Crawley Live Column, Spring 2020

The news has been too negative for too long. So, as we start this new decade, I’d like to talk about the hopes I have for Crawley’s future.

Big changes are ahead of us and, understandably, that causes concerns. The decline of the high street, automation, and moving to zero carbon all come at a cost, but they bring opportunities too. Cottage weavers, with reason, feared the mills but the industrial revolution they heralded created an explosion in household incomes.

Crawley is fantastically well-placed to succeed in this new economy. Our transport links rival any in the country and the council’s investment in ultrafast broadband will create a digital infrastructure to rival it.

True, to share the benefits of growth requires retraining people for the jobs of the future and investing in new uses for public spaces, but the changes we face mark a beginning–not an end–for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 11th March 2020

One thing I know really winds up residents is how it doesn’t matter who you complain to, the issue is usually someone else’s fault. For instance, you contact Crawley Borough Council to complain about potholes and you’re told it is down to West Sussex County Council; you call up the county council to complain about a school and you’re told academies don’t report to councils any longer; you write to your MP about the bin collection and you’re told it’s Crawley. I suspect some of the dislike of the European Union itself stemmed from Government’s regularly claiming the reason they couldn’t do something was due to the EU.

That won’t be an issue much longer, but overall the has problem is getting worse as more tiers of government are created and different bits of the public sector are hived off. Local Enterprise Partnerships, Police Commissioners, Transport Boards, academy trusts, the public sector has been fragmented hugely since 2010.

Worse still are those issues which don’t neatly fit into the work of any one organisation. For instance, the Three Bridges Station Enhancement Scheme involves Network Rail–a government agency and the principal land owner, West Sussex County Council–responsible for the access to and from the site, the LEP–principal public funder of the scheme, and Crawley Borough Council–project managers. No one organisation is in control of the scheme and not all the decisions can be taken by every partner, making it almost impossible to deliver a scheme which pleases everyone.

It’s incredibly frustrating and not just for the public, but for all those working in the political system who want to deliver for the people they are accountable to. Unfortunately, there are no signs that this is likely to get any better any soon.

However, there is an opportunity to try and address complex issues bothering you this week at our annual Crawley Question Time, as representatives of all the major organisations responsible for Crawley’s services will be in the same room at the same time, ready to take your questions. Make sure to use this opportunity to be heard.

One week until Crawley Question Time 2020

Crawley Question Time is back for another year, giving residents an opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them.

The annual event takes place from 7-9pm on Thursday 12 March at Crawley College in the town centre.

Crawley Question Time takes the form of an independently-chaired general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns for discussion, such as community safety, planning, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

This year’s confirmed panel is:

  • Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
  • Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition at Crawley Borough Council and Cabinet member for Fire & Rescue and Communities at West Sussex County Council
  • Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Crawley Borough Council
  • Chief Inspector Shane Baker, District Commander, Crawley Police
  • Dr Laura Hill, Acting Clinical Chair, Crawley Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Pennie Ford, Executive Managing Director for the new West Sussex CCG
  • Leon Mukazi, Crawley Youth Mayor.

The event is open to everyone; the public, business leaders and partner organisations. The views and comments expressed will help the council and others to plan work on improving services and the town in general.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Crawley Question Time is the one time a year residents have the chance to ask questions of all the local decision-makers at the same time, giving people a real opportunity to get to the bottom of the issues which bother them the most.”

“Come along and make sure your voice is heard.”

To register for your free ticket to attend the debate visit www.eventbrite.co.uk and search for ‘Crawley Question Time 2020’.

Free parking is available at the college after 6pm.

If you have any questions about the event, email haveyoursay@crawley.gov.uk or call 01293 438000.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 4th March 2020

Last week was the Budget Meeting of Crawley Borough Council. This is the sixth budget I have produced as council leader since Labour regained control of the council in 2014 and, despite years of cuts under the Conservatives, we have again produced a budget which avoids making any front-line cuts, which invests in affordable housing and local infrastructure, and which delivers a real-terms freeze of Crawley Borough Council’s part of your council tax.

Of course, Crawley only gets 11% of your council tax. Another 11% goes to Sussex Police, and a whopping 78% of your money goes to West Sussex County Council. This year Sussex Police will be putting up their share of your council tax by more than double inflation and West Sussex County Council will be adding an extra £55 to your bill, again above inflation.

