Don’t just vote to send Boris a message; vote to protect local services, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th April 2022

Next week local elections are taking place across Crawley. In three out of every four years, a third of Crawley Borough Council is up for election, with West Sussex County Council elected in the fourth year.

The elections this year are for the borough council and will decide who is responsible for things like housing, leisure and cultural facilities, environmental services, and economic development with most other major local services, such as maintaining the roads and providing social care, the responsibility of West Sussex County Council.

At the moment, no party currently controls Crawley Borough Council, it has a Labour-Independent administration and a Conservative opposition. After next week, Crawley Borough Council will either be run by Labour or by the Conservatives. With the two parties consistently coming first and second in every seat in Crawley, it is extremely unlikely that any other party will be elected to the council this year.

I am very proud of the work we have done on the council during the last eight years of Labour leadership. While we haven’t delivered as much as I’d have liked to have achieved, that’s because our ambitions for Crawley are extremely high and we’ve been working under a Government which has cut the council’s funding for services by two-thirds.

For many people, local elections are a chance to send national parties a message and obviously if the Conservatives receive a really bad result next week that will make it clear to the party exactly what the British public think of having a Prime Minister who breaks his own laws and a Chancellor who can opt out of the taxes he sets.

However, I don’t believe when people go to vote that they need to be thinking of the national picture. All they need to do is to ask themselves, would they rather stick with an administration which has managed to protect services despite the cuts nationally or return to the same Conservatives who began cutting at Crawley before Austerity even started and who right now are failing to deliver the services Crawley deserves at West Sussex County Council.

Crawley families £2,665 worse off under Conservative cost of living crisis

New research from Crawley Labour reveals the Conservatives are leaving families in Crawley £2,665 worse off. The analysis includes all the measures announced in the Chancellor’s disastrous Spring Statement.

This year, families in Crawley will pay £1,059 more in tax thanks to the National Insurance hike, energy prices are rising by £693, the food shop will increase by £277 and mortgages in Crawley will rise by an average of £339.

Labour’s approach:

  • A Labour government would help families with energy bills fully funded by a windfall tax on the bumper profits of oil and gas companies
  • Labour would not be raising National Insurance Contributions at the worst possible time
  • Labour councils charge on average over £300 less than Conservative councils – and more than £500 less than the Lib Dems

Cllr Peter Lamb, Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said:

“Crawley’s economy was the hardest hit in the country by the impact of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Yet, even before the pandemic decisions taken by the Conservatives had seen living standards collapse to the point where over a third of the town’s children were growing up in poverty.”

“Now, as the country faces a Cost of Living Crisis, the Chancellor is increasing taxes again on working people again, the same Chancellor despite holding tax status in the US. Enough is enough, Crawley deserves a Government which is on their side.”

Greater Brighton Annual Report 2021/22

Founded as part of the successful efforts to secure a City Deal for the region, since 2014 the Greater Brighton Economic Board has led the way in delivering almost £200m of investment across Adur, Brighton, Lewes, Mid Sussex, and Worthing.

In the years which followed, Greater Brighton’s boundaries expanded to include Arun and Crawley, with the population of the city region growing to over a million people and an economy of over £21 billion.

With the City Deal funding coming to an end, the purpose of the board has increasingly shifted from overseeing the government’s capital investment in the city region to identifying areas where collaboration across the board has the potential to deliver better outcomes than individual action alone. It is in this new role that the board has brought forward ambitious plans aimed at addressing a range of issues, with a particular focus on enabling a successful shift to net zero across the city region.

The release of the Levelling Up White Paper earlier this year brings with it both challenges and opportunities for our area. The goal of ‘Levelling Up’ is widely interpreted as meaning a refocusing of government support onto ‘left behind’ areas conventionally associated with the North of England, yet we have within our city region significant pockets of deprivation and for the UK to prosper economically we need areas such as Greater Brighton to continue to thrive.

