Crawley News 24 Column, Thursday 8th March 2018

In 1910, an international conference of socialist women decided that an annual day for women should be held, highlighting gender-based inequalities. The following year saw the first International Women’s Day and since 1914 it has taken place globally every 8th March.

While progress has been made over the years, not least around female suffrage, inequalities persist. #MeToo highlighted the scale of hidden sexual violence and the ongoing failure of our systems to provide justice to those affected by discrimination.

Yet, inequalities also remain in the open. Organisations employing more than 250 people are now required to publish gender pay gap figures, which across the UK is currently estimated to be around 18.4%. Unfortunately the picture in Crawley is somewhat worse.

While Crawley Borough Council has a median gender pay gap of 0%, meaning that across the council as a whole the average wages of men and women are the same, figures suggest the town itself has the second largest pay gap in the UK, with the average wages in Crawley for male employees being half again what their female colleagues earn. That impact on take home pay is before we consider the fact that cuts to public services and social security have impacted women harder than men over the last eight years.

Only a Labour Government is committing to closing the gap, requiring companies employing over 250 workers to show what action they are taking to deliver pay equality or else face fines. There will be those who claim this is illiberal or anti-business, yet Governments are required to act when systems fail to fix themselves and the same objections have been made every time an individual has sought to be judged on their merits and not the circumstances of their birth. Ultimately, enough ink has been spilt discussing the problem, a Labour Government will act.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

A number of local residents were put out earlier this week when Southern Water at different points turned off supplies to RH10 and RH11 (essentially the whole of Crawley), with a particularly long period where parts of Pound Hill were without water.

Given all the coverage you could be forgiven for thinking this was the first bout of cold weather the UK had ever experienced, yet while some of it did appear to be overblown it clearly highlighted a number of weaknesses in our regional infrastructure, particularly around the rail network and water services.

Perhaps more steps are now needed to look into the resilience of the UK’s essential transport and utilities infrastructure, then again maybe we just have to accept that these things are a fact of life, an uncomfortable moment where the realities of the natural world come into contact with the imaginary human habitat we construct for ourselves.

However, that isn’t to excuse some of the very real failings regarding Southern Water’s approach to handling this issue. As a local authority we were inundated with calls regarding the situation. At home residents were put out and there were real concerns about the health and safety of vulnerable residents left without water. There was also the concern regarding whether water was available on Manor Royal or at Gatwick. Without water businesses can’t function, potentially grinding a major part of the UK’s infrastructure to a halt. Could we get reasonable information out of Southern Water? No, in fact officers were who were promised call-backs are still waiting for them.

Without accurate information from the utilities company we couldn’t inform the public or put any emergency provision into place.

I’m not saying that if water was in public ownership that the infrastructure wouldn’t have failed, I don’t remotely have enough information whether they are investing enough in their network, but what I do know is that where accountability is absent people tend to become more slapdash with their responsibilities.

Water used to be a local authority responsibility, we built the network and ran it in the public interest. Then it was privatised by central government, only unlike other utilities they simply handed whole regional monopolies over to private companies. If you don’t like your water company you have two choices: buy bottled water or move to another region. That’s the limit of the competition. Even Adam Smith would think the situation was mad.

Public ownership has its limitations but there are two things you can be sure of: any money you pay into the system is going to be going towards public services and the system has real accountability, so if you don’t like the quality of provision you can make your feelings known at election time. Had Crawley BC still been responsible for water in the town, I would have made certain that there was at least better communication and if you felt it was insufficient could have done something about it, unfortunately you can’t do that with Southern Water.

Labour plans to bring water back into public ownership, using a model which should actually make money for the pubic purse. If this week is anything to go by, it can’t come fast enough.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 28th February 2018

February is a big month for local authorities, as it’s the time we set our budgets for the coming financial year.

As the Government continues cutting our funding, Labour-run Crawley has again delivered a balanced budget without cutting services. In fact, despite Government cuts, the amount spent on services now is the same as it was when we took control, a sharp contrast to eight years of cuts under the Tories.

