Press Release: Council Prevents Council Tax Fraud

A Pound Hill resident has been successfully prosecuted by Crawley Borough Council for committing three offences under the Fraud Act 2006.

Saira Ishaq of Maunsell Park attempted to deceive the council by supplying two false student certificates in order to gain a Council Tax exemption.

She received a Council Tax bill for £779 in July 2017 and shortly afterwards emailed a copy of a student certificate to the Taxation department at the council. The certificate appeared to have been issued by Queen Mary University of London and stated that she was a part-time student on a course ending in July 2019. However, as the certificate stated she was only studying part-time, she did not qualify for a full-time student reduction.

In October 2017, Miss Ishaq again emailed the Taxation department with an updated student certificate from the same university. This certificate was almost identical but now stated that she was studying full-time. In order to clarify her student status, officers contacted the university and were told that she was not enrolled with them as a student.

As a result, her case was referred to the council’s Fraud Investigation Team for further enquiries and evidence was obtained which confirmed that Saira Ishaq had never been registered as a student at the university and that various elements of the two certificates provided were both false.

Saira Ishaq was interviewed under caution by the Fraud Team and admitted the deception and that she had acted dishonestly by providing the forgeries.

The council has a robust process for checking entitlement to all discounts and exemptions, but if the certificate had been accepted as genuine, Miss Ishaq would have gained a significant Council Tax reduction that would have run over the course of two years until July 2019, amounting to nearly £2000.

The case was heard at Crawley Magistrate’s Court on 29 August and Miss Ishaq pleaded guilty to all three offences. She was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order for 150 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £500 costs to the council.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “While Council Tax fraud is very rare, when people do commit it they take money directly from the local police and council services our community depends upon. Where fraud is committed, those individuals will be found and they will be prosecuted.”

The Corporate Fraud Investigation Team works to prevent, detect and investigate all types of fraud and offences committed against Crawley Borough Council.

If you have a suspicion of fraud, they can be contacted free and in confidence on 0800 634 0180 or by email to: investigations@crawley.gov.uk

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 29th August 2018

I’ve written about the railways quite a bit in the past. Like many Crawley residents, I commute to work by train and consequently get a twice-daily reminder of the state of one of our nation’s essential services.

Much can and has been said of Southern’s appalling management and their crazy franchising deal with the Government which is so poorly designed it offers no incentive for improving the quality of services, only reducing them. Yet another case of Conservatives selling off on the cheap the national inheritance previous generations worked so hard to pass down to us.

We could write about the desperate need for investment in the Brighton Main Line, without which trains leaving Brighton will be full all the way to London, with no room whatsoever at Three Bridges by 2040. Since works will take two decades to complete, we’re running out of time to secure funding if we’re going to ensure Crawley residents can commute in the future.

Yet, these issues aren’t why I’m writing about railways today. This month, the Government confirmed railway fares will rise by 3.2%; what business is it of theirs? Well, ticket prices are regulated, so it is fully within the Government’s power to tell the companies what they can and cannot charge. For Crawley residents this means the price of a season ticket from Three Bridges to London will be £1,014 more than when the Conservatives took power in 2010, one of the biggest increases in the country.

These increases are far greater than inflation and mean railway companies can continue to pay their bosses and shareholders astounding amounts while failing the exact same passengers they are hitting in the pocket. The Conservatives are allowing businesses to exploit their monopoly position against the interests of ordinary people, that’s wrong.

There is an alternative. Fares could be linked to inflation, the areas most affected by train company failures could see their prices frozen and we could allow franchises to lapse, enabling the country to take back control of their railways at no cost to the taxpayer. Impressive and all of which Labour has already committed to deliver.

Press Release: All Coast to Capital Local Authorities Join Campaign for Strategic Investment in the Brighton Mainline

Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership is spearheading the Brighton Mainline Alliance, a group of businesses and organisations that support the aim for Government to fully commit to funding strategic investment in the Brighton Mainline, specifically to unlock the Croydon bottleneck. This investment is vital to drive growth and productivity across the whole region, protect its economic potential and would include the following changes:

• A bigger, better East Croydon station
• ‘Selhurst triangle’ flyovers
• Lower Addiscombe Road / Windmill Bridge reconstruction
• Improvements to Norwood Junction station

All 16 Local Authorities in the Coast to Capital area have now joined the Alliance bringing the total number of members to over 70. The campaign has also been included in Coast to Capital’s new Strategic Economic Plan – Gatwick 360 – as a transport priority to enhance capacity, connectivity and resilience. This railway investment is fundamental for businesses and central to the region’s links to London and international connectivity.

