News

If there's one part of the UK's housing market which is thriving it's the private rented sector. As councils struggle to replace the social housing lost through decades of Right-to-Buy and young people remain priced out of becoming owner-occupiers, the private rented sector has seen huge growth over recent years. 

There's a place for a private rented sector in the housing market, but it also comes with problems and due to the national shortage of housing brought about by decades of lacklustre building all the power is in landlords' favour. 

Crawley Borough Council does have private sector housing officers try to resolve issues within the private rented sector and at our last Cabinet meeting we approved new powers for officers in dealing with rogue landlords. However, we can only go so far as legislation will permit, which is why we're now watching the progress of the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill. 

The proposed law is a Private Member's Bill, meaning it's an individual MP and not the Government who is bringing the legislation forward, in this case Labour's Karen Buck. The law will, for the first time, require rented accommodation to be maintained in a condition fit for human habitation, giving tenants the right to act if landlords fail to do so. 

Doesn't that seem like the very least a private tenant should be able to expect? Apparently not, because this is the third time Labour MPs have tried to get the requirement onto the statute book, the first attempt was talked out and the second was voted down by Conservative MPs. 

So, what are the chances of success this time? Ordinarily Private Member's Bills have no possibility of passing without Government support due to the majority they can call upon to vote a law down. Yet, as we now have a Hung Parliament, that built-in majority is no longer there. The Bill can pass and it's up to every MP to search their conscience and for every constituent to let their MP know they believe people deserve homes fit for human habitation. 

CllrPeterLamb.jpgCllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

 

Homes fit to live in

If there's one part of the UK's housing market which is thriving it's the private rented sector. As councils struggle to replace the social housing lost through decades of Right-to-Buy...

It must be something about the darkness of the late autumn and winter months which makes fireworks such as suitable companion of late year celebrations. There were certainly fireworks last weekend when I attended the 49th Annual Diwali Show of Crawley's Gurjar Hindu Union, New Year Celebrations typically involve the launch of large numbers of fireworks and of course this week we have Guy Fawkes Night.

Every school child knows the origins of the celebration, of the plot to blow up both King and Parliament, of the leaked letter and Guy Fawkes' discovery just a few hours before Westminster would have been reduced to rubble. Remember, remember the fifth of November. In a year which has seen another attack on Parliament, sadly costing the lives of six people, and multiple other acts of terrorism on the UK mainland, this year's event perhaps serves as a more poignant reminder than most that while we have faced hatred and terror in the past, we're still here.

Yes, we live in challenging times, times when we feel under threat but we've been here before. The attempt on Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators didn't come out of nowhere, it followed centuries of religiously motivated conflict between Protestants and Catholics both in England and across Europe. At home, such conflict involved some of the most gruesome tortures and executions imaginable and in Europe it produced wars on a continental scale. For those alive in England at the time this was the definitive political issue and the idea it could be resolved without the ultimate victory of one side or the other was ludicrous.

Yet, today we regularly see leaders of the world's major faiths engaged in dialogue, there is peace at last in Northern Ireland and for decades predominantly-Protestant and predominantly-Catholic countries have formed a political and economic union in Europe together. For every generation there have been issues which have seemed to define their times, to threaten their way of life, perhaps their very existence and yet 411 years on from Guy Fawkes' death Parliament still sits on the banks of the Thames.

CllrPeterLamb.jpgCllr Peter Lamb

Leader Crawley Borough Council

Living in Challenging Times

It must be something about the darkness of the late autumn and winter months which makes fireworks such as suitable companion of late year celebrations. There were certainly fireworks last...

We spend so much of our waking lives at work, it’s surprising how little we seem to discuss our employment rights and conditions.

Paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, weekends, reasonable weekly working hours and decent pay all had to be fought for and today’s employees reap the benefits.

Yet, over recent years these rights and conditions have been put at risk, as some employers have sought to increase their profit margins straight from their employee’s pockets. Zero-hours contracts, umbrella contracts and any other number of legal loopholes have started to roll back 200 years of improvements to people’s working conditions.

A classic case of this can be seen at the Royal Mail. For over 500 years, Royal Mail was a public service, a vital part of our national infrastructure and a source of secure employment for many thousands of postal workers. Then came privatisation and, despite all of the assurances provided in the run-up to the sale, now that the service is in the hands of private investors, little-by-little the rights and conditions of postal workers are beginning to disappear.

Fortunately for postal workers, they have a union which is willing to stick up for them and the CWU is now balloting its members—many of whom live and work in our community—to decide whether or not to undertake industrial action to ensure the Royal Mail provides a pension solution for all, a full-time working week of 35 hours, an extension to the service’s current legally binding agreements and a re-designed pipeline.

