Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 17th October 2018

Representatives of every political party claim to stand up for the interests of the people they were elected to serve and, for all the disagreements over what those interests are and how best to deliver them, most of the time they probably believe it’s what they’re doing. What is much harder to believe is when local Conservative county councillors claim to be acting in Crawley’s best interests, when they are the first to fall in line when the orders are sent out from Chichester.

Last week, Cllr Duncan Crow, Leader of the Crawley Conservative Group, wrote his column under the title ‘Conservative campaign put Crawley first’ although all it really discussed was a rather selective account of how the independent Local Government Boundary Commission came up with the boundaries we will using for borough council elections in future.

Yet, I see no evidence from his group that it is Crawley and not the county council that they are putting first, constantly defending the county for the shoddy state of our roads and parking, for the under-investment in our schools and for cuts to vital services like Fire and Rescue. That may all be in the best interests of the Conservative Party, but it’s certainly not in the best interests of the town.

So, here’s my challenge to the Conservative county councillors claiming to put Crawley first: if you want people to believe you, your actions need to match up to your words and this week is the perfect opportunity to prove yourselves.

At tonight’s Full Council meeting in Crawley we will be debating a motion calling upon the county council to maintain funding for Crawley Open House and the other vulnerable peoples’ housing services they hold responsibility for, then on Friday at West Sussex County Council our petition demanding they stop the cuts–as signed by almost 15,000 people–is being debated. If you want people to believe you genuinely put the town first and don’t simply follow the orders of the Conservative Party big wigs in Chichester: don’t just do what your told, vote with us to maintain Crawley’s services.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 10th October 2018

Last week, TGI Fridays, McDonald’s, Wetherspoons, Deliveroo and UberEats workers joined coordinated action against the low pay and poor working conditions rife in the fast food sector.

No one wants strikes, least of all employees living a hand-to-mouth existence and who sacrifice pay in the process, but the only reason any of us have paid holiday, sick leave, maternity leave, reasonable working hours and a two-day weekend is past generations of trade unionists fought for us to have them. Action is necessary if things are going to improve.

All-too-often these jobs are seen as being short-term and consequently the conditions aren’t given the attention they deserve. Yet, workers are gradually find themselves occupying these–and similar–positions for much longer, with the precariousness of their employment taking a toll and regardless, everyone deserve’s a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.

While the recent announcement that restaurants will be banned from keeping tips–not yet in law–is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The employees on strike last week work for companies with huge revenues, yet for their workers, low pay and poor conditions are the norm. Their call for an hourly wage of £10 and union recognition is far from unreasonable.

Jobs across all sectors are becoming increasingly fragile as companies seek to squeeze more out of their workforce for less, with many trying to re-define their workers as self-employed in order to off-load their employment obligations, meanwhile corporate profitability keeps going up. The changes now taking place to our economy are fundamentally changing the nature of work for the worse and will, in time, affect everyone if we do nothing to stop them.

This strike is part of the attempt to rollback the ‘Gig Economy’ and it’s important that we support it, but more is needed. Labour will not only bring into effect a real Living Wage and new legal protection for those in work, but a direct input into how the businesses they are helping to build is run, ensuring workers can future-proof their jobs against the changes to come.

Press Release: GMB Call For Early Intervention By Sussex Combined CCGs As Patient Transport Provider Thames Ambulance Service Announce Redundancies

Once again the problem is that hard working staff and GMB members are going to bear the brunt of another private contractor failure in Sussex, says GMB Southern

GMB, the Union for the Ambulance Service, are calling for early intervention by Sussex combined CCG’s after Patient Transport Provider Thames Ambulance Service Ltd (TASL) announced ten proposed redundancies within the Sussex Patient Transport services.

GMB are concerned that today’s announcement by TASL within the Sussex PTS is just a prelude and warning of things to come regarding the private provider’s ability and desire to continue working for South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) and the combined Sussex CCG’s.

The union have already met with TASL to seek assurances that they will go back to SCAS to look to resume discussions and champion the case for the safe transfer of all 42 staff back into the NHS.

