Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st January 2020

A Happy New Year to all readers.

Since I started writing this column, I have typically used the New Year’s edition to take a look back over the past year to sum up the key moments of the year in the town and at the council. Much as I would like to do so again, the reality is that my overriding memory of 2019 was of one never ending election cycle.

In May we had Crawley’s first all-out council elections in fifteen years, delivering essentially no changes in the overall composition of the council, followed straight after by European Parliamentary Elections. Due to the sad death of Cllr Petts, in September we then had by-elections in his county council and borough council seats, before rounding off the year with a General Election a fortnight before Christmas. If there’s one wish I have for the coming year it is that we have fewer elections and more actual governing in 2020.

Certainly there’s a lot which needs to be done. Brexit is now essentially guaranteed and the Withdrawal Agreement should at least give us some reasonable continuity on the ground as the UK goes into the next of many further rounds of negotiations with the EU.

Meanwhile decisions to be taken this year around the proposed development of 10,000 houses in Horsham District on border of Crawley and the planned expansion of Gatwick clearly have major implications for the future of our community.

Longer-term, we need to continue to prepare the town for the changes set to come, one in which our economy will run fundamentally differently. That means upskilling and reskilling workers to adapt as many of our current jobs automate, all the while converting our local economy over to zero-carbon running. We’re taking big steps on the ground to get things moving in the right direction, particularly in rolling-out the digital infrastructure, but it remains to be seen if we will get the support we require to deliver the changes we need at the necessary speed, or whether after a decade of cuts we are again asked to do even more with less.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 25th December 2019

Nature is highly competitive. Species and civilisations have been shaped by the competition for limited resources. While we now live in a world far less harsh than that of our ancestors, where the rule of law, welfare state, and various social contracts ensure our lives aren’t nasty, brutish and short, competition remains.

While we perhaps think of it most in the context of sport, competition in some way plays a role in all of our interactions with others, this is no less true of politics.

We’ve all seen the way in which our society has become increasingly divided over recent years and while it has become cliché to claim that these divisions began with Brexit, it definitely helped bring the splits to the surface and subsequently it’s certainly politics where behaviour has sunk the lowest.

In some ways this should be expected. The level of competition in politics is far greater than in almost any other area of social activity, we operate in a winner-takes-all system where the stakes are incredibly high. Yet, despite that, should we not expect more from those who lead and seek to lead our society? Should those of us in politics not expect more from ourselves?

It is a fortnight since the General Election and while elections are a divisive time, again and again on the campaign trail came questions of how we heal the rifts which have spit our country. I don’t claim to have a complete answer, but it seems to me any solution must involve those of us in politics acting to build unity, not division.

Consequently, I have an apology to make. A week ago at Full Council I accused the Conservatives of being bad people. While I made the remark in the heat of a debate filled with accusations, it was wrong. Bad policies don’t make bad people and no party has a monopoly on morality.

People hold different political opinions and we are going to disagree, but that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable. Let us all use our own behaviour to help our country heal. Merry Christmas.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 18th December 2019

Geraint Thomas was one of the kindest, most dedicated men I’ve ever met. He was committed to his principles, to his town, but most of all to his family.

The grief expressed across the community since his passing is testament to the void he leaves in Crawley, the town he lived in his entire life.

Geraint spent over three decades teaching at local schools and former students always remarked on that time fondly. Retiring from teaching he dedicated his time to the local community, representing patients on NHS panels, serving as a school governor, and leading campaigns to protect Ifield Brook Meadows.

I first met Geraint in 2009, spending considerable time with him during his campaign to become a county councillor. While that campaign was unsuccessful, just six months later he joined Crawley Borough Council following a by-election in Northgate, the first Labour councillor for the neighbourhood in decades.

It was in that role I knew him best, after his election he encouraged me to run for council and we spent nine years as ward colleagues in Northgate. He was the most hands-on councillor I’ve ever seen, no problem raised with him was too big or too small.

When he was first elected Barnfield Road Off-License was a derelict with overgrown grounds and he was determined to do something about it. For years he pressured the leaseholder to give up the lease and then pushed the council to convert the land to affordable housing. Today, what was a blot on the landscape is now home for five families.

On the council, Geraint was often responsible for Labour’s most principled acts, the adoption of an ethical investment policy and declaration of a climate emergency stand out as particular achievements amongst many attempts to make his hometown a better, greener, kinder place. Yet despite everything, there was always humility.