This hasn’t happened by magic, it was a political choice that rather than accepting austerity and budget cuts, we’d work hard to find the money we need. using the council’s resources to generate the income necessary to deliver high-quality services.

At the same time, we’ve tried to keep council tax low, recognising its impact on residents. While inflation runs at 3%, Crawley’s share of council tax is only increasing 2.55%, a ‘Real terms’ cut. Contrast that with the council tax bill set by the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, who announced a 7.8% increase, or Tory-run West Sussex County Council, who are asking for an extra £62.19 this year.

Crawley is one of less than a quarter of councils still able to manage a weekly bin collection, the grass keeps getting cut and the roads swept, and all of our leisure facilities remain open, often with newly improved provision. Take a trip to a neighbouring council’s area and you can see the difference.

There’s even new money in the Budget to enhance the appearance of our communities, such as by improving the town’s run-down shrub beds.

The Budget also allows us to keep up the pace with our affordable housing programme, which by May will have delivered its first 1,000 new affordable homes for local people. We’ve already built affordable units on a scale many cities have struggled to manage, but that marks the start and not the end of our ambition to help every local resident to get a roof over their head.

Ours is a Budget built with local people in mind and that’s how Crawley Labour plans to go on delivering for Crawley residents in office.

Press Release: Not too late to sign up to Crawley Question Time

Seats are filling fast for this year’s Crawley Question Time, which takes place on Thursday 8 March in the Civic Hall.

The Crawley Borough Council event, which starts at 7pm, provides an opportunity for people to discuss and debate issues that matter to them with some of the key decision makers in the town.

This annual event takes the form of a general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns such as community safety, health, council issues or matters relating to the economy.

Confirmed panellists include Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council; Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition; Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Economic Development; Rosie Ross, Chief Inspector of Crawley Police; Olivia Jefferries, Youth Councillor for the Young Persons Council; Vicki Illingsworth, Principal of Crawley College and Laura Hill, Crawley CCG.

The discussion will be chaired by Ross Sturley from Chart Lane.

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: “We know our residents are passionate about their town and Question Time is a great opportunity to ask questions and raise issues in front of the town’s decision-makers.

“Please register now to reserve your place.”

To register to attend the debate visit www.crawley.gov.uk/getinvolved

Press Release: Balanced budget recommended to Full Council

Despite challenging financial conditions, Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet has proposed a balanced budget for 2018/19, protecting frontline services, continuing to invest in the town and improving the efficiency of the council as a whole.

The budget was debated by the Cabinet last night (7 February). Members unanimously recommended approval of the budget to Full Council on 21 February.

Crawley will suffer a further 44.54 per cent cut in revenue support grant from the Government over the next year. Despite this the council has identified additional income, efficiencies and savings of £695,000, meaning that Crawley Borough Council’s element of the Council Tax is set to rise by just 2.55 per cent, the equivalent of only 9p per week for a band D property.

West Sussex County Council is proposing a rise of £62.19 on a band D property (4.95 per cent), which will be debated at its Full Council meeting on 16 February. The precept for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will rise by £12 on a band D property (7.78 per cent).

If the proposed rises are approved, for every pound paid in Council Tax, West Sussex County Council will receive 78p, Sussex Police will receive 10p with Crawley Borough Council receiving just 12p.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “In the face of national cuts to Crawley’s grant, we’ve worked hard to maintain council services at the high standard residents expect, while minimising the extent to which those grant cuts passed-on to already stretched household budgets.”

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

Press Release: Greater Brighton is expanding: Crawley and Gatwick join the City Region

Greater Brighton is ready to take the next step in bringing national and global investment into the area after Crawley Borough Council and Gatwick Airport were officially welcomed into the City Region.

As both were voted on to the Greater Brighton Economic Board (GBEB), City Region leaders said the move was significant in increasing the scale and profile of its work.

The addition of Crawley, one of the south east’s powerhouse economies, means the City Region’s economy is now worth more than £21 billion and represents nearly 900,000 residents.

