Two kinds of hole

West Sussex have a problem with holes at the moment, it seems.

The first is the kind that any driver, cyclist or motorbike rider in Crawley can tell you about – potholes. There are more and more of these things popping up all over town, along with growing cracks, raised or sunken metalwork, uneven pavements and any other signs of poor maintenance and the use of cheap materials.

To help them to know how people feel about the state of the roads (that we pay our ever increasing Council Tax to WSCC to maintain) a new website has, as trailed, been set up.

If you have tales of potholes that are not being fixed after having been reported, or were the repair is inadequate, pop along and either leave a comment or use the email address: Join the Crawley Potholes Club

One possible reason that WSCC could have for it’s failure to keep our roads up to standard could be that they are rubbish at handling money.

Firstly, they managed to overspend on Fastway by £6 millions and not notice until right at the end of the project. Cause – piss poor project management, and who led the project? West Sussex.

Secondly, when Henry Smith became leader of WSCC it had pretty much no debt. Now, even though they have been flogging off playing fields and old-people’s care homes* they have managed to accrue about £300 millions in long-term debt. Much of this in Government-enabled credit, where WSCC were lent money so that they could build all the new schools and things that Henry would like to take all the credit for. The Government arranged to pay the interest for the first few years, and WSCC should have been working out a way to minimise the balance before that interest holiday ended.

The holiday is over, and instead of reducing their debts, the Tories at County Hall are racking them up further, and the interest is being piled on top.

In contrast, the Tories at Crawley have inherited a well managed pot of money – £100 million. How long before they widdle that lot up the wall as they close down services?

And potholes? Well, I have been looking at the West Sussex council website, and in particular at the amount that they spend on roads. In 2005/6, the amount gross revenue amount spent on Highways and Transport was £63M. In 2006/7, it had fallen by over £5M to £58M. In the same period, they increased Council Tax by over 4%.

What’s more amazing is that in the budget for that year, the Tories has promised to increase spending by several million quid. So are they so inept that they can’t stick to a budget, or were they avoiding spending money on Highways & Transport so that they could pay for the Fastway SNAFU?

Who knows? All I know is that some Tory councillors are more concerned with arguing over who goes to meetings or not, rather than how the authority that they sit on and help run is seemingly unable to handle money. I thought that the Tories were supposed to be savvy with cash…

* I was going to put a note in here about the débacle following the sell-off and contracting out of care services for the elderly, but it deserves a post of its own

Closing down fun

In case anyone is not fully aware, the Tories at Crawley Borough Council have recently announced the following Play Centres are or will be closed down:

Ifield
Pound Hill
Northgate
Southgate

The first two are already closed. The second two will be open for the Summer Holidays and then close in September.

This comes after CBC has been given money by the National Lottery to improve access to services. What did they spend the money on? Partly to pay for a bus so that kids in Ifield and Pound Hill can get to the places that haven’t closed. Seems to me like they used the money to help mitigate the removal of services.

There is talk of a school-based replacement service, but as WSCC would have to be involved, and the schools themselves, I think it has been incredibly premature of Crawley to cut services before the fall back is in place. After all, WSCC are a year behind their programme to restore hot school dinners, and I know of at least one school (Southgate Primary) that is apparently refusing to join in.

How long will the children of Ifield, Pound Hill, Northgate and Southgate have to wait if the same people are supposed to be providing after-school activities?

Vexation

Duncan Crow, Tory councillor at both West Sussex and Crawley has got himself a blog, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

He recently put this little missive up: Our last honest Prime Minister, about John Major. Of course, Major was fairly well respected for his honesty and integrity (if not his competence or personality) until it came out afterwards that he’d had an affair with Edwina Currie.

However, the bit of his post that I was most struck by was where he was trying to wriggle out of flat out calling Blair and Brown liars with this little disclaimer:

I am not sure I can say lying as it may tempt a certain Labour Councillor who seems to habitually make vexatious complaints to the Standards Board about Conservatives Councillors to complain about me.

So who is this ‘certain’ councillor, and what ‘vexatious complaints’ have they been making? I’ve heard of the use of complaints for political purposes in other areas, but not around here very much. Is Duncan actually going to be able to tell us who it is that he is talking about, because it ought to be a matter of public record if vexatious complaints are being made.

Skuds (see comments from number 21 onwards) had a look at the Standards Board for England’s website and found nothing that looked like a vexatious complaint from a Labour Councillor. I know, however, that often complaints are referred back to the local authority for their Standards Committee to investigate, so I have looked back at the last few years’ worth of meetings in Crawley (I have a day off, waiting for Jas’ car to be fixed, and can’t be bothered to do the washing up yet). Since April 2004 the committee has met eight times, and all except for the last have published minutes. I see no reference to a single complaint investigation in all of that time, and the last meeting has no explicit reference to one in it’s Agenda papers.