Over the coming months GMB will continue to make representations to all involved in the provision of Sussex PTS services for demand to be increased to match TASL’s current available capacity to avoid redundancies.

GMB will also be contacting the CCG’s and local MP’s looking for support in assisting with that transfer process as a matter of priority.

Gary Palmer GMB Regional Organiser said:

“I had hoped that the Coperforma fiasco lessons around private PTS provision in the county had been learnt. Especially when those involved and responsible, like Wendy Carberry who was the accountable officer at that time, continue to play an even more Embargosenior role in the newly formed, The Central Sussex and East Surrey Commissioning Alliance Executive Team.

“However, clearly the support required in ensuring that Sussex PTS moved fully back into the NHS and that SCAS and its contractors were supported during that process in clearing up the Commissioners mess in the first place hasn’t happened.
“NHS Central Sussex and East Surrey Commissioning Alliance must take a lead along with the GMB Union in supporting SCAS to fully take back into the NHS all Sussex Patient Transport Services currently provided by private sector company TASL.

“Once again the problem is that hard working staff and GMB members are going to bear the brunt of another private contractor failure in Sussex. TASL appear to have been open and honest with us as the recognised union representing PTS staff within the company with regard to the actual company issues and decision making and the consequential financial ramifications, but these redundancies could and can still be avoided, if all stakeholders are open to trying to seek to advance transfer talks.
“We want to be able to ensure that patients need not fear a return to the Coperforma days of old, when expectations of being provided with patient transport far outweighed the actual reality of service delivery.

“TASL says it wishes to make redundancies rather than exit the contract in Sussex because of continued financial losses from reduced demand by SCAS. This supports GMB’s condemnation of the private sector involvement, on the whole, as the transport and treatment of patients when profit is either above or equal to patient need is wrong. This will lead to the end of the NHS as we know it if the Government continues its deliberate relaxation of procurement regulations in support of its aim of a wholly privatised broken up National Health service at which Tory supporting companies can share out services to drain public coffers.

“Unfortunately, if unable to or whilst we seek to persuade TASL to step back from the redundancy process, we will be looking to them to mitigate reducing possible redundancy numbers even further and in applying and ensuring fair selection processes including seeking possible voluntary redundancies in the first instance.

“It’s going to be a real shame that such professional and experienced PTS specialists are going to be lost to the Service, Patients and County and devastating to those staff and their families who might find themselves compulsorily made redundant with Christmas around the corner. GMB will be there to support all who need us and we will continue to make robust representation to all involved in regard to doing the right thing.”

Peter Kyle, MP for Hove said:

“I’m urging the CCG to resolve this urgently and to bring the service back into the reliable and trustworthy control of the NHS.

“Patients and staff have suffered too much for too long and it’s time to put this issue to bed once and for all.”

Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council said:
“Patients and those working for our National Health Service deserve better treatment than this. It’s time the decision-makers drew a line under this whole sorry business and brought patient transport back into public hands.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd October 2018

I’m often told when Crawley was built, residents were told there would be homes for ‘you’, for ‘your children’ and for ‘your children’s children’. It was a bold pledge, particularly since the country was bankrupt at the time, but it was also a time when voters felt that the State which had beaten the Far Right in the Second World War was capable of delivering for Britain in peace time too.

The New Town dream is something I remain committed to and delivering affordable housing for local people has been my top priority since I became Leader of Crawley Borough Council. When Labour returned to control of the council in 2014 we were elected on a manifesto of building 1,000 genuinely affordable new homes in four years, many times more than the Conservatives had built in their eight years running the council, and we delivered on that promise.

When we pushed to bring in a rule requiring developers to deliver 40% affordable housing as part of all new sites brought forward, the Conservatives fought us the whole way, telling us the Planning Inspectorate would never sign off on it. We won, despite their protests.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do as a council. More and more Crawley residents are forced into the private rented sector, unable to afford a place of their own and, since the introduction of Right to Buy, without any chance of accessing a council home. While the majority of landlords behave honestly, rents remain far too high for too many, with the weakest rights over the places in which they live of any form of tenure and often uncertain as to how long before they are forced to move on. As a member of Generation Rent, I can tell you living precariously is no fun.

