Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd April 2019

Every weekend, year round, I spend at least a few hours going door-to-door asking residents if there are any problems in their area or if there’s anything they’d like to raise with me. Most of the time I find this quite fun; it’s a good way of keeping up with neighbourhood issues and you can have some great conversations with people.

Over recent weeks this has changed. People are still happy to talk, but there’s an increasing anxiety about what is happening to our country and what that means for our community. While I’d like to be a reassuring voice, I believe it’s more important to be honest and the truth is no one, not even the Prime Minister, knows how this is all going to end and yet the stakes are extremely high.

Like most people, I have loved ones whose lives depend upon medicines whose supply now is now in question. Few jobs would completely avoid the economic impact of trade with the rest of Europe suddenly grinding to a halt–although fortunately for those working at Gatwick, Chris Grayling has announced planes would still be able to fly for another 52 weeks in the event of ‘No Deal’. Everyone would unfortunately feel the effect in shortages of goods and higher prices, it’s worth remembering even Stone Age Britain traded with the rest of Europe.

The problem ultimately originates in the referendum question’s poor wording, which asked if citizens wanted to leave the EU but not what they wanted instead, meaning MPs know what people voted ‘against’ but are uncertain on what they voted ‘for’. The options MPs have voted on range from leaving the EU but retaining a relationship so close no one would notice to cutting ties entirely and becoming the only country in the world reliant upon WTO-terms. This uncertainty is something it appears only a General Election or referendum on the options can resolve.

In the meantime, whatever happens next, all I can promise is that on the ground Crawley Labour will continue standing up for our community and working hard to deliver for Crawley.

Press Release: New Figures Reveal Digital Exclusion Double-Whammy

New figures reveal a crisis of public computers cuts across the South East. 624 computers have been lost from libraries in the South East since 2010, and 57 Job Centre computers have been cut in Southern England since 2014.

This is a digital exclusion double-whammy that punishes the poorest in our society,
especially as Universal Credit applications are moved online.

One in five unemployed people do not have access to the internet. This comes following recent Lloyds Bank research showing that 5% of the population of the South East have zero digital skills.

Crawley Borough Council Leader Peter Lamb said:

“Public library and Jobcentre closures are causing a crisis of cuts to public
computers. This is a digital exclusion double-whammy.

“One in five people out of work don’t have access to the internet, and under this Tory Government there are fewer and fewer places for them to turn.

“For people who need to fill in Universal Credit or job applications, access to a
computer is essential. Computer cuts are yet another example of the vicious cycle of
Tory austerity.”

Press Release: Proposals agreed to improve social mobility in Crawley

Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet has agreed to implement measures to improve social mobility across the borough.

The recommendations were agreed after the Government’s Social Mobility Commission highlighted the borough as one of the poorest local authority areas in the country for social mobility in their 2017 report.

Ranging from the development of social housing to addressing local employment and skills gaps, the recommendations offer practical steps to improve the life chances of those growing up in Crawley. They are:

  • Continue to support the council’s commitment to building social housing
  • Bring training providers together to embark upon a solution for adult learning and re-education opportunities
  • Develop work with the Information and Advice Group (IAG) to engage with junior children and careers advice, particularly on how to access pathways
  • Incorporate careers advice into the Junior Citizen Scheme run by the council
  • Ensure the council continues to support the ‘Be the Change’ initiative
  • Work with Crawley College to develop closer co-operation with local employers, to help develop skills pathways into better paid jobs for more Crawley residents

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “No one’s future should be set simply by who their parents are. Yet here in Crawley, social mobility is poorer than almost anywhere else in the UK. We cannot stand by and allow the injustice to continue; a decent quality of life should be open to everyone.

“While most of the things which affect social mobility in Crawley are controlled by West Sussex County Council, Crawley Borough Council’s current administration has done much to try and improve things and this report will add to our efforts.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th March 2019

While most residents will have had leaflets through already and many will have had a doorstep call, yesterday marked the official beginning of this year’s Crawley Borough Council elections.

Crawley gets more than its fair share of elections. In three of every four years a third of Crawley Borough Council is up for election, with West Sussex County Council elections in the fourth year. That’s before you consider General Elections, Police Commissioner elections, referenda and, previously, European Parliament elections.

While some feel we’d be better off only having a borough council election every four years, I believe traditional voting ‘by thirds’ helps ensure the council is more democratic and accountable than other public bodies, meaning if people feel they were mislead before a vote at one election they get a chance to change their minds only 12 months later.

