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.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th March 2019

Representing Crawley at national events, I get the chance to speak with mayors and council leaders responsible for running local services across the country, with funding council services during Austerity being one of the most regular topics of conversation.

Through all these conversations I’ve yet to find another authority which, despite annual cuts from Government, is still spending the same on residents’ services as five years ago, yet that’s what’s happening at Crawley. So, is Crawley just lucky, as the Conservatives claim every year?

Well, when the Conservatives ran Crawley we had budget cuts every year and again last month the leader of the Crawley Conservatives criticised me for not making budget cuts. I wonder if they’ll be brave enough this year to put the same demands they make at council meetings in their election leaflets, or is it one face for the public and another for council meetings?

When I became Leader of Crawley, I took a deliberate choice to focus on generating the revenue we needed to provide the services residents deserved, rather than passing cuts from Government onto residents. It worked. By contrast, at Conservative-run West Sussex County Council, where Crawley’s Conservatives are in the Cabinet, cutting early has just led to further cuts being needed every year, they’ve lost control of their budget and we’ve lost our services.

To be clear, when I talk about generating revenue, I’m not talking about hiking up council tax. Crawley Borough Council’s council tax is going up roughly in-line with inflation a ‘Real Terms’ freeze, at less than a fiver the lowest increase in the county. In contrast, West Sussex County Council are putting council tax up by almost 5%, a £66 increase, and the Conservative Police Commissioner is increasing their precept by 14.5%, a £24 increase. Meaning just 11.5% of your council tax will stay in Crawley this year, the rest going to Chichester and Lewes.

With West Sussex cutting funding for organisations like Open House, Crawley has also budgeted to ensure those charities can keep running and, as this is Lent, might I encourage anyone who can afford it to consider donating too.

Press Release: Funding to tackle homelessness and protect frontline services in council’s budget

Crawley Borough Council’s budget for 2019/20 will protect frontline services, provide extra funding to combat homelessness and continue to invest in the town.

The budget was approved at a meeting of Full Council on Wednesday (27 February).

The council’s 2019/20 budget includes:

·     £7m to purchase investment properties. The rental income generated from these will be used to help fund council services

·     More than £9m over three years for repairs to council homes

·     The creation of a new ring-fenced ‘Supported Accommodation’ reserve to combat homelessness, funded from additional Housing Benefit subsidy paid to the council on behalf of residents in supported accommodation

·     The purchase of a housing development in Broadfield, giving the council a good payback period and providing tenants with a more efficient service

·     A new integrated housing database to replace the council’s outdated systems

·     The ICT transformation programme.

Crawley will suffer a further 89.7 per cent cut in revenue support from the Government over the next year. The reduction in funding since 2016/17 is £1.72m.

Despite this, the council has identified additional income, efficiencies and savings of £1.26m, meaning that the council’s element of Council Tax will rise by just 2.49 per cent, the equivalent of only 9p per week for a band D property.

West Sussex County Council has agreed a rise of 4.99 per cent (£65.79 on a band D property) and the precept for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will rise by 14.47 per cent (£24 on a band D property).

For every pound paid in Council Tax, West Sussex County Council will receive 77.8p, Sussex Police will receive 10.7p with Crawley Borough Council receiving just 11.5p.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Local services used to be paid from income tax, meaning those who earned more paid more. Due to government cuts to council and police funding, funding for these services increasingly comes from Council Tax which tends to hit pensioners and poorer residents hardest.

“While Crawley Borough Council is responsible for collecting all your Council Tax, more than 88 per cent of it goes to West Sussex County Council or Sussex Police. We’ve worked hard to ensure that Crawley Borough Council’s part of the bill is kept roughly in line with inflation, meaning that the ‘real terms’ increase this year comes exclusively from West Sussex and the police.

“I’m proud to say that despite cuts from central government, we continue to spend the same on services today as when I became Leader of Crawley, we are probably the only council in the country able to say that.”

For more details on Council Tax bandings and ways to pay, visit:www.crawley.gov.uk/counciltax

Press Release: Local activity session on offer for young people with disabilities

A weekly sports and activities club for young people with disabilities and their families is on offer at K2 Crawley.

Moving Barriers is a local activity session aimed at offering children and young people with disabilities the opportunity to socialise, have fun and keep fit with a variety of activities and team games.

Run by local agencies, including Crawley Borough Council, parents and local residents who themselves have disabilities, the sessions will cater for those aged between 5-16 years old.  Those outside the age range who previously attended, will be given help to find alternative services in the town.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb said: “Moving Barriers is a great addition to the range of activity sessions we have on offer for children and young people with disabilities and their families. I am pleased the council is able to support this fantastic service.”

Moving Barriers will take place on Friday evenings from 6-7pm in the Sports Hall at K2 Crawley. The first session is free and afterwards is just £2.50 plus £1 per sibling under the age of 16 (payable on the day, maximum of 3). There is no need to book, just turn up and join in.

For more information see www.crawley.gov.uk/disabilitysport