Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th May 2019

A huge thanks to those who turned out to do their democratic duty and vote, I’m particularly grateful to those who voted for their local Labour candidates and to my own residents in Northgate and West Green.

Going into this election, boundary changes had already affected the council’s composition. Northgate and West Green wards were merged, meaning the four Labour seats went down to three. Likewise, Broadfield’s two wards were merged meaning four seats Labour had held were cut to three. Meanwhile, Conservative-held Three Bridges went up from two seats to three. In 2018, Labour had 20 seats to the Conservatives’ 17, the new boundaries meant both parties notionally started the campaign with 18 seats each.

On Thursday, Labour won the Conservatives’ seats in Ifield and Southgate but lost our seat in Tilgate, meaning the final result of 19 to 17 represented a net Labour gain of one seat. On top of that, Labour won 47% of the popular vote to the Conservatives’ 41%, which in a General Election would mean Labour won the seat with a majority of over 3,000. Despite a surge in support for minor parties, helping the Conservatives to retain their seats in several areas, the council remains entirely Labour or Conservative.

So, for a fifth election running Crawley Labour has been chosen to run the council, and while I am very grateful to residents for giving us the chance to continue working for you, this result was far closer than opinion polls had suggested.

All the political chatter, both before and after the Local Elections, has been about Brexit, how it is affecting political support and what should now be done. The problem is, in speaking with thousands of Crawley residents over the course of this campaign, behind every door there seems to be a different position on Brexit, with those saying that they weren’t voting for Labour because of Brexit fitting into both the Remain and Leave camps, making it far from clear exactly what people were trying to say to politicians.

Regardless, on the ground our concern is the town, and this result means Crawley Labour can go on delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st May 2019

This Thursday is Election Day. By now you’re probably aware there have been boundary changes in Crawley, meaning every seat on the borough council is up for election and as a result you’ll have two or three votes you can cast, depending upon the number of councillors representing your area.

On the day you will be able to vote from 7am to 10pm, you won’t need your polling card to vote and if you have a postal vote you haven’t posted it can still be handed in at any Crawley polling station. Every year in Crawley we have seats which are won by less than 50 votes, at the 2005 General Election even the constituency came down to 37 votes, and when the Conservatives took control of Crawley in 2006 it was on the draw of lots as a seat was tied. In Crawley, your vote can always make the difference.

While Conservative-run West Sussex County Council is responsible for road maintenance and parking, schools, and adult social care and our Conservative Police Commissioner is responsible for preventing crime and antisocial behaviour, Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is responsible for delivering facilities like K2 and the Hawth, building new affordable housing, and maintaining services like the weekly bin collection.

What happens to these services and facilities is the question at this election. Do we want a council which will continue working to maintain and improve these services and facilities, which prioritises the things residents ask for and is building affordable homes for local people on a scale not seen in decades, or do we go back to the same programme of cuts we saw when the Conservatives last ran Crawley.

While Crawley Labour’s manifesto has been produced following careful consultation with the public and council officers to ensure we are not only committing to the things residents want but which can actually be delivered, the Conservatives’ ‘Plan’ for Crawley appears to be unfunded and the only thought on ‘delivery’ seems to be delivering more votes, rather than the things they are promising. Voters have seen this before and I’m sure they know what to do.

Press Release: Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP, will today announce that the next Labour Government will scrap ‘permitted development’ rules for new homes, ending a get-out clause which allows developers to dodge social housing obligations and build slum housing.

Permitted development rights introduced since 2013 allow developers to bypass the normal planning process by converting commercial spaces into housing without the consent of the council and local community. This gives developers a get-out from requirements to provide affordable housing and meet basic quality rules such as space standards creating ‘rabbit hutch’ flats.

These Conservative changes were introduced to boost house-building numbers, but the measures mean housing units just a few feet wide in former office blocks are now counted in official statistics as ‘new homes’. There are 42,000 new housing units that have been converted from offices since 2015.

Research by the Local Government Association has estimated that over 10,000 affordable homes have been lost as a result of permitted development in the last three years alone.

Research for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors found that permitted development has “allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed”, with only 30% of homes built through permitted development meeting national space standards.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said:

“Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.

“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.

“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Council and Parliamentary candidate for Crawley, said:

“In Crawley, perhaps more than anywhere else, Permitted Development is creating havoc in local neighbourhoods and robbing public services of the money they need to adapt to new housing. When I met with the Conservatives’ Housing Minister to discuss the damage his policy was causing to Crawley he spent the meeting playing with his phone rather than listening to the concerns of residents. Labour have listened and are backing local Crawley residents, rather than helping developers to fill their pockets at the cost of our community like the Conservatives.”