This year will be different to most, as the independent Local Government Boundary Commission has created new boundaries for council seats, reflecting population changes since the last review in 2004. For many the alterations will be minimal, but in some cases big changes have been made to deliver parity of population per councillor.

These changes mean every council seat will be up for election on the new boundaries on Thursday 2nd May and residents will get as many votes as there are councillors for their ward, two for a two member ward, three for a three member ward, with candidates with the most votes becoming the new councillors.

At the same time, there will be a by-election for the ‘Northgate and West Green’ county council seat, covering Northgate, West Green and a bit of Southgate, meaning those residents will have four votes.

Over the coming days and weeks, members of local parties will be asking every resident for their support to improve the town, but for you to have any say in the process you need register to vote by 12th April, and apply for a postal vote by 15th April, if you’re likely to be busy or away. Crawley belongs to every resident and everyone deserves the chance to have their say.

Press Release: Crawley Leader backs indefinite tenancies for private renters

Councillor Peter Lamb has backed Labour’s pledge to protect private renters in England from eviction with new ‘indefinite’ tenancies, based on rules currently in place in Germany.

The change would revolutionise the private rental market, potentially benefitting 10,759 of Crawley’s households (covering approximately 22.6% of all 47,576 properties in Crawley). German tenancies last, on average, 11 years, compared to around 4 years in England.

In England, according to a survey of landlords conducted by the Government, landlords or their agents make the decision to end almost one in five tenancies (18%). At present, tenants can be evicted without any reason being given, and despite having done nothing wrong. Nationally, one in three private renters – 1.6m households – have dependent children.

Under the German system, tenancies are effectively open-ended with a tenant only able to be evicted on tightly defined grounds, for example if they don’t pay the rent or commit criminal behaviour in the property.

At the 2017 election, Labour committed to default three year tenancies. Labour will now consult widely with landlord and tenant groups on the proper grounds for termination of a tenancy, ahead of the next general election. The Party has previously set out additional measures for controls on rents and tougher standards which will sit alongside this new proposal.

Councillor Peter Lamb said:

“Like many in my generation, I’ve been trapped in the private rental sector since leaving home, left unsure year-to-year where I’m going to be living next.

“Almost a quarter of Crawley’s households are currently in private rented housing, and that number is growing every year. It’s time we ended the uncertainly for these tens of thousands of local residents and gave them the tenancy security they deserve.”

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

“The insecurity of renting is a power imbalance at the heart of our broken housing market, where tenants are afraid to report problems in case they are evicted, and families with children are forced to move at short notice.

“Many landlords provide decent homes that tenants are happy with, but the Government is allowing rogue landlords to take advantage of good tenants. Renters deserve better.”

Crawley Live Column, Spring 2019

For the last five years, Crawley Borough Council has worked hard to show we can maintain services, despite cuts from Government. While West Sussex County Council provides less and less for more and more council tax, our local NHS has gone into financial Special Measures and Crawley’s Police can’t afford the officers they need to stop the rise of drugs and violence, we’ve proven there’s an alternative.

When I became Leader in 2014, I was determined to save Crawley’s services. By finding new sources of income we not only kept things like the weekly bin collection and grass cutting, but improved many of the town’s facilities. While doing so we’ve built hundreds affordable homes for local people, started to regenerate the Town Centre and worked to deliver better job opportunities for residents. The work is far from over, but we are determined as a council to go on delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th March 2019

How does a man come to the point of planning and carrying out the murder of 50 men, women and children peacefully praying in places of worship? For many the answer is easy: the perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque killings was evil or just a lone madman, but that answer is both simple and wrong.

We do a disservice to those who died if we ignore this was not a lone act of terrorism, although terrorism it certainly was, the hatred that drove that man to kill did not come from nowhere, it was the result of the flames of his hatred being fanned over many years.

Whenever there’s an attack by self-styled Islamic terrorists, many call upon Muslims to denounce those acts of people they’ve never met and whose deeds they never condoned, yet when a white man commits an atrocity we write it off as the act of some random weirdo. Psychologists even have a name for this contradiction, it’s called the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error.’

This man’s actions do not represent the views of all white people and we do condemn him, but we cannot hide from the fact his actions are part of a growing Islamophobia, just its most extreme form. We’ve all seen it, most often in pictures on Facebook making some negative comment about Muslims, maybe we’ve even reshared them without making any attempt to find out if they were actually true. This isn’t just a harmless mistake, over time it conditions us to intolerance and helps fan the flames of extremists.