With one of Europe’s leading international airports also on board, it brings Greater Brighton’s profile in line with other City Region’s that are high on Government’s radar – Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

More importantly it incorporates fully the A23 corridor into the region, meaning there is now a united voice for the body to clearly articulate the case for investment into the area.

Board members pledged to use the move to step up the campaign for better transport infrastructure, especially much-needed improvements in the Brighton Main Line; as well as developing a proactive Inward Investment and Trade strategy which will drive further growth.

Councillor Andy Smith, GBEB Chairman, said: “Greater Brighton has made great strides since being formed in 2011 – attracting £150 million of direct investment which has unlocked tens of thousands of homes and seen many more jobs created.

“The addition of Crawley Borough Council and Gatwick means we can step up this work, elevating our city region further into the minds of decision makers on a national and international stage.

“The London-Gatwick-Brighton Growth Corridor has been recognised as one of nine corridors in England that have been at the heart of growth over the last decade. Our region is almost certain to maintain that pivotal role in the future so it’s crucial we do everything we can to maximise our potential.

“Our work, bringing together local authorities, businesses and academia, is vital to that.”

The move was formally ratified at a meeting of the Greater Brighton Economic Board (GBEB) held yesterday (Tuesday February 6).

Members of the board heard how Crawley was a real economic powerhouse – representing just two per cent of the land mass in West Sussex and only 110,000 residents, yet generating 25 per cent of the county’s wealth and 40 per cent of the business rates.

With more jobs than residents, thousands
of people travel into the area to work every day – which makes investment in transport, particularly the rail network, a crucial aim.

Crawley leaders said they were looking forward to working with GBEB to drive forward investment in jobs along the A23 corridor; as well as developing a strategic approach to workforce skills.

They also wanted to use Greater Brighton
to build business relationships between its globally-recognised STEM workforce and Greater Brighton’s digital and creative sector.

Councillor Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley
Borough Council, said: “The challenges we face on the ground as councils increasingly require us to look beyond our own borders. By joining with the other members of Greater Brighton, we seek to resolve the combined challenges faced by residents across all our communities.”

Gatwick is one of the South East’s most high
profile and important anchor businesses with 24,000 direct employees, as well as 13,000 indirect employees, from across the region.

Board members heard how the airport is a
major investor in growth, having invested £1.7 billion since 2009 with plans to invest a further £1 billion before 2021. It is also an attractor for inward investment, providing access to markets for business as well as supporting the ongoing growth of tourism.

Gatwick representatives said being part of
the board meant they were looking forward to work together with local authorities and business partnerships to tackle the challenges faced by the region.

Tim Norwood, Gatwick Airport’s Director of
Corporate Affairs, Planning and Sustainability, said: “Gatwick is delighted to have been invited to join the Greater Brighton Economic Board and we look forward to working with representatives from the region to ensure continued prosperity and economic growth.

“Gatwick plays a key role in the local economy and, in addition to the 24,000 jobs sustained on the airport campus, provides a global gateway for thriving local business sectors.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th February 2018

Three years ago, we celebrated the eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carter. While the document itself meant nothing to anyone except a handful of barons, it symbolised the start of a movement away from an absolute monarchy and towards democracy. The news last week that the Welsh Government will be trialing giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote at local elections is simply the latest phase in the long march of suffrage.

Yesterday marked an important anniversary in that long history, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918. The Act gave women the vote for the first time, but even then only for those aged over 30 and with property. It would be another decade before women got the right to vote on equal footing with men.

This change hadn’t come about easily, suffragettes had literally lost their lives, most notably Emily Wilding Davison who died after throwing herself under the King’s horse in an act of protest.

Yet, extension of the franchise was not simply the result of protest, it was part of a wider shift in societal norms stemming from WWI, with the huge contribution of women undertaking war work challenging sexist beliefs around capability and gender.

Despite the progress made over the decades, women still lack full equality in our society. Labour are committed to tackling this inequality, almost every law which has sought to do so was passed under a Labour Government and plans are in place to move things forward, both locally and nationally.