Now, West Sussex County Council are responsible for some important things in Crawley, things which do need investment, such as our roads, pavements, parking, adult social care, and children’s social care—which a Government report last year recommended should be removed from them due to ‘systematic and prolonged’ failures. Yet, despite the county council getting the vast majority of our council tax, a percentage which increases every year, every time I go out knocking doors almost everything Crawley residents want to complain about are services run by West Sussex.

To my mind, the big issue is not the amount of money they take, nor is it the fact that the services they are responsible for are so poorly managed, it’s that the services they manage are so appalling when they are taking that amount of our money.

Local Elections will be coming again in May and the local Conservatives who run West Sussex County Council will be asking for your support to win Crawley Borough Council and gain control over the half of local services they don’t currently run. Given all the facts and figures, maybe it’s time they were told to stop trying to take over the only local council delivering value for money and instead focus on getting on with the job they already have.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 26th February 2020

After four months of rain, it would be tempting to think that now might be a good time to start building an ark. Of course, like any sort of project, when you do need an ark you really needed to have started building it a long time beforehand.

There is almost no one serious left claiming that climate change isn’t real, even oil companies are now investing heavily in renewable energy. Yet, despite the recognition that climate change is happening and that left to continue it will within the lifetime of most people end our current way of life, it is hard to gain public acceptance for even simple changes to be made. The waters are rising, the question is how high it must rise before people will back the necessary changes, or will we start to build our ark to late.

We see this most acutely when it comes to transport. In principle, people are in favour of improving public transport infrastructure, that is right up until the point if affects car usage, even a little bit. Polling even shows that amongst older age groups improving parking is on average still viewed to be a bigger priority than avoiding an environmental catastrophe.

Last year, Crawley Borough Council committed to reduce its own carbon emissions 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050. At the time this was criticised by some as an inadequate response, but having now received a full audit of the council’s emissions and where they come from it is hard to see how a reduction of this scale can be achieved without major changes to service provision in the town. This isn’t a problem which can be solved just by putting a few solar panels on roofs.

Of course, even with such changes, the council is only a small part of the emissions of the town. Ultimately, for our children and our children’s children to survive we will all have to make sacrifices, some small, some big, but if people continue to oppose every effort we are trying to make one day we’re all going to find ourselves underwater.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th February 2020

Most people have probably heard of a King called Canute who tried to order the tide not to come in and got his feet wet, a tale usually told to warn people about their arrogance. There are a few problems with this story. The first is that it’s a legend rather than historical fact, the second is that his name was actually Cnut, and the last is that he knew perfectly well he couldn’t hold back the tide. In the original telling of the story Cnut wasn’t being arrogant, he was trying to show people even the power of an absolute monarch is pretty limited.

Today, every part of the public sector, from the NHS and schools to councils and the police are finding public expectations rising at a time services lack the funding to meet even existing demands. Regardless of the government’s manufactured funding announcements, the reality is after a decade of austerity, there are limits to how efficient services can become.

At Crawley Borough Council, despite the government’s cuts, Crawley Labour has maintained services while limiting the borough’s part of your council tax–just 11% of the total bill–to inflation through working to find new sources of income. There’s a limit to how long this can be maintained and with another five years of this government frontline cuts at some point are inevitable.

Yet, for now we’ve been able to buck the national trend. Our problem with the expectations game is different, it’s that the vast majority of things Crawley gets blamed for are the direct responsibility of Conservative-run County Council. Roads and pavements, parking, adult and child social care, even Crawley’s tip are all run by West Sussex. They take 78% of your council tax, they’re putting it up another £55 this year, and it’s run by the same local Conservatives who will be asking you to give them control of Crawley in May.

The question is, when you look at who is responsible for what, what is working and what is failing, and how each council charges you. Who really provides best the best deal for Crawley residents?

New Cabinet for Crawley Borough Council

A new Cabinet has been appointed at Crawley Borough Council.

Following the death of former councillor Geraint Thomas in November, Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, has chosen Councillor Gurinder Jhans as the new Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability.

Councillor Jhans is believed to be the first Sikh to hold a Cabinet post at Crawley Borough Council.

The council’s Cabinet is now:

  • Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council
  • Councillor Peter Smith, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet member for Planning and Economic Development
  • Councillor Ian Irvine, Cabinet member for Housing
  • Councillor Chris Mullins, Cabinet member for Wellbeing
  • Councillor Brenda Smith, Cabinet member for Public Protection and Community Engagement
  • Councillor Gurinder Jhans, Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability.