Strikes can be inconvenient for customers and I know that there are those who complain about unions always pushing for a better deal for their members when their own working conditions aren’t getting any better. It’s true that alongside the general rights unions have secured us all over the years, unionised professions have tended to fare better than un-unionised professions. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s a rallying cry, if you want to retain and improve the rights past generations have handed down to us, we all need to band together to fight for them.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Proper rights at Work

We spend so much of our waking lives at work, it’s surprising how little we seem to discuss our employment rights and conditions. Paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, sick...

The UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place annually on 3rd December. The day exists to promote understanding of disability issues and mobilise action to ensure the needs of people with disabilities are properly recognised and met.

It's too easy to think that in more economically developed countries such as the UK this battle has already been won. Yet, anyone disembarking a train at Crawley Railway Station in a wheelchair is forced to change platforms via the Brighton Road level crossing. It was only in the wake of national news attention when Jeremy Corbyn helped a lady with a pram across the bridge during a visit to Crawley over the Summer that a new bridge with built-in lifts was announced.

Such barriers to those with disabilities are hidden all around us in plain sight, although thanks to the hard work of Crawley's Town Access Group they're not so great in number as they once were, and we all have a role to play in addressing them by consciously designing accessibility into every part of life in the borough.

Unfortunately, unseen barriers, while bad, are not the biggest way our country fails those with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have faced some of the harshest cuts of the Tories' time in Government. That isn't simply the opinion of an opposition politician, the Conservatives' record on disabilities has faced major criticism from the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission has highlighted that the combined impact of social security changes over the last seven years has hit households with a disabled adult and a disabled child the hardest, with cash losses of over £5,500 per year.

Now, the Government is set to scrap the Enhanced and Severe Disability Premiums as they introduce the widely-criticised Universal Credit, potentially leaving families with a disabled member even worse off. This is unacceptable and a motion I'm bringing to Crawley's Full Council outlines steps the Tories must take to avoid the policy becoming a catastrophe. Disability doesn't have to mean inequality, unless we let it.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Equal opportunities for the Disabled

The UN's International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place annually on 3rd December. The day exists to promote understanding of disability issues and mobilise action to ensure the needs...

You might think with all the recent farcical reverses with Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council and the amenity tips that they run, like County Oak, that they would long postpone any further moves that put obstacles in the way of people being able to dump their rubbish.  But, of course, you would be wrong. 

Earlier this month, a report appeared just days before a scheduled meeting, asking county councillors to support the introduction of resident permits to use West Sussex tips, without any supporting evidence it was needed. 

Now, it’s true Surrey County Council is planning to introduce charging to their residents for dumping waste in the new year, but for the Tories to try and introduce this permit scheme with such short notice is a knee-jerk reaction. 

To foil cross-border dumpers, the Tory leadership appear eager to impose an additional bureaucratic obstacle in the way of West Sussex residents using their own tips! 

Every change to the use of our dumps should have taught the county council by now that anything making it more difficult for residents to dump their household waste creates more problems than it solves.  It’s almost painful watching the council do this to itself.  

The lack of detail for this proposal was woeful, it became clear there were no firm plans at all.  Photo ID, an actual permit or even just showing a utility bill were all tentatively suggested. 

But that wasn’t all, it was also proposed that councillors support the winter closure of Crawley, Burgess Hill and Chichester tips one day a week, when currently these larger sites are open daily.  The vote was tied, but pushed through by the Tory Chairman using his casting vote. 

Added to the practical barriers with decreased days and opening hours, it will take up even more time with staff inspecting permits, creating longer traffic queues into the tips. 

Of course the added rigmarole risks increasing flytipping, as people give up trying to deal with the council's changes. Also, the overall cost is going to be £10,000 to introduce the permits.  How long before taxpayers are yet again paying for an expensive white elephant, when this all ends in tears?

Cllr Michael Jones

(Lab, Bewbush) – Cabinet Member for Public Protection and Community Engagement

 

More mess at the Tip

You might think with all the recent farcical reverses with Tory-controlled West Sussex County Council and the amenity tips that they run, like County Oak, that they would long postpone...

It used to be the case that high unemployment was the clearest sign the jobs market was broken, that was before the gig economy. Now, people are put on zero-hour contracts providing no guarantee of actual work or turned into independent contractors, handing the duties of the employer over to the employee. Quoting low unemployment figures is meaningless when jobs are no longer covering the basic costs of living. 

All of this has been in the news over the last week following the tribunal decision that Deliveroo couriers were not entitled to the same basic employment rights as the rest of us. It's no sign of economic prosperity for companies to take their profits out of the pockets of their workers and if the law fails to recognise the obligations of employers, hard won over many decades, then the law needs to change. Unfortunately, under the current Government that doesn't seem very likely and one study suggests that if no action is taken 40% of US jobs will be in the gig economy by 2020. Where the US leads the UK is often quick to follow. 