The aims of the White Paper are ambitious, yet with the absence of substantial new public investment, the realisation of those goals hinges upon the decentralisation of powers to upper-tier authorities and functional economic areas, with the paper setting out a roadmap for devolution across the country as a whole. This forces a choice upon the board and in the coming months we will have to decide collectively what we believe will best deliver for our communities. Should we remain focused solely upon collaborating around an ad hoc set of issues or do we feel that Greater Brighton has the potential to take on those same decision-making powers which can be found across our competing city-regions? Which approach will best ensure we deliver for the people who live and work within our city region?No one can deny that in the face of COVID-19, the last two years have proven the most challenging in the history of the board and yet I strongly believe that with the question of devolution looming, it is 2022/23 which is set to be Greater Brighton’s most significant year.

Full report available here:

This growth of poverty will end when people stop voting for it, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th April 2022

Last week I attended a fundraising event for Free Shop, a local organisation which has been providing financially strained families with access to food and other essentials since November 2020. During the pandemic, which saw Crawley experience record levels of unemployment, they have played a vital role, filling a gap which would have otherwise led to people going hungry.

Many such inspirational groups have been established in our area over recent years, charities like Ten Little Toes which enable new parents to access the equipment they need so low household incomes don’t result in babies being put at risk. It’s vital support and much like Free Shop it’s entirely dependent on charity to survive. These organisations play a crucial role in our community and they need all of us who can contribute to do whatever we can to help. Every little bit makes a difference.

Yet, regardless of whether or not you’re able to contribute, it’s important to remember charity can only go so far and what’s happening in the UK right now, one of planet’s the wealthiest nations, isn’t normal. There are simply no excuses why in a country so rich anyone should be going hungry. Things haven’t always been this way and while there are external factors at work, the vast majority of the reason why poverty has re-emerged as a major crisis in the UK over the last twelve years is as a direct result of decisions taken by the Conservatives around public spending and economic policy.

Over a third of Crawley’s children are now growing up in poverty. It’s a statistic which deeply depresses me, not only for the tragedy itself, but because too few people seem to care enough to do something about it. The fact is, before the Conservatives came to power, we were undergoing the steepest decline in child poverty in this country’s history. To claim that all parties are the same is lazy and can be disproven with even a few minutes research. The truth is: what is happening right now is only possible so long as people keep voting for it.

Pensioners are next on the Conservatives’ cutting block, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th April 2022

In past columns, I’ve written a lot about the pain younger generations have suffered since the Conservatives took power. Not without reason, these generations are the first in modern times to receive a worse deal than that of their parents. Whether it’s cuts to Education and the massive increase in University fees, being unable to access home ownership or council housing, the collapse of working conditions which leaves growing numbers hovering around the poverty line, and now a hike in National Insurance to protect inheritances for those with over £86,000 in the bank. You wonder why young people don’t vote Conservative?

What I’ve struggled to understand is why older generations do vote Conservative. True, the older you get the less you need to have decent working conditions and chances are you already have somewhere to live, but you’re also more dependent upon an NHS increasingly being run into the ground and the Conservatives’ failure to provide a genuine solution for social care leaves many of our elderly living their final years in misery.

I guess, increases in tax-funded benefits for older generations, such as the triple-lock guarantee, do help to mask some of this from pensioners. Or at least until next Monday, when pensioners will see the value of their payments fall to their lowest point in 50 years, as the Conservatives opt to make a substantial real-terms cut in the value of all benefits and introduce a major rise in pensioner poverty, something all-but eliminated under the last Labour Government.

It’s not the only sign of the Conservatives’ new War on the Elderly. While people are now familiar with the TV licences being removed, plans were announced for issuing 60-65 year olds with £100 Penalty Charge Notices if they failed to realise what medicines the Conservatives no longer allowing them to have for free. It’s beyond a joke For four General Elections, pensioners have been the Conservatives’ strongest supporters. Like all Conservative supporters that support is now taken for granted. They don’t believe pensioners will ever vote against them and until they’re proven wrong, this new war won’t stop.

