Press Release: Final panel announced for Crawley Question Time 2019

The full panel for this year’s Crawley Question Time has been announced.

The event, which takes place from 7-9pm on Thursday 14 March in the Civic Hall, gives residents an opportunity to ask questions about topics important to them.

This year’s panel is:

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition at Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Councillor
Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Crawley Borough Council
Chief Inspector Rosie Ross, District Commander, Crawley Police
Dr Laura Hill, Acting Clinical Chair, Crawley Clinical Commissioning Group
Vicki Illingworth, Principal, Crawley College
Laiba Baig, Crawley Young Persons Council.

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, Brexit, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

The event will be chaired by Jo Gumb, Managing Director of White Label creative.

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 said: “As a council, Crawley believes that it is important we give residents the chance to hold decision-makers to account. Crawley Question Time is a great chance to ask questions about our town and to raise the issues which matter to you in front of local decision-makers, such as myself.

“These evenings are always full of lively debate, so please sign up now and come along to let us know what you’re thinking!”

To register to attend the debate visit https://crawleyquestiontime2019.eventbrite.co.uk/

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 27th February 2019

At tonight’s Full Council I’ll be proposing Crawley Borough Council’s Budget for the year. I’m proud to say after five years of Labour control, and in the face of unprecedented cuts from central government, we’re still spending the same on services today as when I became Council Leader, with improvements in efficiency being reinvested to deliver new services for the town.

It hasn’t been easy, but we said in opposition cuts from government didn’t have to mean cuts on the ground and we’ve proven that there was an alternative. Contrast that to West Sussex County Council, where after years complaining the size of the increase in their grant from Labour Governments was too little, they have gleefully cut Crawley’s services every year under Conservative Governments.

Their approach hasn’t even managed to keep council tax low, Conservative-run West Sussex are demanding a 4% increase in their share of Crawley’s council tax, the Conservative Sussex Police Commissioner has set a 14.5% increase in their share, while Labour Crawley is only proposing a 2.49% increase, roughly in-line with inflation and the lowest in the county again.

With only 12% of your council tax going to Crawley, we’re instead being creative to deal with cuts from government, investing public money wisely to generate better returns–something the Town Hall site redevelopment will increase massively, and generating more income from local facilities by undertaking significant improvement works. Last weekend, I found myself unable to get into Tilgate Park for all the visitors, a facility much improved over the last five years.

Having put money back into grass cutting and neighbourhood maintenance, Crawley is looking particularly good in the sun and it’s great to have families again enjoying the improved Queens Square, a project delivered without spending any Crawley Borough Council money through a clever use of grants.

As Leader of Crawley, housing has been my top priority and in addition to millions for new council housing, this year we’re also creating a reserve to prepare for the worst if the West Sussex Conservatives go through with their immoral cuts to homeless shelters and other vulnerable people’s housing support.

Press Release: Surrey and Sussex A&E failing after nine years of Tory cuts

Official figures reveal that last month only 83.2% per cent of patients (1,552 patients) at East Surrey Hospital were seen in A&E within four hours.

Trusts are supposed to ensure that 95 per cent of patients are seen in that time period. This is even lower than the English average of 84.4 per cent, which is the lowest performance on record.

Crawley Borough Council Leader Peter Lamb, responding to today’s Surrey & Sussex performance data, said:

“A&E waiting times across the country are now at their worst level since records began, and Crawley residents are suffering. It’s a damning indictment of how years of Tory austerity and wider cuts have hit the NHS here.

“Ministerial incompetence has left our NHS with chronic shortages of NHS staff with no clear idea of how to sort this out.

“Instead of putting patients first with a clear plan to restore the A&E standard, the Conservatives are looking at scrapping it altogether in the teeth of opposition from the doctors who actually work in A&E departments.

“Yet again today’s figures reveal an NHS in desperate crisis and a Government failing patients.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th February 2019

During my four years on West Sussex County Council one issue which kept rearing its head was ‘fracking’, the controversial process through which companies extract oil and natural gas from shale rock using chemicals and vast amounts of water. As this process takes place below ground water level and between potentially unstable plates of rock, there have been considerable concerns over the potential risk of contaminating ground water supplies, with various communities in America reporting health issues shortly after fracking began.

Reports commissioned by the Government to reassure the public of the safety of fracking assume the process is taking place in a strong regulatory environment, yet the Government has instead created a weak regulatory environment so that the UK looks more attractive to fracking companies than countries with greater safety precautions.