I have found a reference to the case of a Crawley councillor from before 2004 – he was a Labour councillor, the complaint was upheld (and he resigned as a result) and it originated from an officer over non-declaration of his financial interests and his response to it being discovered.

But nothing at Crawley stands out as being in any way as Cllr Crow describes.

What about West Sussex? Well I looked at the WSCC site and found their Standards Committee papers. It seems that it met more often – on average about three time a year – and I have found the following complaints:

  • In March 2004 a complaint was raised about Cllr Jake Clausen (Lib Dem) by the leader of the his own group, following a conviction for harassment. Cllr Clausen resigned shortly after the complaint was raised, and he was banned from standing as a councillor for two years by the Standards Board. His ban expired last year.

  • In December 2004 a representative of a Travellers group raised a complaint about Cllr Alan Phillips regarding remarks made at a public meeting (among other remarks he had suggested the slogan “if you want a traveller for a neighbour, vote Labour”, a crass reminder of the racist leaflet that Tories in Smethwick put out in 1964 which used the word ‘nigger’). He was no longer on the council by the time that it saw a report on the matter, and although he was found to have breached the Code of Conduct in respect of bringing the council into disrepute, no further action was taken. I don’t know which party Phillips represented, and it’s actually very hard to find the election results from 2001.

Neither complaint was ‘vexatious’, as both resulting in a finding of a breach, and neither of them had been raised by a Labour councillor.

So, I find absolutely no evidence for Cllr Crow’s allegation that there is some Labour councillor out there in the habit of making ‘vexatious complaints’. Indeed, if that were the case, it would only be known about if the cases were completed, and that sort of behaviour ought to have garnered a complaint to the Standards Board if it were going on.

Of course, Cllr Crow could be referring to cases that have yet to be determined – complaints that are still going around the system. In which case, it would appear to be prejudicial to say that they are ‘vexatious’ before it is actually known that the complaints have been rejected or not.

So, I’m wondering to myself about this one. In a post about honesty, is Duncan himself playing a little fast and loose with the truth, in order to play up the victim card?

Another poor day at the polls

Given the results in the previous two years, and the national political picture after the debacle of the 10% tax band, there was no real surprise at the outcome of yesterday’s Crawley Borough Council elections.

Last year I looked at the trends in each ward and for each party, and I thought I’d do the same thing. We have now had a full cycle since the 2004 boundary changes and all-out-elections, so we can compare over the past 4 years and see the overall trends. In each seat this year, the person who was in position before May had been the most popular candidate of those elected in 2004.

Bewbush
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 193/216/275
2006 – Labour, maj 192
2007 – Labour, maj 374
2008 – Labour, maj 281
Again the largest Labour majority in Crawley. The incumbent had stood down due to ill health, and may have had some personal vote, but it does seem that there was a slip in support. The Tory got a similar percentage of the vote to last year, and Arshad Khan managed over 100 votes. The main difference to previous years was that the Lib Dems put no-one up and the BNP had a candidate. As is usual, the BNP took about 15% of the vote at the first attempt (they tend to slip back in later years).

Broadfield N
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 99/261
2006 – Tory, maj 0
2008 – Labour, maj 150
A popular local incumbent was re-elected here, and the Tories got fewer votes than in 2006. The Lib Dems lost about a third of their vote. Now the only ward with councillors from more than one party.

Broadfield S
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 22/52
2006 – Tory, maj 112
2008 – Tory, maj 165
The incumbent was Marcella Head, elected as a Conservative and who defected to the Lib Dems in 2006 over the Council Housing issue. She apparently endorsed Ian Irvine the Labour candidate this time, but in the end the Tories extended their lead in a two-horse race.

Furnace Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 155/318
2006 – Tory, maj 547
2007 – 2 Tory, maj 524/568
Tory ward, although was Labour until the late 1990s. No election this year.

Gossops Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 33/47
2007 – Tory, maj 150
2008 – Tory, maj 281
The Tory vote was about the same as last year, with Labour down and a BNP candidate in third. The Lib Dems lost half of their vote.

Ifield
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 96/100/191
2006 – Tory, maj 21
2007 – Tory, maj 59
2008 – Tory, maj 236
Last year I had this as marginal. The BNP have stood here several times and for the first time increased their vote, getting back some of the losses since 2004. The Tory vote went up by 100, and Labour lost about 80. The Lib Dems vote pretty much held. Where we had two independents last year, none stood this time.

Langley Green
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 268/303/352
2006 – Labour, maj 406
2007 – Labour, maj 148
2008 – Labour, maj 232
Safe Labour seat, although one of the councillors is always convinced that it is dead close. The Labour and Tory votes both went up, with the Lib Dems losing half of theirs (the normal candidate stood in Maidenbower instead, perhaps there’s some personal vote there).