A decade of inaction on the problems facing Britain, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th April 2022

This May marks ten years since I became Labour Leader on Crawley Borough Council. To say a lot has happened in that time is an understatement, given the general chaos in which the country now seems to find itself plunged into once crisis or another year after year.

Yet, for everything which has happened, a decade on it’s depressing to realise that the big problems facing most people in Crawley and across the UK remain much the same as they were in 2012. The cost-of-living crisis, the absence of a plan for adult social care, the shortage of housing people can afford, the underfunding of our National Health Service, the lack of action on crime and antisocial behaviour. For all the commitments made, nothing much our Conservative Government has done with the time they have had has helped move the UK forwards.

Let’s take childcare as an example. Pledges to make childcare cheaper to help parents get back into work have been a regular feature in Conservative manifestos, including at the last General Election. Yet, for all the promises, the cost of childcare for a 38-week school year now costs parents in our area £10,984.28, with surveys indicating 39% of parents in our region have been forced to cut their working hours due to the cost of childcare.

This system isn’t only bad for those families, it’s bad for the country’s economy and consequently on the public services which depend upon UK tax revenue. The fact we’ve reached this point shouldn’t come as any surprise, all the signs were there a decade ago, we just needed a Government prepared to do more than bluster.

There is an alternative and Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan would enable children to go to breakfast clubs and after school activities for free, boosting children’s wellbeing post-pandemic, and support working parents.

Surely, it’s the role of Government to actually try to help fix problems facing the country, rather than just paying them lip service and then pointing the finger at everyone other than those actually responsible. Unfortunately, for now, it seems that’s what we’re stuck with.

£1,088 pay cut for every worker in Crawley, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 30th March 2022

A week on from the Spring Statement and the fallout has yet to end. The statement not only failed to meaningfully address the cost of living crisis affecting households across the UK, but their subsequent spin revealed a Government deeply out of touch with how most people live their lives. This crisis didn’t come out of nowhere, its roots stretch back to 2010 and the lack of action on living costs since then gives little reason to believe the Conservative Party will ever do anything to tackle it.

For families in Crawley, the hike in the cost of essentials couldn’t come at a worse time, with unemployment far higher than at almost any other time in the town’s history due to the Government’s COVID restrictions and the lack of Government support which followed.

Now, on top of everything else, both workers and employers face a tax increase in National Insurance, actively penalising companies for creating new jobs and consequently slowing the economy down further. It’s almost beyond belief. Even the Government’s own advisors made it clear the increase isn’t necessary.

The result is that by 2023, workers in Crawley face an average real terms pay cut of £1,088 compared to the start of this year. That’s money most families cannot afford to lose. Yet, rather than reversing their tax cuts for the superrich or having a windfall tax on the profits of businesses exploiting the current crisis, this Government is doing what it has always done: targeting ordinary hard-working families while cutting their services. It should be clear to everyone by now that no matter who they elect as leader, no matter whatever else is going on in the world, the Conservatives’ approach won’t ever change because it can’t, it is at the core of what holds their party together.

So, what next? Well, really that’s up to you. In a democracy, Governments only have the ability to treat their citizens with contempt when they know they can rely upon their support. With local elections taking place in early May, the question is what message do you want to send?

Geraint Thomas House official opening

A Crawley Borough Council housing development named after Geraint Thomas, who was the council’s cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability when he sadly passed away in November 2019, was officially recognised today in a short ceremony outside the building.

The site was named Geraint Thomas House in honour of former councillor Geraint Thomas. From his many years teaching geography in Crawley, to his 10 years serving as a councillor in Northgate and Ifield wards and three years as Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability, Geraint was a passionate advocate for the environment and this is seen as a fitting way to remember the exceptional work he did for the area.

Family and friends of Geraint Thomas, council officers, council leader Peter Lamb, councillor Ian Irvine and senior directors from housing provider A2Dominion, gathered together to mark the official opening of the building. Geraint Thomas’ wife, Jenny, cut the ribbon and Peter Lamb gave a short speech.

