worked in housing management, delivering excellent services, but also brings experience of working in housing solutions, environment and regeneration and emergency planning.

Amanda is currently the Housing Services Manager at Runnymede Borough Council and is responsible for the operational and strategic management of housing and neighbourhood services. She has been responsible for driving forward changes to private sector lettings and management of temporary accommodation, transforming income collection, procuring and implementing AI software to ensure targeted income work, leading on projects such as the transformation of older persons housing accommodation, major works and decants, refuse and recycling on housing estates, tenancy support and sustainment, and approaches to housing fraud.

Amanda said: “This is an exciting time to be working in housing with some key reforms expected following the social housing white paper alongside changes to building safety and the climate change agenda.

“I look forward to working with the team to take forward and deliver on these challenges as well as progressing existing transformation projects all with a view to making a difference to the communities we work with.”

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “We’re very glad to have Amanda joining the team. Housing is one of the council’s most important responsibilities and I’m confident that she will help us to continue to improve and maintain the high standards that we aim to deliver for our residents.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 10th November 2021

I know one of the things residents find most annoying is when they’ve had to go to the trouble of reporting a problem, only then finding out it’s actually the responsibility of the other local council for our area. I promise you, it’s no less annoying for councillors.

As Leader of Crawley Borough Council, I find most of the complaints I receive actually relate to services run by West Sussex County Council. On one hand, it’s incredibly frustrating for both residents and myself when they raise issues with me that I don’t actually have any more power to resolve than they do. On the other hand, with Crawley having one council run by Labour councillors and the other by Conservative councillors, it’s very telling the services run by local Conservatives are the ones people spend their time complaining about.

Wherever you go canvassing in Crawley, the issues residents raise more than any other are three West Sussex County Council responsibilities: parking, pavements, and potholes. Year-in, year-out, people see local highway conditions get worse and unfortunately it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.

Funding for Highways in West Sussex has in only the last year been cut almost a quarter, leaving just under £21m to maintain all the roads and pavements in the county. To put that figure into context, the Vehicle Excise Duty—commonly known as Road Tax—paid by West Sussex residents each year is £92m. For what Crawley is paying out, we are getting massively short changed.

Like every local authority, West Sussex County Council has had to endure huge cuts to their funding from while the Conservatives have been in Government. Crawley Borough Council has lost two-thirds of our net revenue. Yet, as a county councillor, I saw first-hand how a bad situation was made far worse by extremely poor leadership. 78% of your council tax goes to West Sussex, they are responsible for the services where residents feel most cheated, and now those same Conservative councillors want your vote for them to run the services in Crawley which are actually still functioning.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd November 2021

COP26 has finally begun in Glasgow, giving global leaders their last chance to limit the catastrophic damage from Global Warming we’re all on course to experience over coming decades. As it’s the 26th such event, I’m not sure how far we should get our hopes up, but given there’s no Plan B what’s the alternative?

The scale of what is required is unparalleled. Even if switch our entire power grid to non-carbon energy sources, the intermittency of solar and wind mean we’ll need generating capacity substantially beyond our current levels for continuity of supply. In addition, if electrification is our main solution for reducing emissions from transport, we’re going to require even more generating capacity to meet that new need.

Globally the problem gets worse, while birth rates are stabilising at two children per mother, improvements in longevity mean the planet’s population will continue to increase to around ten billion. All of those people will have a carbon footprint and poorer countries won’t accept that several centuries of pollution by the West means they must now be trapped in poverty.

All of which is to say, if we’re going to reach net zero, we will all have to make substantial sacrifices, both in terms of personally giving things up to reduce our own carbon footprints and the opportunity cost of the taxing and spending which will be necessary to transition every part of our lives away from carbon. Reaching net zero isn’t impossible, but I question whether a majority of people will vote for the measures necessary to make it possible in time.

Disagree? Then ask yourself this, given we all already know of countless ways to reduce our own carbon footprint, what aren’t you prepared to do: go vegetarian, stop driving, spend tens of thousands making your home Green, rule out holidays abroad, or keep to a minimum your own personal use of electricity? If any of these seems unreasonable now, then would you or anyone else really vote for a Government which forced you to do them? Ultimately, tithout that public support, no Government can deliver net zero.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th October 2021

Today is Budget Day and like every year it falls on a Wednesday, making it something I both have to cover and yet where print deadlines prevent any certain knowledge of its contents.

Fortunately, the Chancellor has kindly leaked most of it in advance, which the Speaker highlighted is historically grounds for resignation. Yet, this is a Government which doesn’t believe in resignation, whether it be due to principle, mistakes made in office, or actual treason.

Reading the pre-announcements, it’s all positive stuff. Why wouldn’t it be? If you want to spin the Budget as positive you focus on good news and hide everything bad in the small print.

So, while we hear the minimum wage is rising and public sector pay is being unfrozen, we also know the amounts discussed won’t cover the rising cost of living, Universal Credit cuts for those in work, and tax increases targeted at those on low incomes. The Government might get good press from it, but households won’t be better off.

There are also new spending commitments, such as funding to re-open Children and Family Centres just as West Sussex County Council has finished closing most them on the grounds they apparently aren’t of any use. I wonder how County Hall will spin their re-opening.

However, the Chancellor has already been forced to accept these new spending commitments aren’t from ‘new’ money, funding them will mean enduring even more cuts elsewhere after a decade of austerity and councils remain an obvious target.

Local government was the most efficient part of the public sector even before austerity and since then we’ve faced the harshest cuts. Crawley’s net revenue has been slashed by two-thirds, resulting in the painful cuts we had to make in February. If Government forces us down this road again the next cuts will be far more painful even with council tax increasing the maximum amount.

That’s why I wrote to the Chancellor this week with other councillors, making it clear our communities cannot continue to bear the cost of the Government’s decisions. We’ll see today if he has listened to reason.

What ‘Levelling Up’ means for Crawley

The Centre for Cities is one of the leading thinktanks in the UK focused on issues affecting urban areas. It was research published by the organisation which first made it clear just how big a risk the pandemic posed to Crawley’s economy and their are countless occasions where their reports have contributed to decisions we have taken over time to improve the town.

Today, Centre for Cities will be launching a new report outlining what ‘levelling up’ means for various communities in the UK, looking well beyond the Red Wall seats which appear to be the Johnson Government’s only concern. As the leader of the community which has suffered worse than any other from the economic consequences of COVID-19, and which still has yet to receive any additional support to help us to recover, I was asked to contribute to the anthology.

A full copy of the report can be accessed on the Centre for Cities website, by visiting the link here: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/what-urban-leaders-want-from-levelling-up-white-paper/