Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th March 2019

Last weekend I was a guests on Sunday Politics South East, alongside Sussex’s Police Commissioner, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and the Leader of Medway.

Being up against three Conservatives might seem a little unbalanced, but four years on West Sussex County Council provided plenty of experience standing up for our area in the face of larger Conservative opposition.

The main story was the rise of crime in our area–a regular story these days–and the fact Sussex Police are funding a boxing club in Hove to try and prevent children being dragged into crime.

Now, I don’t have a problem with this idea, in fact when West Sussex closed much of Crawley’s youth provision we warned them crime and anti-social behaviour would increase, something they denied at the time. Yet, boxing clubs aren’t going to fix the crime already on Crawley’s streets, that requires police officers. Almost 800 officers and PCSOs have been taken from the Crawley area under the Conservatives, current recruitment plans only restore a fraction of that number.

However, if we want to talk about prevention, let’s talk about real prevention. Let’s talk about why Pupil Referral Units lack the capacity to deal with the numbers of children being excluded from schools. Let’s talk about schools who no longer have the resources to help children who are struggling and consequently misbehave. Let’s talk about why more children than ever before are being taken into care. Let’s talk about the huge increase in families where the adults are in work, often with multiple jobs, and yet still living in poverty.

Our communities are breaking down because our public services are breaking down; our public services are breaking down because there is no longer the investment. Until that’s fixed, these problems won’t be.

Remarkably our Police Commissioner–who, remember, has just increased the police’s bit of council tax by 14.5%–claimed there’s already enough money in the system, it’s just misspent. Given that in Crawley the only public sector body whose finances are currently in working order is Labour-run Crawley Council, I’ll leave the conclusions to you.

Press Release: Local community urged to come and get active at K2 Crawley

I’m A Celebrity star and world silver medallist diver on hand at the K2 Crawley for the free family Open Day on 16th March.

Singer and songwriter, Fleur East, will be at the K2 Crawley from 10:30am to meet and greet the public and help showcase the centre’s fantastic facilities.

Fleur East, X Factor 2014 runner-up, said: “I’m really excited to have been invited to the Open Day at the K2 Crawley. I can’t wait to see everyone and share my experiences of fitness and what it means to me.”

World silver medallist and Tom Daley’s diving partner, Matty Lee, will be showcasing his world leading diving skills and helping the Everyone Active team coach a diving session.

Matty Lee, European silver medallist, said: “I’m really looking forward to coaching the young divers in Crawley and meet the local community. Sport has meant so much to me and my family and I hope I can inspire another young diver because diving can lead to fantastic opportunities.”

Throughout the day, the local community are invited to take part in a range of exciting activities that are taking place throughout the centre including trampolining, table tennis and swimming. All activities kick off at 10am and will run until 3pm, for more information please visit www.everyoneactive.com/k2open

Darryl Keech, Everyone Active contract manager, said: “We’re so pleased to have Fleur and Matty at the centre for our Open Day.

“Fleur impressed everyone while she was in Australia with her determination and her promotion of body positivity so we’re excited to show her the fantastic facilities in Crawley. “Matty is a young diver who has shown a lot of potential and we know that he will impress the divers on our programme.

“I can’t wait to see everyone come down to the centre and experience all of the free activities we have on offer at the centre through the day.”

“Crawley has a proud sporting legacy and with the ongoing improvements at K2 any other facilities, Crawley Borough Council is committed to ensuring that legacy stretches through the whole of our community. So come along at get active at K2.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th March 2019

Representing Crawley at national events, I get the chance to speak with mayors and council leaders responsible for running local services across the country, with funding council services during Austerity being one of the most regular topics of conversation.

Through all these conversations I’ve yet to find another authority which, despite annual cuts from Government, is still spending the same on residents’ services as five years ago, yet that’s what’s happening at Crawley. So, is Crawley just lucky, as the Conservatives claim every year?

