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.”

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.”