Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Crawley Labour's Council Tax Bombshell

Below is a Conservative Group press release issued after last week's Full Council at Crawley Borough Council where Labour voted down our Budget Strategy Amendment to maintain a balanced budget in each of the next three years. This is exactly what they used to do before 2006 when Crawley last had a Labour Council. They would consistently put back the date that they planned to balance the budget. In the end, it took a Conservative Council to do it. Labour just never learn...

Labour in Crawley mirror the national party - they never learn!
The Conservative opposition at Crawley Borough Council have warned of a “Council Tax Bombshell” being stored up for the future after the controlling Labour group voted down a Conservative amendment to continue to balance the Council’s Budget in each of the next three years at last week’s Full Council meeting.
The Council’s Budget Strategy sets out the Council’s financial policy direction for future budgets. The previous Conservative Administration had a policy of living within the Council’s means while not raising Council Tax which meant that expenditure did not exceed income, known as a balanced budget. This was the existing position for this year’s Council Budget.

At the Full Council meeting, the new Labour Administration ditched this policy, hoping that they might be able to deliver a balance budget in three years’ time. In response, the Conservatives tabled an amendment calling for the Council’s Budget to continue to be balanced in each of the next three years.
Conservative Leader Cllr Duncan Crow (Furnace Green) said “Some of what is in the budget strategy are Conservative policies and I am pleased Labour are implementing our policies and accepting the Conservative-led Government’s grant for a fifth successive Council Tax freeze next year. However, by having no aspiration to balance the budget and with only a vague reference to balance it in three years’ time, we are concerned that the current sound financial position of the Council is at risk and that Labour risk storing up a Council Tax Bombshell that Crawley residents will have to pay for in the future.”

The concerns of Conservative Councillors were echoed by Crawley MP Henry Smith who said “If Crawley residents want an idea of what a future Labour Government would be like with the public finances, they do not have to look very far. Almost immediately, a new Labour controlled Crawley Borough Council has decided to stop living within its means and is risking the creation of a financial mess for Crawley Council Tax payers in the future.”

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Crawley Observer Column 23rd July 2014


This week in my Crawley Observer column (below the photo) I have written about Labour's Budget Strategy at Crawley Borough Council and how my colleagues and I are trying to get them to act responsibly with the Council's finances. Below in italics is the amendment that I proposed at last night's Full Council meeting which was seconded by our Deputy Group Leader, Cllr Richard Burrett. Incredibly, in the debate at last night's Full Council meeting, a Labour Cabinet Member described our amendment to maintain the current balanced budget as "a ridiculous amendment".
3) Note that there is a gap of £1.1m between projected General Fund income and expenditure for the three year period to 2017/2018 and work towards balancing this over a three year period maintain the existing balanced budget in each of the next three years, including putting back into reserves when the budget is in surplus.
Labour and financial competence never go hand in hand  
"Whether it is a government, a company, or a household budget, most of us know that running finances on a sound footing and living within our means is vital in ensuring we have a level of security for the future.
Crawley Borough Council is no different and the good services it provides can only be sustained for the long-term if difficult decisions are faced up to. Indeed, many services have been protected for the long-term thanks to the Conservative control of the Council from 2006 to 2014 when we made £8 million worth of efficiency savings, most of which Labour opposed.

Now that Labour are once again responsible for the Council’s finances as they were prior to 2006, I fear that history will repeat itself and that we will see again the fudging of taking the necessary financial decisions that ensures the Council remains in good shape to provide future services. The omens are not good as the Budget Strategy being voted on at this week’s Full Council meeting shows.

The Council’s Budget Strategy is financial planning for the next three years. What is alarming is that it is proposed to deviate from the existing status quo of having a balanced budget and then crossing fingers that it will balance again in three years’ time. This is the same three-year plan to balance the budget that the last Labour Council had before 2006. What happens is they move the goalposts and forever defer the date that the budget will be balanced.

I believe the new Labour Council should start as they mean to go on. Therefore, in order to focus minds on this vitally important decision, I have proposed an amendment to the Budget Strategy for this week’s Full Council meeting, recommending that the Council’s Budget continues to be balanced from next year. I genuinely believe this is achievable without pain and if Labour accepts this, we can work together in maintaining the Council sound finances so that good services can continue to be provided for years to come."  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Conservatives standing up for Crawley's Private Sector Tenants

Tonight at Crawley Borough Council's Full Council meeting, Crawley Conservatives are tabling a Notice of Motion to stand up for Crawley's private sector housing tenants against Labour's Tenant Tax. Below is our Notice of Motion to the Council which is proposed by Cllr Richard Burrett (Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing) and seconded by Cllr Duncan Crow (Conservative Group Leader). The motion is below.

Do Labour think private sector tenants are a soft option to tax?
"This Council recognises that rented accommodation in the private sector is an important part of Crawley’s diverse mix of housing. The Council is concerned to learn that Croydon Borough Council, the nearest Labour-controlled Council to Crawley, plans to introduce a Licensing Scheme for private rented accommodation that risks additional costs of £200 per year being passed on to private sector tenants in the Borough.