Well, when the Conservatives ran Crawley we had budget cuts every year and again last month the leader of the Crawley Conservatives criticised me for not making budget cuts. I wonder if they’ll be brave enough this year to put the same demands they make at council meetings in their election leaflets, or is it one face for the public and another for council meetings?

When I became Leader of Crawley, I took a deliberate choice to focus on generating the revenue we needed to provide the services residents deserved, rather than passing cuts from Government onto residents. It worked. By contrast, at Conservative-run West Sussex County Council, where Crawley’s Conservatives are in the Cabinet, cutting early has just led to further cuts being needed every year, they’ve lost control of their budget and we’ve lost our services.

To be clear, when I talk about generating revenue, I’m not talking about hiking up council tax. Crawley Borough Council’s council tax is going up roughly in-line with inflation a ‘Real Terms’ freeze, at less than a fiver the lowest increase in the county. In contrast, West Sussex County Council are putting council tax up by almost 5%, a £66 increase, and the Conservative Police Commissioner is increasing their precept by 14.5%, a £24 increase. Meaning just 11.5% of your council tax will stay in Crawley this year, the rest going to Chichester and Lewes.

With West Sussex cutting funding for organisations like Open House, Crawley has also budgeted to ensure those charities can keep running and, as this is Lent, might I encourage anyone who can afford it to consider donating too.

Press Release: Funding to tackle homelessness and protect frontline services in council’s budget

Crawley Borough Council’s budget for 2019/20 will protect frontline services, provide extra funding to combat homelessness and continue to invest in the town.

The budget was approved at a meeting of Full Council on Wednesday (27 February).

The council’s 2019/20 budget includes:

·     £7m to purchase investment properties. The rental income generated from these will be used to help fund council services

·     More than £9m over three years for repairs to council homes

·     The creation of a new ring-fenced ‘Supported Accommodation’ reserve to combat homelessness, funded from additional Housing Benefit subsidy paid to the council on behalf of residents in supported accommodation

·     The purchase of a housing development in Broadfield, giving the council a good payback period and providing tenants with a more efficient service

·     A new integrated housing database to replace the council’s outdated systems

·     The ICT transformation programme.

Crawley will suffer a further 89.7 per cent cut in revenue support from the Government over the next year. The reduction in funding since 2016/17 is £1.72m.

Despite this, the council has identified additional income, efficiencies and savings of £1.26m, meaning that the council’s element of Council Tax will rise by just 2.49 per cent, the equivalent of only 9p per week for a band D property.

West Sussex County Council has agreed a rise of 4.99 per cent (£65.79 on a band D property) and the precept for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will rise by 14.47 per cent (£24 on a band D property).

For every pound paid in Council Tax, West Sussex County Council will receive 77.8p, Sussex Police will receive 10.7p with Crawley Borough Council receiving just 11.5p.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Local services used to be paid from income tax, meaning those who earned more paid more. Due to government cuts to council and police funding, funding for these services increasingly comes from Council Tax which tends to hit pensioners and poorer residents hardest.

“While Crawley Borough Council is responsible for collecting all your Council Tax, more than 88 per cent of it goes to West Sussex County Council or Sussex Police. We’ve worked hard to ensure that Crawley Borough Council’s part of the bill is kept roughly in line with inflation, meaning that the ‘real terms’ increase this year comes exclusively from West Sussex and the police.

“I’m proud to say that despite cuts from central government, we continue to spend the same on services today as when I became Leader of Crawley, we are probably the only council in the country able to say that.”

For more details on Council Tax bandings and ways to pay, visit:www.crawley.gov.uk/counciltax

Press Release: Local activity session on offer for young people with disabilities

A weekly sports and activities club for young people with disabilities and their families is on offer at K2 Crawley.

Moving Barriers is a local activity session aimed at offering children and young people with disabilities the opportunity to socialise, have fun and keep fit with a variety of activities and team games.

