#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.

Be scam aware, warns #Crawley council

Crawley Borough Council is warning residents to be scam aware following a rise in reports of conmen knocking on doors.

The council has recently received reports of two different scams, where residents are asked to pay thousands of pounds up front for work that isn’t needed or shouldn’t cost anywhere near that amount.

In the first scam, a group of men were knocking on residents’ doors claiming to be from a boiler company and saying that they had been sent to check on boilers.

This happened to a resident in Bewbush, who was told their boiler needed to be fixed at a cost of £4,000, which he was told to withdraw from his bank without telling anyone. This particular tenant was vulnerable but fortunately the bank staff knew him well and questioned why he was withdrawing such a large amount of money.

His support worker was then notified and the incident was reported to the police. Additional security measures have been put in place for this tenant.

The second scam was reported in Gossops Green, where a resident was scammed for fencing at a cost of £3,500. This was reported to the police and fortunately the cheque was cancelled before the scammers got their money.

Scams come in many different forms and not just on the doorstep. Other scams include emails, phone calls and text messages. We are encouraging tenants to be extra careful when buying products or services online or in person.

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • You are asked to pay money up front, for example to cover delivery costs or to ‘release funds’
  • You have ‘won a prize’ in a lottery or competition you have never heard of, much less entered
  • You are pressurised or hurried into making a decision – e.g. told to ‘act now’ as the price will go up if you don’t buy immediately
  • You are told to not tell anyone else about it – for example ‘it’s an exclusive deal only for you’
  • Unsolicited emails, phone calls, text messages or letters
  • Emails from sources you don’t recognise that include attached documents or other files
  • Emails that appear to be from your bank, HMRC or another trustworthy source that ask you to reveal personal data, such as your account details.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “There will always be a small number of people who seek to take advantage of others, but we can protect ourselves from scams by taking a little extra time to check people are who they claim to be.”

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th August 2020

When the Government announced the furlough scheme in March, I expressed my support for it on Twitter. To this day it remains my most commented upon tweet, with over 1,400 people calling me a traitor. Yet, it was clear to me at the time the main employment sectors in Crawley could not survive under the restrictions necessary to tackle a pandemic and the alternative would be mass unemployment.

While the UK has emerged far more rapidly from COVID restrictions than most other European nations, despite the country still having a far higher level of infections and excess deaths than comparative nations, the rate of infection does appear to be stable enough for many industries to resume operation without the need for the furlough scheme.

Inevitably there are industries which are hit harder and for longer than most, requiring ongoing support, and in Crawley we have more jobs in these sectors than anywhere else. So, while there is a limit to the financial resources available to the Government, it’s hard to understand why the Government continues to pay out billions in public money to businesses who no longer need it while refusing to commit to ongoing support for those sectors who are struggling precisely because of the COVID restrictions the Government is currently forcing them to operate under.

The council has repeatedly asked the Government to take such steps to safeguard local employment, but while the Labour Party has made such a commitment nationally, after five months of lobbying there is still no real action from the Government of a scale which would enable us to avoid mass unemployment in Crawley.

So, it’s left to those of us on the ground to do what we can and Crawley Borough Council has pulled together local businesses, public sector bodies and other organisations to provide employment support, invest in skills training, and speed up infrastructure delivery to attract new employers. Yet, the reality is after a decade of cuts, no part of the public sector now has the resources to protect our community from the pain to come, only the Government can do that.

Remembering #VJDay75 in #Crawley

This Saturday marks the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Japan and the final end of WWII. Unfortunately, much as with VE Day earlier in the year, the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic means we can’t mark the date publicly in the way it deserves, but that does not stop us remembering it.

It all-too-often feels as though VJ Day receives far less recognition than VE Day, perhaps due to the theatre of war being so far from home. Yet, it was a part of the war which tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers–of all the many ethnicities in the Empire–lose their lives, where British colonies fell to Axis control, and where prisoners of war faced the worst treatment imaginable. Such suffering and the peace which followed certainly deserves parity of recognition.

When the New Town was built, Crawley became home to many of the heroes who served in the Far East, and to this day there are plaques in St John’s and the Memorial Gardens dedicated to those who fought in the Burma Campaign.

Of course, VJ Day follows two other dates inextricably linked the the occasion, the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events which helped bring the Second World War to a close but in doing so have left us with the ongoing threat of global nuclear conflict.

Whether or not the war could have ended without the use of atomic weapons or similarly large loss of life through conventional weapons is something historians debate to this day. Yet, at a time when Nationalistic are more common that at any time since the end of the war, both in the UK and overseas, we need to look back on these conflicts not through the rose-tinted glasses of Hollywood but as they really were. War at its heart is pain and loss, every nation emerges from it far poorer–in all respects–than when they entered, and good men and women must always be prepared to stand up to tyrants, war should never cease to be a last resort.

#Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 5th August 2020

Since March, the UK has been subject to greater limitations on personal liberty than at any other peacetime period in modern times. I’m not in any way criticising the imposition of these restrictions–if anything the UK’s relaxed approach to COVID-19 compared to other countries explains why our country has performed so badly in getting the disease under control. Viruses can’t spread themselves, only people spread contagion. That’s why such restrictions are necessary, because one person exercising their liberties in a way which spreads the disease imposes upon the liberties of a great many more.

My issue isn’t the rules, it’s how they’re enforced. From the start, there has been confusion over who actually had the power to undertake enforcement on the ground, with authorities only being notified after public announcements had been made and on occasion with the relevant changes to the law happening days after the rule had been brought into effect.

At the press conference where the Government announced that face-masks would be mandatory on public transport, a journalist asked about enforcement and was told the Government were just expecting people to comply. It didn’t work. After all, if we could rely upon people to do always what was right we wouldn’t need laws in the first place, never mind the police. That’s why when discussing on the radio the plan to make face-masks compulsory in shops, I made it clear that without someone to enforce it the rule was pointless.

Instead of clarity, we have ended up with a confusing mishmash of responsibilities and powers for enforcement spread between Crawley Borough Council, West Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, and Public Health England. Where the enforcement duty begins and ends on any given issue is often unclear even to those running one of the organisations.

In principle having everyone pull together is great, in practice the different remits of each organisation results in different ways of approaching issues, creating uncertainty when clarity is needed. The need for the Government to rationalise responsibilities on the ground is clear, the question is if that will happen before disaster strikes.