Whilst recognising that licensing is required for rented Homes in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and that such licensing already exists in Crawley, this Council believes that a Licensing Scheme for all properties in the private rented sector risks increased costs being passed on to tenants.

Therefore, in order to bring reassurance to Crawley’s private sector tenants and to avoid putting upward pressure on rents and fees, this Council resolves not to implement any policies in the private sector housing market which:

i.        create additional costs for the sector; and

ii.      risk a reduction in the number or percentage of private sector properties being available to be offered for rent on the open market in Crawley."
 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Crawley Observer Column 16th July 2014

In my Crawley Observer this week (below in blue) I have written about the new access road off the A23 that I enabled during my time as Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture at Crawley Borough Council. This will have a significant impact on reducing traffic through Tilgate on busy days as well as through Furnace Green to some degree. We are now at the consultation stage and the link to the plans can be found here. I urge people to look at the plan and fill out the consultation which is found here.

When I was finalising the plans with Council Officers, they were adamant that Labour's plan to add a separate cycle path was unnecessary and a waste of money, as well as destructive to the woodland in the park. However, Labour are going against expert Officer advice and pushing for a separate cycle path. The consultation is badly flawed because it asks a leading question of "The council supports sustainable transport in the borough. Would you use the new foot/cycle path if funding is agreed?"

Of course people who cycle are going to tick yes to this question without realising that the planned path would be a less direct route and that dual use will be safe on the road like it already is on the road from Titmus Drive. This is all about gimmickry and the ridiculous belief that people will cycle to the park if £100,000 of your money is wasted on a cycle path. While I encourage cycling, I have a sense of realism that some Labour Councillors with a militant cycling/anti-motorist agenda do not.
 
Conservative team in Tilgate & Furnace Green who secured the access road

"Tilgate Park has always been close to my heart and I’ve enjoyed visiting for many years. As the County Councillor for Tilgate and Furnace Green, I happen to be the only Councillor who represents the entire geographical area of Tilgate Park and as the Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture until June, I was directly involved in the park’s improvements.
 
Tilgate Park was vastly improved during the Conservative Council of 2006 - 2014. The Dam was raised which performed brilliantly during last winter’s record rainfall in preventing flooding downstream. We also brought in many other improvements:

·        Boating on the lake.

·        Major refurbishment of the large children’s play area.

·        Go Ape treetop walks.

·        Converted the empty pub to a Smith and Western restaurant.

·        Surfaced the Fisherman’s Car park and created more parking spaces.

·        A better golf driving range and a new clubhouse.

·        Invested in the Nature Centre and the Cafe, including new popular attractions such as the Meerkats.

·        New toilets by the main car park.
Before we left office we also secured a free-to-use outdoor gym and the new access road from the A23 to the main car park that is coming. However, I am concerned that Labour have now added an ill-considered proposal to spend £100,000+ to rip out dozens of trees to create a cycle path separate from a section of the new access road, when dual use for the road will be perfectly safe in a 20mph maximum zone that already has speed restriction and safety measures incorporated into the design.

A separate three metre wide tarmacked cycle path is against the advice of expert Council Officers, as it will destroy woodland and most cyclists will simply choose to use the safe road which will be a more direct route. If £100,000+ exists for investing in cycling, it would be far better spent improving existing cycle paths in the town, as no evidence exists that this woodland-destroying proposed cycle path is needed or will be used. This proposal for an additional cycle path has received no scrutiny whatsoever and urgently needs some."   

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Mid Winter's Day At Tilgate Lake

I have several old (and sometimes dated) blog posts that I unpublished that I may publish again. I was going to republish this one but putting in a caption suddenly made Blogger count it as a new post so  I've put in this added commentary. I love this photograph so much that I use it on my heading for my Twitter account. I snapped it on the Winter Solstice in 2009 in Tilgate Park with a phone. My original blog post from four and a half years ago is below and it contains an insightful last sentence. He must have performed badly as it feels like we've had increasingly severe weather events ever since.

Winter Solstice Sunset at Tilgate Lake - 21st December 2009

Late yesterday afternoon, I visited a very quiet and peaceful Tilgate Lake. I didn't stay for too long because of the cold, but the tranquility was nice and I was kept company by the waterfowl and two rats who were obviously hungry as they were active by day.

I was surprised the lake was not completely frozen over like it was during the last extreme cold weather event back in February, and neither was the ice as thick. I would hazard a guess that the record warm autumn and the fact that we are not as far in to winter, means that the water temperature is not as cold as it would have been last February. In the picture which I took, you can see the clear areas further out.