Maidenbower
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 682/744/779
2006 – Tory, maj 1132
2007 – Tory, maj 1215
2008 – Tory, maj 1386
Safe Tory seat. The Tory vote leapt up in 2006, and has been creeping higher since then. The Lib Dems and Labour tied for second place (and last place).

Northgate
2004 – 2 LibDem, maj 292/334
2006 – LibDem, maj 276
2007 – LibDem, maj 250
Liberal Democrat haven. No election this year.

Pound Hill N
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 778/795/831
2006 – Tory, maj 1280
2007 – Tory, maj 1001
2008 – Tory, maj 1082
Safe Tory. The Lib Dems overtook Labour to come second (the only ward in 2008 where the Lib Dem vote was more than the Labour total), and the only reason that I can see for the slip in the Tory majority is lower turnout, which is natural such a safe seat.

Pound Hill S and Worth
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 707/760/828
2006 – Tory, maj 1210
2007 – Tory, maj 1072
2008 – Tory, maj 1189
Safe Tory. The Lib Dems were in second in 2006, but Labour overtook them last year and maintained second place. The BNP stood here for the first time and came last – the only place where the Lib Dems beat them.

Southgate
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 3/50/51
2006 – Tory, maj 198
2007 – Tory, maj 179
2007 – Tory, maj 254
Marginal but getting safer for the Tories. The Tories won this seat in 2003 by 3 votes, probably helped by the Greens standing. The BNP and Greens used to stand here but didn’t this time. The Labour vote went up, but the Tory vote went up faster. The Lib Dems gained votes (probably from ex-Green voters).

Three Bridges
2004 – 1 Labour , 1 Tory
2007 – Tory, maj 356
2008 – Tory, maj 297
The Tory vote did fall slightly, and the Labour vote went up slightly, but from being a knife-edge seat is firmly Tory for now. Last year there was an English Democrat and a Green, but they were absent this time. The Lib Dems did pick up votes (from the Greens again?)

Tilgate
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 84/87
2007 – Tory, maj 355
2008 – Tory, maj 97
Like Three Bridges, a major gain for the Tories last year. However, unlike Three Bridges, Labour came much closer to holding a seat as the Tories dropped 180 votes. The BNP beat the Lib Dems to third, both gaining a few votes.

West Green
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 147/274
2006 – Labour, maj 117
2008 – Labour, maj 180
Usually safe Labour. The winner this year was Bert Crane, who must be in contention for the longest serving councillor in the country (over 50 years). The Tory vote did go up slightly, the BNP shed votes and unlike previous years, no others stood.

Tories
Overall, a fairly stable set of results. Where they have made gains in recent years these have been consolidated (except for Broadfield North which was unusual). The only bad spot was Tilgate, which was won with a very large swing in 2007 and was much closer this time around. Now have a majority of 15 on the Council.

Labour
Another bad year. Some glimmers of hope where the vote went up (despite the national trend), but could not hold on to the remaining seats in Tilgate, Southgate or Ifield.

Lib Dems
Overall, the trend is down again. Back down to two seats after Marcella Head (who was elected as a Tory) stood down and no replacement candidate was put up in Broadfield South. In some wards shed a third of even a half of their vote, and did well in few wards where they couldn’t pick up Green votes.

Greens
First making an impact in 2003 (after a Labour Councillor defected in protest at the Iraq war), they tried to expand with several candidates across the town in later years. This time no Green candidates stood at all, apparently to avoid splitting the non-Tory vote.

BNP
Stood in six wards this year, more than ever before. In most places where they stand for the first time, they get between 10% and 20% of the vote, and thereafter the trend is slowly downwards. Ifield is their best ward, where they picked up some votes this year, but not as many as in 2004/5.

English Democrats
Came in last year, stood in two seats, did pretty badly and not a word of them since.

Far Left
No candidates from any of the left-of-Labour parties this year, as was the case last year.

Independents
After last year when several independent candidates stood, only Arshad Khan with his self-styled ‘Justice Party’ remained. He did actually pick up some votes this time.

Interesting Answer

Nearly a year ago I signed up to They Work For You‘s service which sends you an email every time your MP speaks in the House of Commons. It’s really quite useful if you want to keep an eye on what an MP is saying.

Yesterday, Laura Moffatt asked the following question in the ‘Business of the House’ debate:

The issue of children has rightly come up already in business questions. Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the importance of play? The excellent children’s plan published earlier this month demonstrates that organised play for children is a key part of their development. I want this debate to put off local authorities that are short-sightedly thinking of closing play centres on financial grounds alone. I want the issues properly explored to stop them doing so.

Well, clearly the MP shares suspicions that the Crawley Tories are planning to close Play Centres in Crawley (Northgate and Southgate have been suggested as targets), and are hoping to save money by doing so.