Coast to Capital is calling for more businesses and organisations across the area to join the Alliance to add further weight to its strong collective voice. If your business or organisation wants to demonstrate its support please send your logo to jake.daniels@coast2capital.org.uk.

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital said:

“We are thrilled to have such strong support for our campaign from businesses, local representative groups and our Local Authorities. Our region desperately needs stronger rail infrastructure and by speaking with a unified business voice we continue to make a strong case for investment.”

Councillor Tony Dignum, Leader of Chichester District Council said:

“We fully support the Brighton Mainline Alliance as many of our residents rely on the Brighton Mainline for commuting to work. We have a number of projects planned to boost our local economy and significant improvements to the line would be of further great benefit to our district. The line is vital to our future prosperity and a commitment to more investment would help unlock opportunities not only in our area, but across the south. Investment would have a positive impact on the people who live and work in our district and we fully endorse the alliance’s aims.”

Councillor Garry Wall, Chairman of the Greater Brighton Economic Board and Leader of Mid Sussex District Council, said:

“The Brighton Mainline is not just a commuter line; it is an essential transport corridor which is crucial to the economic development of our City Region.

“For too long though there has been severe under-investment in this major transport route, making delays and disruption a daily occurrence. Quite simply, enough is enough.

“It is only by joining together and presenting a united front that we can present the case for long-overdue investment in our transport infrastructure. Our residents, businesses and communities are relying on it.”

Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport Mike Goodman said:

“We were already championing Crossrail 2 to increase capacity on the South West Mainline so we’re also throwing our weight behind improving the overburdened rail line from Brighton. Not only will they both improve journeys for passengers, they will boost powerhouse economies in London, Surrey and across the South East.”

Louise Goldsmith, Leader of West Sussex County Council, said:

“Improving the entire railway network in the South East is crucial and the Brighton Mainline is a main arterial route and, as such, is a significant economic generator. That’s why we are so supportive of the Brighton Mainline Alliance. We need a very strong voice for investment to support and increase economic prosperity in the area.”

Councillor Martin Fisher, Leader of Tandridge District Council, said:

“Tandridge District Council is pleased to join the Brighton Mainline Alliance and is keen to support its campaign for more investment in the Brighton mainline. Although it does not run through the district, it is an important train service used by many of our residents and businesses. The investment the alliance is calling for would fund the types of infrastructure improvements we’ve identified as vital in our draft Tandridge Local Plan for the coming decade and beyond.”

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said:

“Many Crawley residents, including myself, depend upon the Brighton Mainline to get to work every day, and every year the service commuters are forced to endure gets more cramped and less reliable. Without this investment, those conditions will keep getting worse and by 2040 transport models show there simply won’t be any space left for passengers to board trains by the time they reach Three Bridges. We cannot allow that to happen, that’s why I’m fighting for this investment and I will go on fighting until it’s secured.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd August 2018

Over the last two weeks there has been a more visible police presence in Crawley than I can remember in a long time. While it is good that after all the recent media attention we finally seem to be getting the resources we need to try and tackle the rise in violence and drugs in the town, these extra officers aren’t new, they have had to come from somewhere and that means that the current level of policing cannot be maintained indefinitely. The question then is: once those resources have had to be moved back, what next for Crawley? After all, a temporary increase provides only a temporary solution.

We have been told that Sussex Police are going to be recruiting 800 new police officers, although in reality when you look into the detail most of them are to replace officers leaving the service, meaning the actual increase is only 200. Still, that sounds good, right? Well, not when you bear in mind it’s less than a third of the number of officers, not to mention PCSOs, we’ve lost in Sussex alone since the 2010 General Election. It will take a massive change in Government policy to turn things around and Labour has committed to increasing police officer numbers by thousands.