Crawley News 24 Column, Tuesday 30th April 2019

For almost two years Crawley NHS has been in financial ‘Special Measures’, unable to afford the treatments residents need on the money they get from Government. We get daily reminders Sussex Police can no longer cope having lost 800 officers and PCSOs since 2010. Local headteachers have even marched on Downing Street because Crawley’s schools cannot survive on their allocated budgets.

That public services stand on the brink is unsurprising given the Government has been focused on only one thing for the last three years and have been proven unable to deliver even that one thing.

I don’t say this because I believe the situation is hopeless, I say it because it can be fixed if only we had the will to act. Crawley Borough Council is building affordable homes for local people on a scale not seen in decades, we’re one of only a sixth of councils still providing a weekly bin collection and by investing smartly to generate income we’re still spending the same on services as when I became Leader, despite the Government taking all of Crawley’s grant and our council having the lowest council tax increase of any council in the county for most of my five years. In opposition, local Conservatives told me these things couldn’t be done, we showed them that if you have the vision and determination to do it anything is possible. The same is true on the national level.

At these Local Elections voters are posed with a simple choice, put the same people back in control who spent eight years cutting our services last time, who are failing to run our local county council and police effectively, and nationally have driven the country into chaos, or keep Crawley Labour running the only tier of the town’s governance which is delivering for Crawley.

Delivering for Crawley: Crawley Labour’s pre-election Crawley Observer article

Speaking with residents over recent weeks and months, I’ve heard the fear and uncertainty grow as it has become increasingly clear the Government is either unwilling or unable to deliver the things which will ensure our common security and prosperity.

Locally, we can’t promise to fix all the problems MPs have failed to resolve, but we can promise to continue to deliver on the ground those things which matter to our community.

Five years ago Crawley Labour said there was an alternative to cuts, that we could focus on raising revenue rather than making cuts and today we can proudly say we’re spending the same on services as when we regained control of the council, probably the only council in the UK which can claim that. We’ve even achieved it with the second lowest council tax in the South East–particularly considering Crawley gets only 11.5% of your council tax with the rest set by the Conservative County Council and Police Commissioner, even so local Conservatives still criticised us for setting budgets which ‘failed’ to cut despite the money we raised meaning we didn’t have to.

Yet, holding ground isn’t nearly enough for us. Experts have shown many of Crawley’s jobs could be lost to automation over coming years, so we’ve produced Crawley’s first ever Employment and Skills Plan and we’re working with employers and educators to get the town’s workforce ready to adapt as automation occurs. With housing out of reach for far too many, we’re also building hundreds new council homes annually for the first time in decades, rather than the extremely unaffordable large ‘aspirational homes’ out-of-touch local Conservatives told us would fix Crawley’s social mobility issues.

Lastly, while Crawley Borough Council controls relatively few services, we don’t hold back when a service is failing local people regardless of who runs it. From demanding more police on Crawley’s streets to calling out our local Highways Authority, West Sussex, for their failures on parking. While those running the local Conservatives are literally on the county council’s payroll, Crawley Labour at least will go on speaking up and delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 24th April 2019

April is a month of many festivals, from those with wide public awareness in the UK, such as Christianity’s Easter and Judaism’s Passover, to Sikh Vaisakhi and Hindu New Year. Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just enjoying the bank holidays, I offer my best wishes.

For councillors, this time of year is far from relaxing, with only a week to go before local elections. New boundaries mean these elections are really significant, with every councillor up for re-election together for the first time since 2004 and control of Crawley Borough Council hanging in the balance.

With all the chaos of central Government right now, some people might be considering staying at home, but these elections aren’t about central Government or Brexit, they matter in their own right: they’re about the local services we all rely upon day-to-day. So much is at stake.

Crawley is one of only 17% of councils still providing a weekly bin collection, that’s because rather than giving into cuts like Conservative West Sussex County Council, Crawley Labour has worked hard to replace all the money the Conservative Government has taken from Crawley. We’ve achieved it without relying on council tax. While West Sussex is putting your tax up by £65.69 and the Conservative Police Commissioner by £24, Crawley’s £4.95 increase reflects inflation.

However bad things gets, we remain focused on delivering for Crawley. We’re the same local party that built Crawley and delivered top-notch facilities for residents, like: K2, the Hawth and Tilgate Park. We’re members of this community and we want it to thrive. That’s why we’re asking for your support to continue delivering for Crawley.