The answer, from Harriet Harman, was more interesting than the question though:

No local authority should cut play services. The Government have put an extra £250 million into children’s play services and I know that my hon. Friend has been a great champion of children’s services in Crawley. If the Conservative council in Crawley is cutting children’s play services, it should not do so, and I suggest that my hon. Friend applies for an Adjournment debate.

So, if there’s more money available, why would Crawley Borough Council wish to reduce provision in the town? What is the idea?

Local Tories at Play

The local Tories, having gained control of the Borough Council, have certainly been revealing their true colours.

First they tried to sell tenants a bunch of lies (or were they just ridiculously awful calculations that no-one bothered to check?), but thanks to the tenants, local opposition, the Government of the South East, the Audit Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority they failed. Still, the people of Crawley in their wisdom returned even more Tory councillors last May.

Now they are going for the Play Service. Last year proposals came out to ‘rationalise’ the play areas, which appear to have been put into abeyance for a while. Maidenbower will get a new play area though (which is fine, no problem at all, although the developers should have put it in years ago, not the taxpayers).

Instead of shutting down play areas, looks like the Tories are instead going to close down Play Centres. These are the places that stay open after schools close so that children can play in a secure environment before parents pick them up. They are incredibly popular during school holidays, because parents can’t all get time off in six week blocks.

The two centres that I know of being under the knife are Northgate and Southgate. Southgate has in the last two years voted for a Conservative councillor. In order, presumably, to avoid the risk that people around here see what the Tories are up to and vote accordingly, the decision has been postponed until June.

Typically, the Tories will tell you all about the 2% increase in Council Tax, but won’t tell you which services will be cut as a result. The truth is that they will be hitting the children, and given that delinquency is linked to a lack of provision for kids, adding to the problems of youths hanging around with ‘nothing to do’ until they get into trouble. It’s not just hugging hoodies, it’s increasing the problems for and associated with youth.

Vote Tory – have more kids hanging on the street corners!

More bad news for the Crawley Tories

Back in January, the Conservatives had to admit defeat on their badly thought through and costed plans to transfer Crawley’s Council Housing stock.

Essentially, all of the bodies that had to approve their proposals refused to do so, mainly on the basis that the projected £60M costs were inflated. The Audit Commission, the local tenant’s panel, the ‘shadow board’ (the group set up to create the new entity which would take over the housing) and the Government office of the South East are difficult to argue with. Until then, it had only been the Labour councillors who had opposed putting the flawed plan to the vote of tenants. The Lib Dems appeared to prefer to tinker with the edges, and it was only when they gained a Tory defector and the true extent of the debace was apparent that they came to a definite position.

One of the things that was highlighted back in November was that the council had spent £30K on a DVD which had been rendered incorrect even before it was sent out. The Tory leadership had included a reference to the possibility of charging more for the vital Lifeline service (which provides a direct link between vulnerable elderly and ill tenants and the emergency/health services). However, this was defeated by Labour, Lib Dem and dissident Tory votes, but it was too late to remove this ‘threat’ from the DVD.

Turns out that this was not the only problem with it, or with other advertising sent out by the Council around the time to promote the idea of transfer. Today the Advertising Standards Authority said that Crawley Borough Council had potentially misled tenants and upheld two complaints:

A newsletter headlined “Council faces £12m shortfall to reach Decent Homes Standard (DHS)” said the Crawley authority would not be able to meet a £60m figure which it claimed was the minimum spend required on housing stock by 2010.

But the ASA upheld a complaint that this figure was misleading, because it included future maintenance costs beyond DHS guidance.

A second point of complaint concerned a promotional DVD which questioned the reliability of other information being disseminated at the time by the Defend Council Housing group.

The ASA concluded the material “unfairly denigrated” the aims of the group, which campaigned against the housing transfer.

So, the DVD also attacked the Defend Council Housing group. But the more important thing is that the ASA have also picked up on the Tory claims of a £12M shortfall in funding due to a need to spend £60M in three years. Even after the Audit Commission and others had pointed out that the £60M figure was too high, or referred to a much longer period of time, the Tory councillors were still sticking to the £12M funding gap. It doesn’t exist! And yet again, the Council are finding that an august body has called them on the claims.

Crawley council said: “We’re baffled because everything was checked and approved by the relevant parties in line with government guidelines.”

I’m ‘baffled’ because the Labour councillors, Defend Council Housing and others had been asking them to clarify their figures for months before they were ignominiously dropped. The fact that they did not, and still have not, suggests that either they didn’t know what the basis for the £60M really was (and how it compared to the actual spend to meet the Decent Homes Standard), or they did but didn’t want to admit that it was incorrect.

So did they lie, or can’t they add up? And the people of Crawley elected more of these muppets to run the town in May.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 203 other followers