We can fix this problem and leave a housing legacy to the next generation, but it requires change nationally. Labour has committed to taking the shackles off of councils, letting us build much larger numbers of affordable homes and gifting the county an asset for the future. That’s an investment worth making.

Crawley Observer, Wednesday 26th September 2018

Thomas Bennett can be saved. Once the leading school in West Sussex for Special Needs and with one of the country’s best value added scores, under Academisation the community college has suffered years of cuts which have brought it to the brink of collapse. Teachers have held on desperate to support the kids, but their patience is wearing thin and school performance is dropping with every cut the chain makes.

For months parents, teachers and campaigners have demanded the Government puts the school back into the community’s hands. Since I called for its return our MP and county council have joined the efforts to give residents back their school, unfortunately a Parliamentary question this month has shown the Government has no intention of letting the public take back control of Thomas Bennett, leaving the future of local education in doubt.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I write from Labour Conference in Liverpool where Angela Rayner, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, has announced that a Labour Government would do what the Conservatives will not, and put Crawley residents back in control of their schools, ending the Academy chains who have pushed up the salaries of their bosses while cutting back on the resources for our children.

Labour will go further than that though, councils will be given the power to build schools again, ensuring there are enough places for all Crawley children, while ending the Free School policy which jeopardised the education of too many of our town’s young people.

For years our MP, who until the last election was part of the Conservative education team, has promised he would sort out the funding crisis which for far too long has left local schools struggling. Yet after eight years representing us thing’s have kept getting worse. Labour will deliver what he has promised but failed to secure and ensure that every local school gets the funding it needs to not only survive but thrive. Education is the key to the future of our children and our country, Labour are the only party who will invest in that future.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th September 2018

As Leader of Crawley Borough Council I’ve had two major goals over the last four years: build as much affordable housing for local people as quickly as possible and stop the cuts central government has forced onto the council from getting passed onto local residents.

So far we’ve delivered for Crawley, with 1,000 new affordable homes for local people built in four years and the same amount being spent on services today as when I took office, despite our grant from Government being all but gone.

The redevelopment of the Town Hall will help us continue to deliver both of these goals, securing over 100 new affordable homes, a much lower running cost Town Hall, high grade commercial offices to fund local services, a District Heat Network providing low carbon energy to the town centre and another revenue stream for local services, and a new public square.

Unfortunately, an attempt to have the building listed, by a Conservative councillor as a Freedom of Information request to Historic England revealed, has caused the significant delays, but we’re now moving full steam ahead.

Actually, I find the Conservatives’ position on this very confusing. Their leader on the council was pushing for a new Town Hall even when the numbers didn’t stack up, our Conservative MP accepted the rationale for a new Town Hall when we met with him to discuss the proposals and the majority of their councillors voted for the plans when they went before council. So, to find them now claiming incorrectly in their propaganda that it’s a waste of money rather begs the question: why did Conservative members vote for it?

Maybe the simple answer is they are hedging their bets? If it’s a success they can then claim credit and if something goes wrong they can say it was all Labour’s fault. That may be good ‘politics’ but it shows a complete absence of leadership.

Oh well. I’m going to get on with providing affordable housing and finding ways to fund local services despite Government cuts, if they want to try and take the credit later that’s up to them.

Crawley News 24 Column, Wednesday 12th September 2018

Louise Goldsmith, the Leader of West Sussex County Council, tells us that cuts to Open House and other housing support services are necessary because they don’t have the money to fund them any longer. Open House receives a grant of £262,075 and I was able to highlight in minutes where the money to save every hostel in West Sussex, about £1m, could come from.