Yesterday, Labour unveiled a year long campaign commemorating the 100th anniversary of the extension of the electoral franchise to women and exploring what can be done next to move towards full equality.

Since 2010, cuts to public services and social security have fallen harder on women. At the same time women face increasing harassment and discrimination, only just reaching public debate through developments such as the #MeToo campaign

For Labour in government, strengthening legislation around sex discrimination and tackling the structural and economic barriers which hold women back will be a priority. A century on from suffrage, there’s still work to do.

Crawley News 24 Column, Tuesday 6th February 2018

This morning I represented Crawley at our first meeting as members of the Greater Brighton Economic Board.

Greater Brighton formed part of the first wave of devolution to local authorities, securing a ‘City Deal’ package of funding and powers based around economic development from Government, using legislation passed under Labour.

The board consists of councils, universities, businesses and economic organisations, tasked with delivering growth. Unlike later deals, there’s no mayor, council leaders instead take turns chairing and consensus is sought on issues.

The decision to join last Autumn faced significant opposition from those Conservatives who also serve as county councillors. West Sussex has always refused to join the board, presumably due to large sections of the county having little economic connectivity with those of us based within the Greater Brighton area. With Crawley joining, our sub-region’s economic centre is now clearly focused along the A23/M23 corridor.

Why did we join? Well, there are investment and delivery opportunities, but at the core was the importance of devolution. I supported devolution long before I ran for council. Decisions taken closer to the frontline tend to be both more democratic and more effective at delivering for their area.

A key example for us is the Brighton Main Line. By 2040, trains leaving Brighton will be completely full, there will be no space for Crawley residents. The works to prevent this will take 20 years and it is critical for us they begin right away. However, the UK has one of the most centralised democratic governments in the world, making it difficult to attract national focus onto critical local issues, at this point Brighton Main Line simply isn’t a priority for them. It’s only by working together that we can gain the voice we need to attract the investment we require to deliver for our residents.

Press Release: Government grant funding given to help housing plans

Key housing projects in Crawley move on to the next stage of planning thanks to the council securing new grant funding.

On Thursday (1 February) it was announced that £6.4 million in funding has been granted for housing at Telford Place in Crawley town centre and in Forge Wood, Crawley’s newest neighbourhood.

This funding will help unlock another 620 properties for the borough.

As part of the council’s housing development plans, key town centre site – Telford Place, will receive funding to provide an alternative access to the site, which currently supports up to 100 units. The additional access would enable approximately 200 additional homes in the town centre.

Funding will also be put towards an acoustic barrier at Forge Wood which will allow the development of 420 residential units. These will join the existing 1,900 residential units, which includes 760 affordable units.

The UK is committed to building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and this is the first wave of funding from the £5 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Leader of the Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “The council is committed to providing as many new homes as possible for the people of Crawley and this boost in funding is a key part of doing just that.

“After months of hard work I am delighted that we have been given this funding and I’m excited for the future of Crawley’s housing plans.”

This latest investment will fund key local infrastructure projects including new roads, cycle paths, flood defences and land remediation work, all essential ahead of building the homes.

Press Release: Sign up for Question Time 2018

Crawley Question Time is returning for another year and all residents are invited to attend.

Residents will be given the opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them at the annual event which take place on Thursday 8 March in the Civic Hall.

This annual event which starts at 7pm until 9pm, takes the form of a general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns such as community safety, health, council issues or matters relating to the economy.

Confirmed panellists include Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council; Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition; Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Economic Development; Rosie Ross, Chief Inspector of Crawley Police; Olivia Jefferries, Youth Councillor for the Young Persons Council; Vicki Illingsworth, Principal of Crawley College and member of Crawley CCG will be announced shortly.

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: “Crawley Question Time is your chance to ask questions and raise issues on topics about our town which matter to you in front of local decision-makers.

“Please register now and come along to let us know what you’re thinking!”

To register to attend the debate visit http://www.crawley.gov.uk/getinvolved