Run by local agencies, including Crawley Borough Council, parents and local residents who themselves have disabilities, the sessions will cater for those aged between 5-16 years old.  Those outside the age range who previously attended, will be given help to find alternative services in the town.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb said: “Moving Barriers is a great addition to the range of activity sessions we have on offer for children and young people with disabilities and their families. I am pleased the council is able to support this fantastic service.”

Moving Barriers will take place on Friday evenings from 6-7pm in the Sports Hall at K2 Crawley. The first session is free and afterwards is just £2.50 plus £1 per sibling under the age of 16 (payable on the day, maximum of 3). There is no need to book, just turn up and join in.

For more information see www.crawley.gov.uk/disabilitysport

Press Release: Final panel announced for Crawley Question Time 2019

The full panel for this year’s Crawley Question Time has been announced.

The event, which takes place from 7-9pm on Thursday 14 March in the Civic Hall, gives residents an opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them.

This year’s panel is:

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition at Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Councillor
Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Crawley Borough Council
Chief Inspector Rosie Ross, District Commander, Crawley Police
Dr Laura Hill, Acting Clinical Chair, Crawley Clinical Commissioning Group
Vicki Illingworth, Principal, Crawley College
Laiba Baig, Crawley Young Persons Council.

Crawley Question Time takes the form of an independently-chaired general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns for discussion, such as community safety, Brexit, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

The event will be chaired by Jo Gumb, Managing Director of White Label creative.

The event is open to everyone; the public, business leaders and partner organisations. The views and comments expressed will help the council and others to plan work on improving services and the town in general.

Councillor Peter Lamb said: “As a council, Crawley believes that it is important we give residents the chance to hold decision-makers to account. Crawley Question Time is a great chance to ask questions about our town and to raise the issues which matter to you in front of local decision-makers, such as myself.

“These evenings are always full of lively debate, so please sign up now and come along to let us know what you’re thinking!”

To register to attend the debate visit https://crawleyquestiontime2019.eventbrite.co.uk/

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th February 2019

At tonight’s Full Council I’ll be proposing Crawley Borough Council’s Budget for the year. I’m proud to say after five years of Labour control, and in the face of unprecedented cuts from central government, we’re still spending the same on services today as when I became Council Leader, with improvements in efficiency being reinvested to deliver new services for the town.

It hasn’t been easy, but we said in opposition cuts from government didn’t have to mean cuts on the ground and we’ve proven that there was an alternative. Contrast that to West Sussex County Council, where after years complaining the size of the increase in their grant from Labour Governments was too little, they have gleefully cut Crawley’s services every year under Conservative Governments.

Their approach hasn’t even managed to keep council tax low, Conservative-run West Sussex are demanding a 4% increase in their share of Crawley’s council tax, the Conservative Sussex Police Commissioner has set a 14.5% increase in their share, while Labour Crawley is only proposing a 2.49% increase, roughly in-line with inflation and the lowest in the county again.

With only 12% of your council tax going to Crawley, we’re instead being creative to deal with cuts from government, investing public money wisely to generate better returns–something the Town Hall site redevelopment will increase massively, and generating more income from local facilities by undertaking significant improvement works. Last weekend, I found myself unable to get into Tilgate Park for all the visitors, a facility much improved over the last five years.

Having put money back into grass cutting and neighbourhood maintenance, Crawley is looking particularly good in the sun and it’s great to have families again enjoying the improved Queens Square, a project delivered without spending any Crawley Borough Council money through a clever use of grants.

As Leader of Crawley, housing has been my top priority and in addition to millions for new council housing, this year we’re also creating a reserve to prepare for the worst if the West Sussex Conservatives go through with their immoral cuts to homeless shelters and other vulnerable people’s housing support.

Press Release: Surrey and Sussex A&E failing after nine years of Tory cuts

Official figures reveal that last month only 83.2% per cent of patients (1,552 patients) at East Surrey Hospital were seen in A&E within four hours.

Trusts are supposed to ensure that 95 per cent of patients are seen in that time period. This is even lower than the English average of 84.4 per cent, which is the lowest performance on record.