Because every councillor is up for election, you will have as many votes on your ballot paper as there are seats in your ward, please make sure to use all your votes. Polling stations will be open on Thursday 2nd May from 7am to 10pm, and you don’t need your poll card to vote.

Postal voters will have already had their ballots through, but any which haven’t been posted by Election Day can be handed in at any polling station in Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 17th April 2019

It’s only fair, if you work hard and behave decently, you should be able to earn enough to look after your family. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the way it works in the UK. I wrote last week about the rise in working poverty and how more children than ever before are facing poverty in our country, but rather than re-covering the same sad story, there’s another issue I’d like to raise.

For the last few years companies have been required to publish data on the pay gap between men and women at their business. While this isn’t comparing roles like-for-like, if there’s an overall gap between what men and men get paid questions should be asked about why and whether it’s highlighting an underlying problem.

When the first stats were released two years ago, Crawley Borough Council had a zero pay gap. As I predicted at the time, a gap has now slightly opened up in favour of women, as the council appointed its first female Chief Executive. To some extent this pay gap shouldn’t be surprising, women are more likely than men to take on public sector roles and the lowest paid jobs at the council tend to be manual work where there are more male than female employees.

Even so, many councils still seem to have a gap favouring men. Perhaps the worst local offender being West Sussex County Council, where it stands at 9.7%. Across the private sector this problem is even bigger, with the report of Crawley’s Social Mobility Scrutiny Panel highlighting that the gap in Crawley is above the regional average.

It’s not all clean sailing for men either. Speaking with headteachers they highlight how all too often Crawley’s boys are dropping out of education at the first opportunity and taking low paying work, jobs which are now at risk of automation.

None of this is inevitable, we can put fairness back into our economy and ensure a hard day’s work gets a decent day’s pay again. While others stand by, through the work of our Employment and Skills Plan, Crawley Labour are delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 10th April 2019

In 1980s, Ronald Reagan asked in one of the US Presidential Debates: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago’? In that one question he summed up for the American public the decision they had to make when they went to the polls and for voters the decision was clear: Reagan replaced Carter as President with a landslide majority.

Poverty is on the rise in the UK and with homelessness far higher than it was eight years ago. While once these things were largely reserved for those suffering unemployment the growth in UK poverty has been sustained largely by increases in ‘working poverty’, where families are in work but where the money they are able to bring in does not cover the most basic bills. Child poverty, surely one of the benchmarks of a civilised country, is now set to hit a record high.

If you are wondering how people’s living standards have been allowed to slip so much without riots, just bear in mind that you probably were not aware that tax, benefit and pensions changes came in last week which are set to make the problem even worse. Unfortunately, the things the country has chosen to focus all its attention on over recent years has resulted in the things which have a much greater direct impact upon all our quality of life getting ignored.

Not all of this is by accident. For years the Government has spoken about belt tightening to close the budget deficit, but if you look at the detail of Conservative budgets, time and time again the money which has been taken from public services has not been used to pay down debt but has rather been given away in the form of tax breaks. The end result is that while your public services are crumbling and those in work are increasingly facing poverty, wealthy elites have never had it so good.

So the question facing everyone in the UK right now is this: high-earners may well be doing well under the Conservatives, but are you better off than you were?

Press Release: Council Leader calls for return of Crawley’s school funding

Crawley Council Leader, Peter Lamb, has joined with over a thousand English councillors in demanding the Government act now to end the funding crisis hitting local schools.

The campaign, launched by the NEU’s Councillors Network and supported by education fair funding campaign group f40, expresses concern over the desperate state of school funding. The letter urges the Government to invest more money in schools in the forthcoming Spending Review to help meet the huge funding crisis across education, a crisis resulting in growing budget deficits, cuts in teaching staff, a reduction in subject areas, and a poorer education for children.

In Crawley, figures show twenty-nine out of thirty-two local schools are significantly worse-off per pupil than they were only four years ago, with Broadfield Primary alone having a funding shortfall of over half a million pounds.

Despite the huge efforts of our hard-working teachers, every pound lost from schools is a reduction in the investment in our children and jeopardises the UK’s ability to compete on the global stage.

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

“We have repeatedly been told that the Conservative Government would fix the underfunding of Crawley’s schools and yet the figures prove just the opposite. In truth the funding situation in our local primaries and secondaries have never been worse. We must have an end to all the broken promises and a return of the funding local schools need to give Crawley’s next generation the chance they deserve.”