Uncategorized

#Crawley should say “#CountMeIn” to the campaign to stop further job cuts

New figures show the Government’s refusal to extend furloughing is putting another 11,500 jobs in Crawley at risk. For months we’ve called for targeted support, backed by Labour nationally, to safeguard these local jobs in the hardest hit sectors. With 14,750 local jobs in air travel, hospitality and tourism, if the Government fails to act while continuing to impose restrictions making it impossible for these sectors to function profitably, Crawley will suffer the worst job losses of any part of the UK under this Government.

Having already addressed this at length in past columns, the need for a targeted extension of furloughing is not in fact the topic I’d like to cover today. Instead, the jobs I’m writing about this week are in a very different sector.

As the pandemic forced strict limits on physical interaction, life in the UK moved online. Remote working became the norm for industries where it was feasible and Zoom played an increasingly major role in both people’s jobs and personal lives.

The internet may be intangible, but it’s built on the nation’s physical telecommunications infrastructure and in the UK the bulk of that continues to be provided by the BT Group, even for non-BT customers. Were it not for the essential workers who make up the company’s workforce and their enormous efforts keeping things going in the face of a vast increase in demand upon that infrastructure, the lockdown would have gone very differently.

So, how does a company whose products have seen huge growth in use through the pandemic reward the essential workers who kept it going? Unbelievably, the answer is with compulsory redundancies, hundreds of which are set to take place here in Crawley.

It’s understandable that industries hit-hard by COVID are being forced restructure, but what part of telecomms is struggling so much it justifies forcing people out of the door. It smacks of opportunism at a moment of national crisis, adding unnecessary pressure to an already struggling jobs market. It’s just wrong and that’s why we should all stand with BT workers as they fight for local jobs through their #CountMeIn campaign.

11,500 jobs at risk in #Crawley unless Chancellor U-turns on furlough cliff edge

New analysis by the Labour Party estimates that 11,500 people were still fully furloughed by their employer in the middle of August in Crawley.

This means 44 per cent of workers in these constituencies who were moved onto the Government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) in the early phase of the Covid-19 crisis remain fully furloughed by their employer over four months later.

Labour’s figures also show that 4,500 people in the same constituencies had made claims under the Coronavirus Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) by the end of July.

Despite this, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is pushing ahead with his one-size-fits-all withdrawal of both the CJRS and SEISS schemes across the entire economy by the end of October.

People will lose support even if their business are not yet back to normal or if they live in an area subject to new local restrictions – and regardless of how important the sector they work in is to the long-term health of the economy.

With just weeks to go until the Government support schemes end for good, over a million workers in these new Tory seats face an uncertain future unless their MPs force the Chancellor into a U-turn.

Labour will today offer them a chance to do that by holding a vote on a targeted extension of the CJRS and SEISS schemes beyond the Chancellor’s 31 October cliff edge.

Labour’s motion for today’s Opposition Day Debate calls on the Government to introduce targeted income support to businesses and self-employed people in the sectors of the economy hit hardest hit by the virus, and in areas of the country placed under local restrictions due to rising rates of infection.

This targeted extension is vital for sectors that are critical to the UK’s economic recovery. If the Government chooses to oppose Labour’s motion today, people in Crawley people who are in jobs hardest hit by the pandemic, like the 14750 working people with jobs in air travel, restaurants, and hospitality & tourism, will be wondering why this government doesn’t seem to care about their livelihood.

Many other countries’ schemes last longer or have been extended. The UK is an outlier in fully withdrawing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme after only six months:

• Germany has extended the coronavirus furlough scheme to 24 months
• France’s “temporary unemployment” scheme to avert mass bankruptcies and lay-offs as a result of the coronavirus crisis will be extended, and is now expected to last up to two years
• The Netherlands has recently extended by 9 months their short-time working scheme
• Australia has extended their ‘JobKeeper’ payment until March 2021
• Ireland’s Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme lasts until March 2021

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 9th September 2020

Housing figures released last week reveal in 2020 record numbers of people will require financial support from their parents to access housing. For members of one generation to be dependent upon handouts from the last is bad enough, the fact only better-off parents will be able to afford that support is just one of the reasons why over the decade of our current Government’s rule the number of Brits who believe our country gives everyone an equal chance of success has dropped from 53% to less than a third. If over two-thirds of the UK believe people’s chances of success are no longer determined by how hard they work, but who their parents are, something has clearly gone seriously wrong.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This month, the first people to benefit from Child Trust Funds turn eighteen and will be able to access the money put aside for them by the last Labour Government to help fund their education, get a home of their own, or start their own business.

For every child born after September 2002, until the Conservatives closed the scheme in 2011, the Government put money into an account their parents could open with a financial services provider using a voucher sent out by the Government.  For children whose parents didn’t use their voucher, the Government set up an account for them.

Parents and others could pay more money into the account too, subject to an annual cap.  Children with disabilities were entitled to extra annual payments into their Trust Fund from the Government, recognising the extra needs young adults with disabilities face. The policy was simple but important: every young person should have the same opportunity to get started in life that children in wealthier families took for granted.

The contrast with the Government we have today is stark.  People turning eighteen in 2020 saw the fiasco over their A-level results and face the sad truth that in accessing employment or housing, their chances are determined more by their backgrounds now than at any other time since WWII, that equality of opportunity in our country is going backwards.

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.