There’s too little space to sum up the life of our friend: his love of rugby and cricket, his passion for classical music, his quiet faith. All we can do is be thankful for the time this favourite son of Crawley spent amongst us.

Labour pledges to pull NHS back from the brink in first 100 days

With MRI scanners unfit for purpose, hospitals unable to afford maintenance of priority medical equipment, theatres with unclean air – NHS boards warn of “extreme” risks across South East hospitals Labour pledges a relentless focus on the NHS in its first 100 days in government as new research reveals hundreds of “extreme” risks to patient and staff safety in hospitals across England.

The long-term impact that Tory and Liberal Democrat underfunding is having on our health service is exposed in official NHS Trust documents.

Analysis of more than 120 Trust board papers shows NHS Trusts are faced with hundreds of risks to patient safety classed as “catastrophic” or “extreme”, with the majority linked to lack of spending, staffing shortages or the failures of privatisation.

In government, Labour will immediately undertake a full audit of risks revealed by the research and prioritise capital spending – which Labour has already allocated – ensuring people and buildings are made safe.

Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust’s board reports extreme risks due to two ultra clean air (“laminar flow”) theatres which have had to be shut down after their  ventilation systems and fire dampers failed standards, a third has failed tests and so can no longer be used as an ultra-clean air theatre. Consequently, the hospital has been unable to operate on a large range of orthopaedic procedures and its overall capacity has been significantly reduced.

Last year (2018/19), across the NHS, there were 15,844 patient incidents “directly” related to estates and facilities services (an average of 70 incidents per acute, mental health and ambulance Trust) and 4,810 clinical incidents caused by estate and infrastructure failure. In 2018/19 there were also 1,541 fires recorded by NHS Trusts, with 34 people injured as a result. The cost of eliminating the maintenance repairs backlog in NHS Trusts is now £6.5 billion. £1.1 billion of this is high-risk maintenance and repairs.

NHS leaders have already warned this year that lack of investment in facilities was impacting patient safety. And last month GPs warned that winter pressures were likely to have an impact on patient safety, and 9 out of 10 hospital bosses felt staffing pressures were putting patient’s health at risk.

Earlier this year the Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the CQC warned that the NHS had made little progress in improving patient safety over the past 20 years, and NHS Providers published research that showed 8 out of 10 trust leaders felt that reduced investment in NHS facilities was compromising patient safety.

Peter Lamb, Labour Leader at Crawley: Council and Parliamentary Candidate has said:

“There can be few who now doubt that our NHS is in crisis and on the brink of collapse.

“If clinicians know what needs fixing but there is no money then clearly things have to change. The Tories have had nine years, we need a Labour government that will crack on and do it.

“The choice at this election is clear: we simply cannot afford five more years of the Tories running our health service into the ground. I’ve heard that time and again from local doctors here in Crawley during this campaign, they have been out on the streets supporting us. They see people in Crawley waiting longer for cancer treatment and operations, and more young people are unable to access the mental health care they need. It cannot go on and only a Labour government on the side of patients and staff, with a real rescue plan for our NHS can turn things around.

“So I welcome this pledge to address the issue within the first 100 days of a Labour government – because
people’s health and saving our NHS has to be an absolute priority.”

Sir Keir Starmer visits Crawley to launch Labour’s Manifesto for the South East

Following Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer’s visit to Crawley to launch Labour’s Manifesto for the South East, Leader of Crawley Council and Labour’s Candidate for Crawley, Peter Lamb has welcomed Labour’s focus on individual regions across the UK and on the plan for our region specifically.

Speaking about the South East Manifesto, Peter said: “This region by region focus is exactly what Britain needs to rebuild after years of Conservative austerity.

“The poor levels of growth, low pay, and in-work poverty here in the South East are simply unacceptable. When work is no longer a certain route out of poverty and public services are at breaking point it is clearly time for real change.

“This manifesto sets out Labour’s priorities for the South East. They will kick start a Green Industrial Revolution to tackle the climate crisis while creating 110,000 good jobs for local people.

“Only Labour will rebuild our public services so that once again they are the best and most extensive in the world.

“Like Labour’s national manifesto these plans are all costed. They will be paid for by creating a fairer taxation system in which those with the broadest shoulders pay a little more and everyone pays what they owe. We need a South East for the many, not the few. This is the plan to make that happen.”

During the launch, Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer said: “The South East has been held back by Tory and Lib Dem cuts for ten years.