Crawley Borough Council Leader Peter Lamb, responding to today’s Surrey & Sussex performance data, said:

“A&E waiting times across the country are now at their worst level since records began, and Crawley residents are suffering. It’s a damning indictment of how years of Tory austerity and wider cuts have hit the NHS here.

“Ministerial incompetence has left our NHS with chronic shortages of NHS staff with no clear idea of how to sort this out.

“Instead of putting patients first with a clear plan to restore the A&E standard, the Conservatives are looking at scrapping it altogether in the teeth of opposition from the doctors who actually work in A&E departments.

“Yet again today’s figures reveal an NHS in desperate crisis and a Government failing patients.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th February 2019

During my four years on West Sussex County Council one issue which kept rearing its head was ‘fracking’, the controversial process through which companies extract oil and natural gas from shale rock using chemicals and vast amounts of water. As this process takes place below ground water level and between potentially unstable plates of rock, there have been considerable concerns over the potential risk of contaminating ground water supplies, with various communities in America reporting health issues shortly after fracking began.

Reports commissioned by the Government to reassure the public of the safety of fracking assume the process is taking place in a strong regulatory environment, yet the Government has instead created a weak regulatory environment so that the UK looks more attractive to fracking companies than countries with greater safety precautions.

For years, Crawley’s Labour county councillors have expressed opposition to fracking in the country, including the most famous drilling site located just down the road from Crawley in Balcombe, next to the reservoir. Unfortunately, the Conservative-led County Council has consistently claimed they cannot refuse fracking applications, as the Planning Inspectorate will override them.

This advice no longer appears true, with the Planning Inspectorate last week backing up Lancashire County Council and rejecting an appeal from Cuadrilla, the same company involved in Balcombe. West Sussex County Council must now change its approach, the Planning Inspectorate have shown they are willing to protect local communities, it’s time our county council did the same.

Even if the process was safe, fracking is the wrong solution for meeting our future energy needs, as it simply prolongs dependence upon fossil fuels. Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is working to create a greener Crawley: installing solar panels on council houses, building new Passivhaus properties, investing in sustainable transport and bringing forward a Combined Heat and Power plant for the Town Centre through the Town Hall redevelopment, amongst many other steps towards carbon neutrality. Yet, if we are going to save our planet for future generations it’s not enough for Labour to go on delivering for Crawley, we need a Government prepared to deliver for Britain.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th February 2019

Under the Conservatives the lowest cost season ticket from Three Bridges to London Victoria has gone up from £2,804 in 2010 to, as of last month, £3816 per year. That’s a growth of over £1,000, a 36% rise dwarfing the increasing costs of almost everything else, except perhaps housing. Transport and housing, two things people can not do without and perhaps the two greatest areas of failure of the current government. The fact that the very name of the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has between on-going rail chaos, the failed Brexit lorry park preparations and dodgy ferry contracts become a by-word for incompetence and failure says just about all you need to know.

The trouble is these failures are taking place with things we cannot afford to do without. Next week we’ll get some idea of just how dependent Crawley is upon a functioning rail network when we are forced to do without services between Three Bridges and Brighton for a week so that works can take place. This may be an inconvenience, but I think people do accept that to keep us safe a certain amount of maintenance work is necessary. The issue isn’t the odd closures, it is the on-going poor performance day-to-day.

As a commuter, I can’t remember the time both my morning train and my evening train were on-time. Were this any sector without a natural monopoly, it would be hard to see how the company wouldn’t have been driven out of business by now with those sorts of performance statistics. To pay an ever increasing amount for services which are less reliable, more cramped and with fewer amenities available, really does question how as a country we’re allowing our services to be provided

I’m not going to pretend that the world would be all sunshine and rainbows under a Labour Government, but much more can be done to bring ticket prices under control. At the same time a rail network back in the public’s hands would at minimum restore the accountability that there once was for failure and end the exploitative position the rail companies currently occupy.