Peter Lamb said: “Geraint was one of Crawley’s leading champions. His many years work in the town as a teacher, community activist and councillor have left a lasting legacy in Crawley, and it brings me real joy that in Geraint Thomas House we have a lasting monument to his dedicated service.”

Jenny Thomas added: “Geraint loved Crawley. In his work as a councillor, he was committed to sustainably improving the lives of its residents. Geraint’s family and friends are proud of what he achieved and grateful that he will be remembered in this development which provides a place for people to call home.”

Simon Potts, Director of Land and Planning at A2Dominion, commented: “Geraint Thomas House has been a great achievement for us, working together with Crawley Borough Council. It was important that we provide high-quality, affordable new homes, and that the look and feel of the development made a positive impact to the local environment.”

The Geraint Thomas House development is 100% affordable, with 33 shared ownership apartments and 58 apartments for affordable rent.

National Day of Reflection, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 23rd March 2022

Today is the second National Day of Reflection, a day dedicated to those lost during the course of the pandemic, two years on from the UK’s first lockdown.

It’s hard to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on the UK, the level of government restrictions and interventions alone are unlike anything experienced before during peacetime. Unfortunately, the human brain is hardwired to deem acceptable things which become routine, even if at any other time we would consider them to be horrific.

Joseph Stalin is alleged to have said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” While it would be easy to discount this as the warped ravings of a mass-murderer, the reality is we see it all the time with global disasters, with people reacting far more strongly to the tale of a single human life lost rather than updates on the overall death total.

We have lost over 185,000 members of our community to a pathogen unknown to the world just three years ago, yet we don’t seem to be acting as though we recognise this as the deadliest incident our country has faced since WWII.

Perhaps it’s the myth that all those who died were old or had underlying conditions, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary? Yet, even if that were true, many ‘underlying conditions’ would not have prevented people from living a full lifespan and with average life expectancy being over 80, someone dying in their early 70s still amounts to a decade lost.

Today is a chance to remember all those lost and that every one of those 185,000 had people who are grieving; to remember the pandemic isn’t over and our actions today will determine how high the numbers grieving will continue to rise. We’re not being asked to pick up a gun to save our countrymen or to even to wear a poppy in remembrance. The only sacrifice asked of us is to keep wearing face masks when away from home. It’s a simple act, yet one which helps protect others from having to grieve.

‘We’re all in this together’ the Conservatives said, Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 16th March 2022

‘We’re all in this together’, that’s what George Osborne said just before the Conservatives took power in 2010. We were told it as we lost jobs and services, as families saw their taxes go up and the cost-of-living bite deep, as the wealthy became the super-wealthy and saw their taxes cut. While the UK Government cannot be blamed for the global pandemic or the war in the Ukraine, the reality is years of poor decision-making by the Conservatives, fully supported by Crawley’s MP, has left most local families in a far poorer financial condition for surviving the challenges ahead than should have been the case.

Following a decade of lost growth and stagnant incomes, with out-of-control property prices, the tax burden shifted from high-earning to medium and low earning households, and the loss of social security, families are now facing an unprecedent cost-of-living crisis.

This month we are enduring a total increase in Crawley’s energy bill of £30.3m, set to rise still further in six months when the war in the Ukraine leaves its mark. Meanwhile fuel and food continue to see big price hikes, and the cost of housing continues ever upward.

We cannot go back in time to undo the Conservatives’ mistakes, but they do have a duty to households make ends meet, starting with cancelling obvious new mistakes. Increasing the National Insurance tax which will not only hit incomes hard right when people can’t afford it, but also put a tax on job creation. An outgoing member of the Government’s own Budget Responsibility Committee made it clear that following through with the increase could only be explained by party politics, not economics.

On food, housing, fuel and energy costs real Government action is possible. For instance, instead of forcing Crawley families to take out a collective £8.6m in debt as part of their energy plans, the Government should follow Labour’s plan to use a windfall tax on the bumper profits of oil and gas companies to help reduce people’s energy bills. None of this is rocket science, we just need a Government with our interests at heart.