For years, Crawley’s Labour county councillors have expressed opposition to fracking in the country, including the most famous drilling site located just down the road from Crawley in Balcombe, next to the reservoir. Unfortunately, the Conservative-led County Council has consistently claimed they cannot refuse fracking applications, as the Planning Inspectorate will override them.

This advice no longer appears true, with the Planning Inspectorate last week backing up Lancashire County Council and rejecting an appeal from Cuadrilla, the same company involved in Balcombe. West Sussex County Council must now change its approach, the Planning Inspectorate have shown they are willing to protect local communities, it’s time our county council did the same.

Even if the process was safe, fracking is the wrong solution for meeting our future energy needs, as it simply prolongs dependence upon fossil fuels. Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is working to create a greener Crawley: installing solar panels on council houses, building new Passivhaus properties, investing in sustainable transport and bringing forward a Combined Heat and Power plant for the Town Centre through the Town Hall redevelopment, amongst many other steps towards carbon neutrality. Yet, if we are going to save our planet for future generations it’s not enough for Labour to go on delivering for Crawley, we need a Government prepared to deliver for Britain.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th February 2019

Under the Conservatives the lowest cost season ticket from Three Bridges to London Victoria has gone up from £2,804 in 2010 to, as of last month, £3816 per year. That’s a growth of over £1,000, a 36% rise dwarfing the increasing costs of almost everything else, except perhaps housing. Transport and housing, two things people can not do without and perhaps the two greatest areas of failure of the current government. The fact that the very name of the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has between on-going rail chaos, the failed Brexit lorry park preparations and dodgy ferry contracts become a by-word for incompetence and failure says just about all you need to know.

The trouble is these failures are taking place with things we cannot afford to do without. Next week we’ll get some idea of just how dependent Crawley is upon a functioning rail network when we are forced to do without services between Three Bridges and Brighton for a week so that works can take place. This may be an inconvenience, but I think people do accept that to keep us safe a certain amount of maintenance work is necessary. The issue isn’t the odd closures, it is the on-going poor performance day-to-day.

As a commuter, I can’t remember the time both my morning train and my evening train were on-time. Were this any sector without a natural monopoly, it would be hard to see how the company wouldn’t have been driven out of business by now with those sorts of performance statistics. To pay an ever increasing amount for services which are less reliable, more cramped and with fewer amenities available, really does question how as a country we’re allowing our services to be provided

I’m not going to pretend that the world would be all sunshine and rainbows under a Labour Government, but much more can be done to bring ticket prices under control. At the same time a rail network back in the public’s hands would at minimum restore the accountability that there once was for failure and end the exploitative position the rail companies currently occupy.

Press Release: Protection of frontline services and balanced budget proposed again

Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet has proposed a balanced budget for 2019/20, protecting frontline services, continuing to invest in the town and improving the council’s efficiency.

The budget was debated by the Cabinet on Wednesday (6 February). Members unanimously recommended approval of the budget to Full Council on 27 February.

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 is set to rise by just 2.49 per cent, the equivalent of only 9p per week for a band D property.

The Cabinet has also recommended investment in:

·     £6m 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 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.

West Sussex County Council is proposing a rise of £65.79 on a band D property (4.99 per cent), which will be debated at its Full Council meeting on 15 February. The precept for the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner will rise by £24 on a band D property (14.47 per cent).

If the proposed rises are approved, 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.”

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

Press Release: Sign up now for Crawley Question Time 2019

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 14 March in the Civic Hall 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, Brexit, health, Gatwick Airport, parking, the economy and so much more!

Confirmed panellists include Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council; Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition; Councillor Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Economic Development; Rosie Ross, Chief Inspector of Crawley Police; Dr Laura Hill, Clinical Chair NHS Crawley Commissioning Group; Laiba Baig, Crawley Young Persons Council; Vicki Illingworth, Principal of Crawley College.

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 said: “As a council, Crawley believes that it is important we give residents the chance to hold decision-makers to account. Crawley Question Time is a great chance to ask questions about our town and to raise the issues which matter to you in front of local decision-makers, such as myself.

“These evenings are always full of lively debate, so please sign up now and come along to let us know what you’re thinking!”

To register to attend the debate visit www.crawley.gov.uk/getinvolved

Press Release: ‘Shocking’ Statistic: 2,226 Patients For Every GP In Crawley

In Figures Revealed Following A Request Made By Labour Councillor Geraint Thomas

This week it emerged that the ratio of residents to General Practitioners in Crawley is one of the worst in the UK; the figures show that there is 1 doctor for every 2,226 residents in Crawley. To put that statistic into perspective, Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire has nearly one GP for every 1,200 residents.

