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Crawley News 24 Column, Thursday 17th May 2018

Five months into 2018 and it still feels like we’re waiting for the good weather to start. True, the Early May Bank Holiday was the hottest on record, but it was still snowing in March and we’ve yet to go more than a few days without cold or rainy weather. Campaigning in the rain during local elections wasn’t much fun and it has played havoc with grass cutting, where rain has both encouraged faster grass growth at the same time as preventing heavy cutting machinery from being used.

We did, however, get lucky with the weather on Sunday, as Crawley played host to the town’s first half marathon. It was great to see such a large mass-participation event take place in Crawley, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and it gave a boost to a range of local businesses. As a council administration, Labour are constantly working to increase the range of leisure opportunities and events in the town, to boost Crawley’s reputation and promote the local economy.

Unfortunately, it’s rarely plain sailing. The half marathon inevitably involved some road closures and understandably this result in some complaints. For all the people you see enjoying the new Queens Square there are others who view it as a waste of money, just as there were those who complained when we finally managed to bring an ice rink to Crawley at Christmas, after years of residents’ requests.

Sadly, in government, you’re never going to please everybody with anything you do. At the end of the day, the only way to avoid any objections or complaints would be to do nothing, in which case we’d all lose by default. Crawley is a great place to live and so long as Labour control the council, we’re going to keep working to make it even better.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 16th May 2018

Running from danger is a natural part of our survival instinct. Yet, for those dangers to be overcome, some men and women must run into the flames. Literally. The men and women of our Fire and Rescue Service are the reason we know when the worst comes to pass and we find ourselves and our property engulfed in flame, or we or a loved one is involved in a car accident, we know help is on the way.

Several years ago, West Sussex County Council cut Crawley’s third fire engine and all its retained fire fighters as part of reductions to the service across the county. Labour country councillors warned that even with increasing fire prevention, cuts would increase response times and put lives at risk. Despite what local Conservatives said at the time, that’s exactly what happened. However much you try to limit the need for the fire engines, they remain a vital part of our emergency services and seconds can be the matter between life and death.

So, it’s with alarm that I notice the county council are consulting on a new ‘West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Integrated Risk Management Plan’, plotting out how the service will change over coming years. While no one at the council would be foolish enough to spell out exactly what this means in terms of numbers of fire engines and firefighters, reading between the lines further cuts seem inevitable and the submission made by the county’s front-line firefighters through their union the FBU raises real cause for concern.

We as citizens are faced with a choice: we can sit quietly by and allow the Conservatives to keep rolling the dice with our safety or we can stand alongside the men and women who so regularly put their own lives on the line for ours. We can save our fire service, but no one else will do it for us, if you want it you need to act to save it. A consultation is currently taking place on the draft plan, make sure to make your voice heard by going to: https://haveyoursay.westsussex.gov.uk/risk/west-sussex-fire-rescue-service-risk-management-pl/

Press Release: Helping the local homeless community

Come and find out how you can help rough sleepers in your community at an information day in Queens Square on 1 June from 10am until 2pm.

Crawley Borough Council Officers along with partners from Crawley Open House, Crawley and Gatwick Business Watch, Sussex Police and Sussex Probation Service, will be on hand to answer questions about supporting the homeless community through diverted giving, an initiative which aims to encourage the public to donate to homelessness support charities instead of directly to rough sleepers.

Many of the town’s residents are incredibly generous and often give rough sleepers money for food and other important items, but begging is illegal and not the most effective way to help the homeless.

Instead, donating to charities such as Crawley Open House is much more beneficial as it will not only enable them to carry on their vital work supporting the town’s homeless community, but it will also encourage those begging to take up help and move towards a better, more stable future.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “Here at the council we work hard to ensure rough sleepers have access to all available support to improve their safety and wellbeing, this in turn will also help us address the fear of crime and safety that rough sleeping in town centres has on the town.”

Crawley Open House is a key homeless charity in Crawley, they provide temporary accommodation, healthcare, financial advice, employment support to those sleeping rough, with the aim of helping them to get back on their feet and into a healthier lifestyle.

For more information about Crawley Open House, visit http://www.crawleyopenhouse.co.uk

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 9th May 2018

On behalf of Crawley Labour, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted last week, those involved in running the election, and everyone who put themselves forward to run or campaign, ensuring our town’s democratic process remains alive and kicking.