“Since 2010, the South East has grown 40 per cent slower than London, and weekly wages are now £120 less than in the capital.

“Lib Dem and Tory cuts are why so many of us, or the people we love, have had to wait weeks in pain and worry for cancer treatment. They are why every Christmas, more and more people are sleeping on the pavements in the cold.

“They are why we are still not combatting the climate emergency. They’re even part of why our trains are crowded and late.

“This has to end. The South East, and the whole country, needs real change.”

Crawley’s Labour Council to deliver Ultrafast Gigabit Fibre technology to Crawley

There is an ever-increasing demand for high speed internet connectivity from both business and residents as additional demands are placed on our existing networks by improvements and changes in technology. Changes in working practices and increased use of technology produces particularly demanding requirements from Businesses for both high speed and high capacity networks. Gigabit Fibre technology can deliver this capability but is expensive to install and difficult to cost justify for individuals and businesses.

However, a solution is in hand as Crawley’s Labour run council propose to sign up for the installation of a gigabit fibre ‘backbone’ across the Town and Manor Royal providing both residents and businesses of all sizes the opportunity to keep up with the changing demands of their technology and delivering high speed networks to their door. This multi-million pound project will be managed and delivered by Crawley Borough Council working with a private sector partner and will attract both public and private investment. Once installed businesses and individuals will be able to sign-up for state-of-the-art fibre connections to the internet.

If all goes to plan the work to install the cabling will commence next year after completion of final contract negotiations.

Peter Lamb, Crawley Council Leader and Labour’s Candidate in Crawley, said: “The Council is determined to make sure that Crawley’s world class businesses are supported by the technology infrastructure they need to maintain their leading position in the region and globally. Public sector investment in the Ultrafast Gigabit Fibre backbone will deliver the underlying capacity to Crawley ahead of many other locations, giving our local companies a competitive advantage allowing them to prosper and continue providing high-quality well-paid employment for Crawley people. Residents will also benefit from the investment allowing them to have Ultrafast internet speeds directly into their home – whether for watching the latest movies or working from home – everyone will be a winner.”

Labour will boost Sussex Police’s gang unit to tackle surge in violence since Tory and Lib Dem cuts began

Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, have announced plans to expand Sussex Police’s Violence Reduction Unit. Sussex Police, which has seen a 76% rise in violent crime since 2014/5, will be given the extra staff to tackle its high rates of gang related violent crime.

In April 2018, Labour announced its support for Violence Reduction Units modelled on the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in Glasgow, which is responsible for implementing the successful crime reduction initiative. Their approach of treating violence as a public health crisis has been widely credited for reducing violent crimes by around 40% over the last decade and murders reduced to their lowest level since 1976.

The expansion of Violence Reduction Units will be complemented by investment to tackle reoffending rates. Labour will fund innovative crime-busting pilot schemes with a £20m annual Justice Innovation Fund for Police and Crime Commissioners and local criminal justice boards. These schemes will develop and trial best practice in reducing re-offending.

Re-offending costs are estimated at £18bn per year with re-offending rates at 65% for those released following a short prison sentence.

Labour’s manifesto also commits to match in full the additional government resources announced for policing, after the Tories took 21,000 police off our streets.

Peter Lamb, Council Leader and Labour’s candidate in Crawley, said:  “We’ve all seen the impact of the Conservatives’ cuts in unleashing a wave of crime and antisocial behaviour in Crawley’s town centre and neighbourhoods.

“The Conservatives and the Lib Dems have spent a decade supporting brutal cuts to Sussex Police. There’s no way we can trust them to support our police officers in the future. It’s only by getting real officers back on the beat that we can tackle the problems residents are raising daily in our town.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Under the Tories reoffending rates are far too high, meaning more victims of crimes and less safe communities. Labour will prioritise reducing the number of victims of crime and tackling the huge social and economic costs of offending.

“Our Criminal Justice Innovation Fund will help local experts invest in schemes that work best to tackle reoffending in their areas.”

Peter Meets with Crawley Surgical Consultant Mr Tim Campbell-Smith

After nearly 10 years of Tory austerity no organisation has been as impacted as our NHS. Swinging cuts to social care, the closure of children’s centres, the shortage of GPs has combined to result in an NHS on the brink of collapse.