The ratio for Crawley came out following a request by Northgate Councillor Geraint Thomas after BBC analysis earlier this month showed that access to GPs in some areas could vary by as much as threefold that of others.

Although the Royal College of General Practitioners chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said the national findings were “shocking”, many Crawley residents will be unsurprised.

Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: ‘It’s a travesty that so many in Crawley are being left unable to access their GP for medical treatment, or in some cases to even register with a local GP. Two years after Crawley’s NHS entered Special Measures, our community still sees no action on the part of the Government to get the problem stored. It’s increasingly clear that only a party which really believes in our National Health Service will give it the investment it needs to ensure Crawley’s medical needs are met.’

In 2017 a lack of funding and reports that many residents were unable to register to their local GP surgeries led the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing Crawley to be placed into special measures, where it has remained ever since.

A ‘shocking’ new statistical analysis from the BBC has shown that in Crawley there is one doctor per every 2,226 residents.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th February 2019

This evening, Crawley Council’s Cabinet will set the budget we’ll be sending to Full Council for members to agree later in the month.

I’ve often written about the unfair way the Government has cut the amount councils and the police get from Income Tax–where those who earn more pay more–and have demanded that we increase Council Tax instead–which hits pensioners and those on low incomes hardest. Well, now they’ve come up with a new bright idea, the ‘Fair Funding Review.’

Under this review, Crawley looks set to have almost a million pounds taken from us, on top of the existing planned cuts to what we get, and have that money given to councils in wealthier areas. Apparently, that’s what ‘Fair’ means when it comes to this Government and our community will have to suffer the consequences of it.

Despite the cuts, Crawley Borough Council are set to spend the same on services next year as when we regained control of the council five years ago, we’re probably the only council in the country that can say that and it hasn’t been easy. When Crawley residents trusted us with their council, we decided to try and find ways to avoid passing the Government’s cuts down onto residents and so far we’ve managed to succeed, finding new ways to raise revenue equal to what the Government are taking.

Contrast that with Conservative-run West Sussex, whose decision to cut from the start has simply forced them to make bigger and bigger cuts over the years. The sad reality is, as a forward-looking council, Crawley’s hard work means our community are now being asked to pay for the incompetence of others.

Still, we’re never without a plan. Our decision to knock down the Town Hall and replace it with a new building with far lower running costs, Grade-A commercial office space for rent, a combined heat and power plant selling low carbon energy across the town centre, and hundreds of new homes, with 40% affordable for local people means that–despite the Government’s best efforts–Crawley Labour will keep delivering for Crawley.

Press Release: Thomas Bennett Academy Listed Among The UK’S Worst Performing Schools

Local Labour Party Continues Call For The Beleaguered School To Return To Public Hands

Last week, Tilgate’s struggling academy school Thomas Bennett Community College was officially marked down by the Department for Education as one of 382 secondary schools failing to meet the government’s minimum standard.

Mismanagement and repeated cuts handed down by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) are likely to have contributed to the assessment result.

Crawley’s Labour Party continues its call for the school to be returned to public hands at the first opportunity, a demand that has become increasingly popular among Crawley residents as well as teachers, pupils and parents.

With the full support of Crawley Labour, hundreds of Crawley residents marched through the town centre last summer in protest of a series of cuts planned by TKAT. It became the largest protest the town had seen in decades.

To date, thousands of concerned members of the public have signed different petitions calling for the return of Thomas Bennett to local authority control and for the school to be properly funded. Crawley Labour wholeheartedly endorses both aims.

Council Leader Peter Lamb said: ‘Thomas Bennett was once one of the best value added schools in West Sussex, it’s a very sad day to see how far it has fallen since academisation. No parent in Crawley should be forced to send their child to a failing school. The public must now be given back control over Thomas Bennett, to make the school accountable to the community once more.’

Ms. Kiran Khan is a former Thomas Bennett pupil who worked on the Save Thomas Bennett Camapaign, and is now standing to be Labour Borough Councillor for Tilgate in May’s local elections.

Kiran Khan said: ‘Thomas Bennett Community College was widely recognised as a good school before it became an academy. So many parents, teachers and former pupils have spoken to me about their fond memories of the school. If we want to turn back the clock to better days, returning the school to local authority control is how to achieve it.’

3,297 schools and academies in England are subject to the government’s standard, a performance threshold with a particular focus on English and Maths. Thomas Bennett is one of 382 schools to have failed to achieve sufficient progress.

Crawley Labour says the answer to the disastrous academisation of  Thomas Bennett is to return the school to public control, so that its management is directly answerable to Crawley’s voters.