Residents deserve to know they will be kept safe. As one woman told me on the doorstep two weeks ago, she thought when she moved from south London ten years ago she was moving away from this sort of crime, she was horrified to see it starting in Crawley. To fail to tackle this problem now is to welcome disorder onto our streets. We simply need more police officers.

I think the final words on the subject are best left to the Chief of the Police Federation: “we are failing the public but that’s not the fault of police officers on the ground, and in some cases it’s not the chief constable’s fault. You can only slice the financial cake so many ways and you have to prioritise … the public are already suffering and they are going to suffer more and more.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 15th August 2018

Over the last week there’s been considerable discussion about police numbers in Crawley and whether we have enough to tackle the wave of drugs and violence we’re facing on our streets. The trigger for this debate was a remark I made following the latest stabbing and the need to bring an end to the decline into lawlessness.

While Sussex Police bosses have been at pains to insist there’s no issue with staffing levels, former senior officers and members of the public have subsequently reached out to me with more information which casts doubt on the credibility of what we’re being told.

The problem for Sussex Police is what we’re told defies sense. We’re told a loss of over 700 officers locally has had no impact upon police effectiveness, while simultaneously we’ve seen police responsiveness decline, the rise of gang violence and every time I go door-knocking I’m told of new locations in our neighbourhoods where drugs are being dealt. While Crawley has been through difficult periods in the past, I can’t remember a time it ever got this bad.

Next we’re told Sussex Police are recruiting 800 new officers–although, in truth it’s actually only a net increase of 200. Well, hold on a minute, how can we both have enough officers and at the same time need to recruit an extra 200? We better need them, our council tax is going up to pay for them. People aren’t stupid, claims that we have enough officers when we’re having to hire more comes across as dishonest, eroding trust in the good work individual officers do.

Even with the new recruitment we’ll be 500 officers short of the level we had just a few years ago and to try and claim that those cuts have nothing to do with people left bleeding on our streets or the spread of narcotics around our community is obvious nonsense.

In the meantime, the police have made themselves very visible this week, but without more officers they can only keep up the pretence for so long and I’m not going to stop pushing until we get the resources Crawley needs.

Press Release: Council recover property used as a car workshop

Crawley Borough Council has successfully recovered a property in Three Bridges after discovering that it was being used by the tenant to run a car parts and accessories business.

The investigation was initially launched by the council’s Fraud Investigation Team who received an anonymous tip off, alleging that the tenant was not residing at the address.

The Fraud Team then worked with officers from the Nuisance and Anti-Social Behaviour Team, Housing and the Community Wardens in the process of recovering the property, after it was discovered that the tenant had been using the adjoining residents’ car park to carry out mechanical works on a number of vehicles, including several cars and vans.

The council were awarded an outright possession order at Horsham Court and awarded costs of £424.50. On repossession of the property, various car parts, tyres, tools and rubbish had been left behind.

Councillor Peter Lamb said: “While fraud is incredibly rare, every property lost to fraud is a Crawley family which can’t be housed. Crawley Borough Council is committed to delivering more affordable housing for local people and ensuring every house goes to those residents who need it most.”

Crawley Borough Council’s Fraud Investigation Team can be contacted free and in confidence on 0800 634 0180 or by email to investigations@crawley.gov.uk

The Community Wardens investigate all reports of fly-tipping and can be contacted on 07884 492324.

The Nuisance and Anti-Social Behaviour Team can be contacted on 01293 438438.

Press Release: Crawley council makes significant commitment to local construction workers

Crawley council is giving its backing to a Unite Construction Charter that seeks to ensure that conditions for workers on construction projects under local authority control in Crawley meet the highest standards.

Peter Lamb, leader of the council has committed to back the charter and has included the commitment in the Labour council’s manifesto.

The charter commits to working with Unite in order to achieve the highest standards in respect of direct employment status, health & safety, standards of work, apprenticeship training and the implementation of appropriate nationally agreed terms and conditions of employment.

Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley council said: ‘Everyone has the right to a safe working environment and the conditions set out in Unite’s Construction Charter should ensure construction workers are treated fairly and safely on council projects. I don’t see this as setting an example, it’s really the least that any employer should do.