With all the votes counted, every seat contested remained in the same party’s hands as before the contest with Labour winning eight of twelve wards, although almost every seat now has a smaller majority. The popular vote across the town was essentially a draw, with the Tories securing a lead of only 5 votes in a constituency they won by almost 2,500 last June. It seems in Crawley, as in the country, voters are fundamentally divided on the big political questions.

Over the last week I’ve been repeatedly asked what this result means for Labour and the next General Election. Frankly, I’m tired of the spin, the truth is no one really knows. What’s sad is no one asked me what the result means for Crawley, the most important question. For Crawley, it means Labour has another year delivering our programme for office: making housing more affordable, securing better job opportunities, regenerating Crawley’s infrastructure and maintaining local services despite national cuts.

In 2019, new electoral boundaries are being introduced for Crawley, meaning that every councillor will have to re-stand for election on the new boundaries and residents will have the opportunity to completely replace the council should they choose. Over the next year, all of Crawley’s parties will have to clearly set-out their vision for the town and how they intend to deliver what they promise. It is dishonest to promise every road a parking improvement scheme when the borrowing cost would take most of the next century to pay off, particularly not when it’s a West Sussex County Council responsibility and they already take the vast majority of Crawley’s council tax.

For Crawley Labour though, there is no time to take a break. We are back in the Town Hall, working to deliver on the commitments we made to the public and keep building a better future for Crawley.

Crawley News 24 Column, Tuesday 8th May 2018

Well, all the votes are now in and counted and the result for Crawley is: just the same as it was before. For the first time in twenty eight years, not a single seat has changed hands. Meanwhile, the popular vote across Crawley was essentially a draw between Labour and the Conservatives, with majorities shrinking significantly in both Labour and Conservative seats.

Crawley is regarded as a ‘bellwether’ constituency, since at each General Election the town has voted the same way as the country, and given that the British public now appears so totally split down the middle on the most basic questions of our national direction, perhaps this result shouldn’t be surprising. Maybe, both parties should accept the result with a certain amount of humility and realise we probably haven’t yet made the case clearly enough as to why we believe the things we believe. With all-out elections coming next year, we will certainly have our chance.

In the meantime, it’s back to work. The council now needs to reconstitute itself, welcoming new members and making all the formal appointments for coming year. As for myself, it has been a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire as the bank holiday weekend has been packed with community events, including another fantastic May Fayre in Ifield, and trying to make my way through the significant backlog of casework and policy which the election put on hold over recent weeks. Just this morning, the first full day back in the office, I have been in meetings discussing how we can significantly improve the way we work at the council in meeting local residents’ needs and a potentially major development for the Town Centre over the next year. After all, there is more to local government than elections.

Crawley News 24 Column, Tuesday 2nd May 2018

Elections are exhausting. Countless hours go into every campaign canvassing and leafleting, amongst a vast array of other activities required to fight an election. If most people knew how few people were sustaining our democracy and how much time they give up to do it, they’d be amazed.

Nonetheless, I support retaining Crawley’s annual elections, against Conservative wishes, as they ensure representatives remain in touch with residents and give the public the power to do something about it if they fail.

I joke with Labour canvassers that if a resident raises a problem, it’s probably the county council’s fault. The sad thing is, that tends to be true and this year was no exception. The main issues this year were: potholes, pavements and parking. All county council responsibilities and all failing to meet residents’ expectations.

Parking is a particularly difficult issue. Much of Crawley was built when households couldn’t afford a car, certainly not more than one, with little that can now be done to fix things and every new bay costing on average tens of thousands of pounds. Even starting to address parking would cost more than twice Crawley Borough Council’s annual budget.

Consequently, it came as a surprise that the Conservatives appear to be committing to fixing Crawley’s parking problems on their election leaflets. Putting aside the fact we lack the space and money, they already run the county council, the only organisation with the Highways powers necessary to tackle parking and with a far bigger budget than the borough council. The relevant cabinet member is even a Crawley Conservative.

So if, in the remaining hours of the campaign you have a chance to speak with a Conservative representative, make sure you ask why, if they’re serious about tackling Crawley’s parking issues, they haven’t just done it already?

Crawley News 24 Column, Monday 23rd April 2018

It has been over five years since the Police Commissioners came into existence. The idea had been around for some time but had never made much progress as the problem it was supposed to solve, making the police accountable to communities, was already addressed by the elected councillors who made up the Police Authority. Still, scraping around for policy ideas, the Coalition Government dusted off the proposal and here we are, so no doubt you now feel the police are far more accountable to you.