Like many local residents and people from outside Crawley, I enjoy visiting the park and walking around the lake and it will be unfortunate when the paths around the lake have to be closed for about a year in order to allow the improvements to Tilgate Dam to take place. I suppose that someone, somewhere, might be unhappy about it and imply that we shouldn't do the work to help protect Tilgate and Furnace Green and it's homes from flooding, but there is no viable alternative. To save me explaining the details, here is a link to the page on the CBC website with some details of the plans. The page does say subject to planning permission which has now been granted.

http://www.crawley.gov.uk/stellent/idcplg?IdcService=SS_GET_PAGE&ssDocName=INT177227&ssSourceNodeId=425&str=PB1_SS_MAIN

This is a major project in Tilgate Park and people may have genuine concerns and questions, so please do drop me a line if you have any. If I don't know the answer, I can certainly find out for you. I must stress that the park will be open as normal but that it will be the Fisherman's car park and the path around the lake that will be closed.

Crawley Borough Council and myself are totally committed to help protect Crawley from flooding although we are not responsible for heavy rainfall in the same way that West Sussex County Council are not responsible for the snow! I suppose blaming the Councils for the weather makes a change from blaming Michael Fish, but if I was to be really flippant, I would joke and say that if you really feel the need to blame someone for natural weather events, try Ed Miliband who is the Minister for Climate Change.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Crawley Observer Column 9th July 2014

I like to think I have integrity as a councillor and that I genuinely work for the greater good of Tilgate, Furnace Green, Crawley and West Sussex. This is certainly my intention. This week in my Crawley Observer Column (below in blue) I have written about a pitfall some councillors fall in to. It is definitely a more common trait among Crawley's Labour councillors and I believe that ultimately, it will be the undoing of their new administration at Crawley Town Hall as old habits die hard.

Cllr Duncan Crow - standing up for the silent majority

"The role of a councillor is to fairly represent the neighbourhood that elects them as well as to do their best for the wider town. There can be occasions when both these aims are not viewed as mutually compatible, but usually what is good for a neighbourhood will be good for the town.
Councillors are often approached by people with vested interests or by lobbying groups. It is right that that we are responsive to concerns and that they are given a fair hearing. While it can often be the right thing to do, it is however not always right is to tell such groups what they want to hear in order to gain favour for hopeful electoral advantage.
Sometimes, we can see councillors (often those who aspire to higher office), who aim to please by supporting every available cause going. Over a period of time, this can mean they end up endorsing things that are diametrically opposed to one another. An example of this can be campaigning for more housing and then consistently opposing all planning applications for new housing, when approached by anyone against any new homes near them.
This is becoming an increasingly common occurrence and I believe that over time there becomes an issue of credibility. There is however a wider problem that builds up over time if Council policy is determined by always saying yes to vocal minorities who make a lot of noise regardless of merit, while not taking into account the silent majority. The risk is not having a successful wider strategy that benefits the entire town. By taking the easy option in always trying to please all of the people all of the time, one can eventually end up pleasing no one.
More often than not, I do give support to causes when approached as they are usually worthwhile, but crucially I recognise that sometimes one must not be afraid to say no, in putting the wider interests of the town first. It may mean one is not always liked, but always considering the silent majority will mean one is usually respected."            

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Crawley Observer Column 2nd July 2014

This week in the Crawley Observer (below in blue) I have written about how the Conservatives in government have helped local councils like Crawley to help themselves. There is of course an irony that the new Labour administration at Crawley Borough Council are going to benefit from not only having a Conservative administration for eight years previously that got the Council in good financial shape, but also from our government enabling them to strongly benefit from the proceeds of economic growth, and of course us creating the right conditions to create that growth. Crawley Labour have of course opposed everything we have done to fix the economy at a local and national level. Such is life... 

Conservatives renovated Tilgate Parade - enabled by sound finances  

"Four weeks ago I wrote about the golden legacy that our outgoing Conservative Administration at Crawley Borough Council was leaving the incoming Labour Administration. Our eight years of improvements and efficiency savings left the council with a balanced budget and in great shape. This time I will explain how the Conservative-led government has helped improve local Councils in the four years since 2010. The last Labour government was renowned for its authoritarian treatment of local councils, for cynically manipulating funding arrangements so that council tax doubled, and for the systematic redirecting of funding from councils in the south of England to inefficient councils in Labour heartlands up north.
The Conservative-led government in 2010 was a breath of fresh air for local councils, as they were set free and empowered to better serve their local communities. Councils such as Crawley can now keep more local business rate growth which is generated locally as our economy prospers. Benefitting everyone, councils are incentivised to encourage enterprise and to help grow our local economy. Thanks to the Conservatives long-term economic plan (consistently opposed by Labour) which is securing Britain’s future, the much improved local economy is generating bumper business rate growth for Crawley Borough Council.
 
Another freedom given to local councils by the Conservatives in government is one to invest in property that can generate income. Crawley Council is doing exactly this by purchasing business premises and then renting them out. Both of these policies enable councils to generate more income, requiring less funding from council tax payers to run services. Thanks to extra funding from the government specially for this purpose, council tax has been now been frozen for four years and another grant is being paid to Crawley Borough Council next year so that our council tax will be frozen for a fifth successive year, meaning no rise during this entire parliament. Both nationally as well as locally, the Conservative’s long-term legacy for Crawley Borough Council is one I am very proud of."