By allowing some businesses to operate in this way we risk creating a race to the bottom, encouraging established employers to water down the rights of their workforce in dealing with less scrupulous competitors, something which post-privatisation Royal Mail executives seem increasingly keen to do. 

While central government is unwilling to tackle the problem at its source, local government can try to deal with some of its symptoms. As a council, we've ruled out the use of zero-hours contracts and  require the real Living Wage to be paid to all those working under a Crawley Borough Council contract. While Deliveroo falls outside of the council's control, Uber--despite applying for a license--has not authorised by the council to operate their private hire service within the Crawley area. More importantly, we're working to expand the local jobs market to give residents the opportunity to prosper outside of the gig economy, hopefully holding back the tide until another Labour Government can re-introduce real protections for local workers.

CllrPeterLamb.jpgCllr Peter Lamb

Leader Crawley Borough Council

 

Real protection for workers

It used to be the case that high unemployment was the clearest sign the jobs market was broken, that was before the gig economy. Now, people are put on zero-hour...

In a week where we’re asked remember the costs and sacrifices of war, it would be tasteless to engage in party politics. Instead, we should use this opportunity to recognise the enduring role of Remembrance in our community. 

Next year is the centenary of the armistice which marked the end of the First World War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Whilst in the UK, Remembrance is largely observed on the Sunday, for most former Allied Powers commemoration takes place on 11th November. 

Indeed, for its first twenty years, Britain held its main acts of Remembrance on Remembrance Day and it was only WW2 and the need to avoid any loss of weekday production which led to Remembrance Sunday becoming preeminent. 

The fact is Remembrance, in what we choose to remember and how we choose to do so, is not one continuous unbroken tradition back to November 1919. Remembrance Day began as a time for mourning the loss of life during one particular war, a war where most people would have lost family or friends, and over the years it expanded to acknowledge the contribution of all those who had fought in the conflict. The outbreak of the Second World War, gave people cause to remember the loss of life in another war and so it has continued with every subsequent deployment. 

Since the beginning there has been a tension between the importance of remembering and concerns over the risk of glorifying war. Despite the pageantry, I have never attended any Remembrance event where war appeared to be glorified, in fact many services go out of their way to acknowledge the full impact of violent conflict upon all those involved. Yet, I know people who hold this concern and it’s one I respect. 

Yet, the important thing is not your personal view on past wars, whether you attend a service, or if you wear a red poppy, white poppy or none at all, but rather that we take this opportunity to think about conflict and consider all the varied costs and sacrifices it involves.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Remembrance in our Community

In a week where we’re asked remember the costs and sacrifices of war, it would be tasteless to engage in party politics. Instead, we should use this opportunity to recognise...

Last week, members of Crawley Borough Council had the opportunity for the first time to tour 'Little Trees', the town's new cemetery. 

Located just south of Broadfield, the new cemetery will have space to provide a final resting place for loved ones for the next 50 years. Its design enables it to accommodate burials from all faiths, in addition to woodland burials, in a well-maintained environment. 

The construction of Little Trees follows an increasingly frantic eight year search, as Snell Hatch began to reach maximum occupancy and we faced the threat of being unable to provide somewhere to bury Crawley residents within the borough's boundaries. On becoming Leader, the case was even made to me that the council had no legal obligation to provide a graveyard, yet it was our obligation to the community to provide a place to bury loved ones nearby and not the law which was always my main concern. 

Situating graveyards is difficult. In Crawley, all the land within the town already has a designated residential, economic or leisure use, and every category is in short supply. We couldn't build near to Gatwick as bodies would have to be disinterred in the event of a new runway and there are existing issues with providing such a noisy resting place. Some of the sites we considered were adjacent to nursing homes which would have been somewhat indelicate and you are restricted to locations with relatively low levels of groundwater. 

Nonetheless, following careful negotiation to relocate the Girl Guides to Tilgate Forest, we have found in Little Trees a new cemetery site of which Crawley can be proud. So far, one resident has found a final resting place at the cemetery, long-serving former councillor Keith Blake, a man who dedicated many years to serving the town in a range of roles and who sadly passed away earlier this year. Keith served as Cabinet Member for Environment for much of the eight year search for a new site and it feels appropriate that having passed away he now has the chance to rest in the place he helped to create.

Cllr Peter Lamb,

Leader Crawley Borough Council

 

Fit resting place for Crawley people

Last week, members of Crawley Borough Council had the opportunity for the first time to tour 'Little Trees', the town's new cemetery.  Located just south of Broadfield, the new cemetery...