Councillor Lamb said: “The world is facing a climate crisis. To survive we need to work decisively and creatively to move the way we work, live and play onto a sustainable footing. With his policy background in Westminster and his passion for making a difference, I know Gurinder is the right candidate for taking on this challenge at Crawley Borough Council.”

For more information on the council’s Cabinet visit www.crawley.gov.uk/democracy

Sign up now for Crawley Question Time 2020

Crawley Question Time is back for another year, giving residents an opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them.

The annual event takes place from 7-9pm on Thursday 12 March at Crawley College in the town centre.

Crawley Question Time takes the form of an independently-chaired general debate and discussion. There are no set topics so attendees can raise any areas or concerns for discussion, such as community safety, planning, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

This year’s panel will include representatives from Crawley Borough Council, West Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, Crawley Clinical Commissioning Group, Crawley College and the Crawley Youth Council. Confirmed panellists will be announced shoitly.

The event is open to everyone; the public, business leaders and partner organisations. The views and comments expressed will help the council and others to plan work on improving services and the town in general.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Crawley Question Time is the one time a year residents have the chance to ask questions of all the local decision-makers at the same time, giving people a real opportunity to get to the bottom of the issues which bother them the most.”

“Come along and make sure your voice is heard.”

To register for your free ticket to attend the debate visit http://www.eventbrite.co.uk and search for ‘Crawley Question Time 2020’.

Free parking is available at the college after 6pm.

If you have any questions about the event, email haveyoursay@crawley.gov.uk or call 01293 438000.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th February 2020

The UK has spent the last decade in a housing crisis. Since I became Leader of Crawley Borough Council in 2014, tackling this has been my top priority and we’ve made good progress: delivering hundreds of new affordable homes each year, while introducing the strongest local-connection requirements possible within current law.

Despite all the hard work, we remain thousands of affordable homes away from what Crawley residents need and all the while the Government has been introducing policies which have made it harder to get the job done.

From huge cuts to council revenue to changing ‘viability’ requirements to make it easier for developers to shirk their responsibilities to the community, the Government has made it clear how little they care about the crisis.

Nowhere is this more blatant than the changes to ‘permitted development rights’, the expansion of which has enabled building owners to produce poor quality housing while dodging any duty to deliver affordable housing or contribute to the infrastructure costs their development has created.

Crawley has suffered a blight of such properties under the current Government. If you’ve ever wandered through town and asked yourself ‘what idiot gave permission for that thing to be built,’ chances are no one did. That’s the thing about ‘permitted development’ rules, they allow people to make major changes to the town without going through the planning process, denying residents any say in the decision and allowing buildings to be built without meeting even basic requirements. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has found that only 30% of units built this way even meet national space standards.

The last three years alone, this ‘get out clause’ has enabled developers a chance to dodge planning rules which would have seen over 13,500 affordable homes built, denying so many families a place of their own.

For six years, Crawley Labour have been pushing for the Government to change these rules, which is why I am very happy to see Labour nationally announce plans to bring an end to the con and ensure that homes in Crawley are built to decent standards and affordable for local people again.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 5th February 2020

We are failing our children. Truth be told, that statement could be made of anything from climate change to trade policy, but in this case I’m referring to something more direct.

Since 2010, the Government has regularly announced millions more for Education, but these announcements are typically less than inflation, require cuts to be made elsewhere or include money already announced,  and–crucially–the headline figures hides what sits underneath. That’s why, despite all the rhetoric during the General Election, the increases in Education funding only get schools funding back to what it was under Labour, while Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision remains in crisis.

The funding for SEN is now so short West Sussex County Council regularly refuses to even assess children, fearing they will struggle to afford the support the children will be assessed as needing. While that may be a solution for the council’s financial problems, it does nothing to address the realities for those families affected in Crawley.

Of course there’s a huge human cost to this, to both children and their loved ones. Unfortunately, such concerns don’t seem to count for much anymore, so let’s instead consider the cost of this to the UK. Countries spend huge amounts on educating young people, they do this because education enables individuals to provide for themselves, it provides the basis for future economic and technological growth in an international market place, and it ensures we have the skills we need to provide public services.

Without SEN provision all three of these things are weakened. We are creating a system in which large numbers of citizens will lack the skills they need to provide for themselves or perform a useful economic role. The end result will be that they need greater external support, at the very least in terms of benefits to cover their basic living costs and potentially social care support, while at the same time being unable to make a contribution to either UK economic growth or its tax base.

Such cuts are clearly a false economy, the question is will the Government will do anything about it?