We learnt the hard way in the 1930s, you can’t turn hate off, once it’s unleashed its fires grow and eventually all are consumed in its flames. We have to stop the appeasement, it didn’t work in Czechoslovakia and it won’t work now. Only one thing has ever stopped fascists: good men and women having the courage to get in their way. I’m not asking you to man a barricade yet, hopefully it won’t come to that again, but the next time you see or hear something Islamophobic maybe consider doing something about it

Press Release: West Sussex’s care homes are failing, and Tory cuts are to blame

A new report by Independent Age reveals that the quality of care homes has worsened in the last year in more than a third of English local authorities. Independent Age’s figures show that 22.1 per cent of West Sussex’s care homes are failing – down 4.8 points in just a year.

Crawley Borough Council Leader Peter Lamb, responding to the new figures, said:

“Families here in West Sussex need reassurance that vulnerable relatives will be getting the best quality care, but our care homes are failing to provide good quality care – and Tory cuts are to blame.

“Social care is teetering on the edge of a cliff after nine years of Tory cuts to West Sussex’s budget. If Ministers don’t act now, things will get much worse.

“Vulnerable older people and their families deserve better than this: that is why Labour pledged at the last election to invest an additional £8 billion in social care before building a National Care Service for the long term.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th March 2019

Last weekend I was a guests on Sunday Politics South East, alongside Sussex’s Police Commissioner, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and the Leader of Medway.

Being up against three Conservatives might seem a little unbalanced, but four years on West Sussex County Council provided plenty of experience standing up for our area in the face of larger Conservative opposition.

The main story was the rise of crime in our area–a regular story these days–and the fact Sussex Police are funding a boxing club in Hove to try and prevent children being dragged into crime.

Now, I don’t have a problem with this idea, in fact when West Sussex closed much of Crawley’s youth provision we warned them crime and anti-social behaviour would increase, something they denied at the time. Yet, boxing clubs aren’t going to fix the crime already on Crawley’s streets, that requires police officers. Almost 800 officers and PCSOs have been taken from the Crawley area under the Conservatives, current recruitment plans only restore a fraction of that number.

However, if we want to talk about prevention, let’s talk about real prevention. Let’s talk about why Pupil Referral Units lack the capacity to deal with the numbers of children being excluded from schools. Let’s talk about schools who no longer have the resources to help children who are struggling and consequently misbehave. Let’s talk about why more children than ever before are being taken into care. Let’s talk about the huge increase in families where the adults are in work, often with multiple jobs, and yet still living in poverty.

Our communities are breaking down because our public services are breaking down; our public services are breaking down because there is no longer the investment. Until that’s fixed, these problems won’t be.

Remarkably our Police Commissioner–who, remember, has just increased the police’s bit of council tax by 14.5%–claimed there’s already enough money in the system, it’s just misspent. Given that in Crawley the only public sector body whose finances are currently in working order is Labour-run Crawley Council, I’ll leave the conclusions to you.

Press Release: Local community urged to come and get active at K2 Crawley

I’m A Celebrity star and world silver medallist diver on hand at the K2 Crawley for the free family Open Day on 16th March.

Singer and songwriter, Fleur East, will be at the K2 Crawley from 10:30am to meet and greet the public and help showcase the centre’s fantastic facilities.

Fleur East, X Factor 2014 runner-up, said: “I’m really excited to have been invited to the Open Day at the K2 Crawley. I can’t wait to see everyone and share my experiences of fitness and what it means to me.”

World silver medallist and Tom Daley’s diving partner, Matty Lee, will be showcasing his world leading diving skills and helping the Everyone Active team coach a diving session.

Matty Lee, European silver medallist, said: “I’m really looking forward to coaching the young divers in Crawley and meet the local community. Sport has meant so much to me and my family and I hope I can inspire another young diver because diving can lead to fantastic opportunities.”

Throughout the day, the local community are invited to take part in a range of exciting activities that are taking place throughout the centre including trampolining, table tennis and swimming. All activities kick off at 10am and will run until 3pm, for more information please visit www.everyoneactive.com/k2open

Darryl Keech, Everyone Active contract manager, said: “We’re so pleased to have Fleur and Matty at the centre for our Open Day.

“Fleur impressed everyone while she was in Australia with her determination and her promotion of body positivity so we’re excited to show her the fantastic facilities in Crawley. “Matty is a young diver who has shown a lot of potential and we know that he will impress the divers on our programme.

“I can’t wait to see everyone come down to the centre and experience all of the free activities we have on offer at the centre through the day.”

“Crawley has a proud sporting legacy and with the ongoing improvements at K2 any other facilities, Crawley Borough Council is committed to ensuring that legacy stretches through the whole of our community. So come along at get active at K2.”