But, how do we hold the commissioners to account, I hear you ask? Well, we have a body made up of elected councillors…just like the old Police Authority…funny old world? This is a body I’ve served on before, although given the commissioner always deflected my questions by claiming they weren’t for her but rather the Chief Inspector–who reports to her, it was an uphill struggle.

Nonetheless, I read the paperwork religiously and was interested to see next Friday’s meeting will review Sussex Police’s four year Transformation Strategy. Every part of the public sector is having to undergo ‘transformation’ in order to weather austerity and it can lead to significant performance improvements. The problem for the police is that the strategy fails to explain convincingly how what is happening now will actually improve performance.

The reality is what local residents complain to me about on a regular basis. When fireworks are thrown at cars, the police lack the resources to respond. When vehicles are broken into the police lack the resources to investigate. When a visible police presence on the high street could make a difference, it is left to door supervisors to keep law and order in the town centre. That’s the ‘lived’ reality and no pie chart is going to explain it away.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 11th April 2018

In general, there are two sides to everything and in politics the party system lets us see that in action. I’m not going to claim my party gets everything right and usually you can at least see where your opponents are coming from, even seeing things from their perspective requires you to squint really hard and turn your head a little.

What is much harder to understand is when someone argues in favour of a policy in one set of circumstances and then goes on to argue against it in another almost identical set of circumstances, the sole difference being that the political benefit to their party has reversed. That’s not just a matter of perspective, it means that either in the first or the second case they were wrong, and continuing to defend both is a hypocrisy.

Such is the case with the boundary review. The council has put together a proposal which meets the independent commission’s requirements for electoral equality, and effective and convenient local government while maintaining the neighbourhood principle as far as possible, yet the Tories claim the scheme violates that very principle. Given that just two years ago they were arguing in favour of similar changes as part of the West Sussex County Council review and, worse, anyone who looks at their alternative scheme can see that it crosses more neighbourhood boundaries the council’s scheme, what are we to conclude? An honest change of heart or political machinations?

Meanwhile, Tory leaflets are going out promising new parking bays across the town. Given that past parking schemes have cost an average £30,000 per bay and that the list of roads seeking schemes was approaching 200 last I checked, are we to believe they can finance five new bays for every road which needs them. The cost would be around £30,000,000, from a council with a budget half that amount. Never mind that the legal responsibility rests with Conservative-controlled West Sussex County Council. If they genuinely wanted to improve parking in Crawley, they already could. Impossible election commitments only lowers the tone of politics in our town

Press Release: Free School Meal Cuts

Henry Smith MP urged by Council Leader to vote against his Government’s plans to leave some of Crawley’s poorest children without a free school meal 

Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council and Labour Parliamentary Candidate, has written to Henry Smith urging him to put Crawley’s poorest children before Tory Party loyalty next week, by voting against a Government plan to impose an income threshold on families currently receiving universal credit. 

The policy, which the Government sought to sneak through without a vote, will mean thousands of children in West Sussex, many growing up in poverty, will not be able to access a free school meal, according to the Children’s Society. The charity estimates it could affect over a million children across the country. 

For some children, this could literally mean the difference between eating a hot meal that day, or going hungry. 

As part of the same measure, the government is also planning to remove free childcare from those earning above the threshold.

For those Crawley families that are affected, the income threshold will create a cliff-edge, meaning some parents could be better off either reducing their hours, or not taking additional hours or pay rises, because moving just above the income threshold would leave them hundreds of pounds worse off for each child affected. This directly undermines the Government’s stated aim of Universal Credit, to make work pay.

The Government’s plans to restrict free school meals and free childcare will be brought to the Commons next week, following an intervention from Labour to bring these heartless and short sighted plans to a binding vote. 

Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council and Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Crawley, has written to Henry Smith, calling on him to vote the plans down. Speaking about the Government plans, Cllr Lamb said:

“Taking hot dinners away from children in Crawley who are living in poverty is simply wrong. This isn’t some complicated issue which is open to different interpretations, if Mr Smith votes for this proposal he is quite literally voting to make local children in low income households go hungry.

“Mr Smith was elected to serve the needs of our community, not the interests of his party.

“I have written to Mr Smith asking him, as our MP, to consider his priorities on Tuesday and I very much hope that he listens.”