However, the full cut being proposed is £6.3m, so let’s look if there’s anywhere we can find the remaining £5.3m. For instance, last year West Sussex spent £5,933,666.54 on taxis, with a further £165,299.47 on travel expenses. £5,476,737.16 went to consultants and £831,450.74 on advertising and publicity, well they did increase their Policy and Communications budget by £300,000 last year, so that’s not really a surprise. They also spent £742,319 on books and newspapers, to be clear that figure excludes schools and libraries.

With all the empty West Sussex sites in Crawley alone, it’s not a surprise they spent £212,972.42 on vacant properties and a further £594,443.45 on office removals. Recruitment saw £537,219.64 being spent, alongside a peculiar £143,201.18 for ‘Music and Video’, with a further £198,656.84 on postage and £101,660.85 on stationery.

Now, no doubt there are good reasons for much of this expenditure, but that’s £15m which seems more questionably spent than the £6.3m necessary to support the homeless, vulnerable elderly and victims of domestic violence. I’d suggest Nathan Elvery, who was appointed Chief Executive two years ago at an ongoing cost of £220,166, starts by looking there. That’s before asking himself whether he really needs so many layers of senior management. When I became Leader at Crawley I removed the director-tier, so now heads of services report directly the Chief Executive. At West Sussex County Council they not only still have directors, but executive directors. That seems like the real expense West Sussex residents can no longer afford.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th September 2018

Last month, I raised concerns over the cut in officers numbers at Sussex Police and the spike in drugs and violence in Crawley which followed. Of course, this was met with denials across the board from local police leadership, yet the visible increase in police presence in Crawley immediately after I called them out and the subsequent reduction in reports of drugs and violence says a great deal.

A temporary ramp-up in police numbers isn’t a permanent solution, those officers had to be taken from somewhere else and those areas will have suffered as a consequence and what is to stop our problems re-emerging when the numbers reduce again? Sussex Police are due to recruit an additional 200 officers over the next few years, not 800 as the Police Commissioner tries to suggest. While 200 additional officers is better than a kick in the teeth, its less than a third of the number of police we’ve lost locally under the Conservatives.

Fewer police officers tackling crime means more crime. You’d have thought that was a pretty easy concept to get your head around. However, this week the National Audit Office, an independent body responsible for auditing Government, said that due to a lack of monitoring by the Home Office, Ministers were unaware of the impact cutting police numbers had had on the effectiveness of the police in tackling crime. At this point, no assessment has even taken place looking into the impact of the 44,000 police officer and staff cuts which have taken place under the Conservatives.

How can a Government claim to be taking crime seriously when they aren’t willing to ask the most basic questions? Of course, politically such an assessment could never be produced, because we all know what it will say the impact of those cuts have been and the Government couldn’t possibly publicly acknowledge that fact.

There’s an obvious solution to this: accept the obvious need more officers and get on with recruiting them. Labour has committed to recruiting 10,000 additional police officers, at least one extra officer for every neighbourhood in the county, that seems like a good start.

Crawley Live Column, Autumn 2018

After frantically catching-up following the local elections, Council business usually quietens down over the Summer. This year was different: we’ve redrafted the council’s Corporate Strategy and Transformation Plans (outlining how the organisation will work and what it’s priorities will be over coming years), continued working on redevelopment of the Town Hall site and restructured senior management, ensuring we have the right team at the council to take on the challenges Crawley is facing.

Many residents have contacted me recently expressing concerns over the apparent increase of drugs and violence in Crawley. It’s been a big worry for me too and I’ve been very clear about the need for a greater police presence in the town to take this problem head on. Unfortunately, this isn’t something the council controls directly, but until we get the policing residents deserve we we will keep give up the fight for the police we need.

Patients waiting longer for emergency treatment

The latest A&E waiting figures were released last month and, as you might imagine, it’s not good news. In the Crawley area 4,473 patients were left waiting over four hours for emergency treatment.

At a time when Crawley’s GP provision is on the verge of collapse and the NHS body responsible for paying for all of our treatment is in financial special measures, to see our acute services struggling leaves you wondering what will be left of our NHS by the end of this Parliament.

Only Labour is committed to the future of our National Health Service, so vital to all of our lives.