“The council has ambitious plans to invest in affordable homes and to regenerate the town centre as part of a wider economic development and regeneration programme. The charter will cover important local authority construction projects including a range of residential, commercial and public realm improvements.”

Unite regional secretary for the South East Ian Woodland said: “We welcome Crawley council’s significant commitment to construction workers. Unite’s Construction Charter will help local workers to operate in a safe environment on construction sites and to ensure they can raise health and safety issues without fear.

“The council is involved in a number of important projects and workers on those projects will be able to work under the highest standards.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th August 2018

No one should fault the hard-work and dedication of our police officers, they on a daily basis put themselves in jeopardy to try to keep us safe from harm. Yet, while we applaud the efforts of individual officers, we must confront the clear reality that Sussex Police are no longer able to deal with the pressures they’re facing.

Over the last year, time-and time-again residents have complained to me about crimes going uninvestigated, drug dealing appears to have spread across residential areas and the stabbings we’ve seen over recent months go well beyond any level of violence I can remember in Crawley’s past.

This is not the fault of our local police, it’s the logical result of decisions taken both in Government and by our Police Commissioner, which have left the police without the resources they require to deliver the service Crawley needs. To be silent about the crisis in policing we’re now experiencing is not being loyal to the service, it’s leaving it to the hyenas.

No matter how much you invest in technology, effective policing requires police officers. Yet, during my four years as either a full or substitute member of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel, the body responsible for scrutinising the work of the Police Commissioner, our calls to preserve neighbourhood policing went ignored year-on-year. While cuts from Government did necessitate some reduction in neighbourhood policing, the cuts to Sussex Police went millions of pounds beyond these national constraints, simply put: they were a choice.

At first this meant that the police would no longer deal with things which weren’t exclusively police work, then anti-social behaviour issues fell by the way, next low-level crime and now we find them unable to deal with the town’s growing problems with drugs and violence.

At last the Commissioner appears to be waking up and, following a change in national policy, is reversing some of the cuts, but recruiting and training officers doesn’t just happen overnight and in the meantime, I simply do not have confidence that the police will get a grip on the problems Crawley is now facing.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st August 2018

There has been lots of discussion this week about Labour’s ‘Build it in Britain’ policy. The basic idea being that when large amounts of taxpayer money are being spent on infrastructure or goods, the Government should try to spend the money in a way which promotes British industry.

The amounts of money we are talking about are huge. The Government spends around £200bn every year on private sector contracts, were that money invested back into the British economy the potential benefits in terms of jobs and incomes is significant. Right now the Ministry of Defence is deciding whether or not to award a £285m contract for constructing Royal Navy support ships to a firm based in Japan, a decision which would have a massively negative impact upon the UK’s own ship building industry.

So, Labour are urging a change of direction, instead of contracting overseas let us award them to British firms, let us stand up for jobs in the UK, and let us help to develop a high-skill, high-wage economy which will benefit the many. It is hard to see where the Government’s opposition to this proposal comes from, the policy is far from unusual. Both Germany and France have shown that building at home promotes the national economy and encourages local innovation, something from which the UK could benefit.

In Crawley, the council is already ensuring money from Crawley is invested back into Crawley. While we are legally required to run an open and fair procurement process for contracts, we have built in a requirement to ensure local firms do not go ignored in the tendering process. The council’s Developer and Partner Charter requires firms with council contracts to provide and promote career and small business opportunities in the Crawley area. We even run a ‘Buy Local’ campaign and support events designed to connect local suppliers and buyers.

There is no reason British businesses lack the skills or ability to deliver on Government contracts and there’s no legal reason they can’t be offered them. Labour thinks we should ‘Build it in Britain’, it certainly makes sense to me.

What does Brexit mean for Crawley?

Over the Summer, John Howarth, Labour Member of the European Parliament for the South East, is hosting a series of guest blogs on his website looking into some of the lesser known implications of Brexit where we live.

As Labour Leader on Crawley BC, I was asked to write about what Brexit means for the area and I took the chance to raise one of the biggest risks currently facing our town, the one which keeps me up at night, if the UK finds itself in a ‘No Deal’ position: http://johnhowarthmep.uk/my-local-brexit-cllr-peter-lamb/