There is plenty to rightly celebrate about the past, present and future of the Borough of Crawley in its 70th Anniversary year.  In Crawley , we have so many things to be proud of and, nationally, we are also urged to be proud of our apparently distinctive British values.

And yet no more than a couple of miles from the town centre and within the borough of Crawley, a recent Panorama report documented what appeared to be systematic abuse of fellow human beings  at Brook House – human beings who were not serving imprisonment for a criminal offence but awaiting decisions about whether or not they should be allowed to remain within Britain. Brook House ‘Immigration Removal Centre’(IRC) is on the southern fringes of Gatwick Airport. In my view, this programme was shocking and shaming.

Brook House is run on behalf of the Home Office by G4S, the largest security services company in the UK. Around 500 male detainees are held indefinitely at Brook House whilst their cases are considered.

Concern about the content of the Panorama programme has been expressed at parliamentary level by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Televised oral evidence at a recent hearing gave considerable support for the concerns raised by the Panorama programme and a number of G4S employees have since been dismissed.

Evidence given at the Select Committee was that 52% of the detainees at Brook House were released back into the community ie not ‘removed’ from the country at all.. Also it was stated that it is not uncommon for detainees to be released and simply left outside the entrance to Brook House to fend for themselves.

Also, according to evidence given at the Select Committee, each of these detentions costs the British taxpayer more than thirty thousand pounds annually. Many of those detained have lived in Britain for many years – possibly from childhood – and have not committed any criminal offence although others have served criminal sentences and are then further detained for long periods awaiting possible deportation to a foreign country.

A 2013 report after an unannounced visit led by Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Prisons, found problems with the provision of legal advice for detainees, a slow pace of immigration casework and high levels of self harm caused by frustration. ‘Although detainees could be out of their rooms for extended periods, they were locked up too early at night, and it was not clear why they had to be locked up at all’

Over a year ago, I visited Brook House and spent an hour or so with a detainee who told me that he had lived in London since childhood but had recently been apprehended and taken to Brook House where he was waiting indefinitely for his case to be considered. Whilst his living conditions were relatively comfortable and he had his own room, he told me that he was locked in his room for 18 hours a day and that his room was unventilated. His main concern was poor access to routine healthcare- despite requests - and when he had been hospitalised in London, he was chained to his bed.

My particular concerns were with Health provision for detainees. I am quite familiar with the work of the Care Quality Commission and saw a report for the ‘Gatwick Cluster’ (at the time, Brook House, Tinsley House, nearby, and The Cedars south of Pease Pottage). Of the three, Brook House is by far the biggest and The Cedars has subsequently been closed. The CQC report from 2014 gave the Cluster a ‘good’ rating across the five categories – but the report admits that it was based only on a visit to The Cedars where paperwork was checked and some staff interviewed – but there were no detainees present to be interviewed! So Brook House – with around 500 male detainees was judged as ‘Good’ based on no evidence whatsoever! There have been no CQC reports since.

As President John F Kennedy said ‘The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened’.

CllrGeraintThomas.JPGCllr Geraint Thomas

Northgate

Proud of British Values

There is plenty to rightly celebrate about the past, present and future of the Borough of Crawley in its 70th Anniversary year.  In Crawley , we have so many things...

Seventeen years ago, the Human Genome Project, the international effort to map out human DNA, announced they had completed a draft of the human genome and reiterated the old saying 'there is only one race -- the human race'. Race has never had any meaningful scientific definition, yet science has never been at the core of why some people hate those they consider them to be different.

It's too easy to be pessimistic, we should celebrate the great progress which has moved us from racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic attitudes being the norm within living memory to becoming, at least overtly, legally and socially unacceptable.

Just last weekend, we had the opportunity to celebrate the range of cultures we have in our town through events put on by DIVERSECrawley, a new group established as part of our 70th anniversary celebrations. The seven decade history of Crawley New Town is one of outsiders coming from all over and making a home together, our diversity isn't a threat but an opportunity to experience the many cultural offerings of our varied people.

Yet, we must never forget a significant number don't see this as progress, and social battles fought and won are rarely won forever. We now have a man in the White House who believes it's acceptable to ban people from the US based upon their religion, we see bigoted parties gaining support in elections across Europe and closer to home there has been a surge in hate crime following the EU Referendum.

This week is National Hate Crime Awareness Week, an opportunity to remind people hate crime is alive in Britain today and that it mustn't go unchallenged. Indeed, we must always challenge hate, but in doing so we cannot become hate-filled ourselves. By all means report the crime, yet do not hate the criminal, as it is only love and patient understanding which can begin to change minds and propel society forward. If we want to bring an end to hatred we should remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: "do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" 

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Action on Hate Crime

Seventeen years ago, the Human Genome Project, the international effort to map out human DNA, announced they had completed a draft of the human genome and reiterated the old saying...

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