On top of that, the impact of Brexit on the NHS’s ability to attract staff from other EU countries was causing grave concern as early as 2017, when the Nursing and Midwifery Council reported a 96% reduction in applications from other EU countries.

According to the government’s own figures, between 1 April 2019 – 30 June 2019 there were 90,992 advertised full-time equivalent vacancies in England, leaving the remaining workforce under extraordinary pressure, with doctors, nurses and allied professional groups facing a daily struggle to deliver the standard of care they were trained to.

In Crawley, registering with a GP in the town, let alone in your neighbourhood, is no longer a given.

Waiting times, even for urgent cancer referrals, are up and the statistics on cancelled operations show where the real cost is being felt. Last year, 78,981 operations were cancelled nationally. In our local trust there has been a near 30% rise in cancelled operations affecting 3,397 local people. The number of operations cancelled because of staffing issues and/or equipment failures has gone up by a third in the last two years.

It’s clear to all that our NHS is in a funding and staffing crisis.

Labour Parliamentary Candidate Peter Lamb said: “There can be little doubt that a combination of underfunding and failed recruitment strategies, has bought our NHS to its knees.

“Hearing first hand from local Consultant Surgeon, Tim Campbell-Smith was enlightening. The facts and figures tell a story but Tim sees every day the impact that this is all having on people right here in Crawley.

“Another five years under Tory control, with future U.S. trade deals clearly circling like wolves, will surely take the NHS we have all grown up with and depended on, tipped over the edge.”

Mr Tim Campbell-Smith said: “The NHS is on its knees in terms of funding, staffing and infrastructure. In my 25 years of service, I have never known it so run down, and the staff so demoralised. It needs serious sustained investment to get it back on its feet & only Labour can be trusted to deliver on this.”

Labour pledges a “housing revolution” with biggest council house building programme for decades

With council housing lists in Crawley now 30 years long, Labour pledges a “housing revolution” with the biggest council house building programme for decades.

Labour’s manifesto launched today (Thursday) will include new plans for the biggest council and social housing programme in decades to transform the lives of millions of people struggling to afford a decent home because of the housing crisis.

The new plans will be paid for with funding from Labour’s Social Transformation Fund. Half of Labour’s Social Transformation Fund – around £75bn over five years – will be allocated to housing.

The homes will be built to cutting edge design and green standards, with Labour citing the new, award winning Goldsmith Street council development in Labour-led Norwich as an example of what Labour’s modern council housing could look like.

Labour Parliamentary Candidate and Council Leader, Peter Lamb has welcomed the proposals: “As Leader at Crawley Council, addressing the desperate need for truly affordable housing in Crawley has been an absolute priority. That’s why I was so proud to show the Shadow Secretary of State for Housing around the brand new truly affordable housing we have delivered in Crawley when he visited last week.

“But even working as hard as we can, without changes in central government policy it will take another 30 years to house the 1,329 people we currently have on our waiting list. Those changes are now a core part of Labour policy.”

“A vote for Labour on 12 December is a vote for real change to real lives.”

John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said:  “The next Labour Government will kick-start a housing revolution, with the biggest investment in new council and social homes this country has seen for decades.

“Labour’s transformational housing plans will mean thousands more genuinely affordable homes for people on ordinary incomes in every area of the country.

“Our modern council and social housing will be built to cutting-edge design and green standards providing a long-term investment in our country’s future.”

Crawley Council Leader and Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Peter Lamb welcomes Labour’s proposals on adult retraining and study

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner has announced plans to ensure everyone has access to education and training throughout their life to end skills shortages and allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future.

Labour is pledging to put vocational education on a par with university degrees and deliver a radical expansion of lifelong learning to make sure no one is shut out of education. The plans will enable adults to return to study for free and ensure everyone has the time and support they need to study and retrain.

Peter Lamb, Crawley’s Council Leader and Parliamentary Candidate for Labour said; “The Centre for Cities has warned that Crawley’s jobs market is the most risk of automation in the UK. Under Labour, Crawley Borough Council has created the town’s first ever jobs and skills plan to help residents to access the training they need for the jobs of the future, but we can’t do it alone. Labour’s commitment to enabling adult access to retraining and study are a vital contribution to helping us to tackle one of the biggest issues facing our town.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into.

“People have been held back for too long. We will make free education a right to ensure we have the skills we need to allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future. We’ll make sure no one is shut out of education by giving people the support, time and funding they need to train so that we have the skills we need to meet the changing nature of work and tackle the climate emergency.”