Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas

This week in my Crawley Observer column, I have written about Christmas given that the paper came out today on Christmas Eve. May I wish everyone in Tilgate and Furnace Green, Crawley and West Sussex, and anyone reading this anywhere in the world, a very happy and peaceful Christmas.
"This week sees the start of the Christmas holiday and the last week of 2014. Christmas Day is the one day of the year when we collectively press the pause button on our hectic pace of life in the 21st Century. It is a day when most of us take a day off and the country at large relaxes. The vast majority of shops, offices and factories are closed, and the traffic on our roads is much less with a noticeable absence of Lorries. Most public transport ceases and Gatwick Airport is virtually a ghost town with very few flights.   
I believe this is how it should be for one day out of 365 in a year.  Christmas will mean different things to different people but there should be one day a year when the norm is for us to have a very peaceful day with the pressures of everyday life forgotten. However, I always respect anyone who has to work on Christmas Day, as well as those who are away from their families such as those serving in the Armed Forces.

I take the view that as few people as possible should have to work on Christmas Day as it is such a unique and special day, and we should always be grateful to those who spend Christmas Day looking after others in need. I believe that a peaceful Christmas break allows time for reflection, an opportunity to think about the true meaning of Christmas and how going forward, we can focus on what we feel is important in life.
It does sometimes feel like there is ever more pressure to commercialise Christmas, both in its run up and from Boxing Day onwards; with the media appearing to judge how successful Christmas is by how busy the shops are. My own view is that a better guide to the success of Christmas would be how many of us are celebrating the birth of Jesus, but whatever you may be doing over the next week, may I wish all readers of the Crawley Observer a very happy and peaceful Christmas."

Monday, 22 December 2014

Looking Forward To 2015

After six months of writing my weekly Crawley Observer column, this week I had a break from writing it and lent it to my colleague Cllr Duncan Peck, who is a councillor for Maidenbower and our Shadow Cabinet Member for Community Engagement. 

PM choice in 2015 of Ed Miliband or David Cameron
Duncan Peck writes - "As I put pen to paper on a cold bright Sunday morning what better time to reflect before the New Year. 2014 brought us many challenges, not only locally but across the UK in general.  People are increasingly focusing on who is right to lead the Country after next May and it is becoming more evident that the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan is working. 

Unlike Labour, we are not dictated to by the unions as to what we do, but rather we are guided by residents, the people who we answer to, the people who want change and the people who do not need anyone telling them what they think is wrong. In forgetting who they serve, Labour wants your vote but not your opinion.
As we get closer to the May elections of 2015 we often see Labour promising things they know they can’t deliver and will not deliver and I ask myself, is this the right way to treat people? I remember only too well what this country was like under a Labour Government and how many hundreds of thousands are still being adversely affected to this day.

Public finances are a serious issue and so when Ed Miliband had a once in a lifetime chance ahead of the election to give his party conference flagship speech of the year, he forgot to mention the most important fundamental issue that our country faces - the deficit. This was more than a Freudian slip and signifies that a Labour Government would bring the country to its knees again. Higher borrowing, higher taxes and higher spending is not a sign that Labour is ready to be responsible or has any financial credibility.
Nearer to home in Crawley, money does not seem to be a strong point for the Labour controlled Council when it was recently reported that the Leader of Crawley Borough Council did not know where the £17,000 of taxpayers money came from for the shambolic Christmas Lights switch on. Concerns are growing that not only is Ed Miliband not ready, our Council is also showing signs of unease."

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Increased Funding For The NHS Needs A Strong Economy

In my Crawley Observer column last week, I wrote about the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, the extra money being put into the NHS, and how only a sound economy can deliver and sustain increased future National Heath Service funding.

"Last week’s Autumn Statement from Chancellor George Osborne provided good news for the years ahead. This good news included extra funding for the National Health Service which faces ever increasing demand, which is why I welcome the government providing an extra £2 billion for frontline NHS services in England in 2015-16. This is part of a multi-year extra £3.1 billion UK-wide investment in the NHS.
I am fortunate in that I’ve only ever needed to visit a doctor on three occasions in the last 30 years, but many people have a greater need and GP services are greatly valued and important to local communities. This is why I very much welcome that an extra £1 billion will fund advanced care in GP practices over four years in England. Recognising the importance of prudent public spending, this money has come directly from fines collected by the Financial Conduct Authority from five banks for failures in foreign exchange trading.

It is also good to see that an extra £15 million will go into dementia research which we welcome in Crawley as a dementia-friendly town. Other areas of extra investment include £150 million over five years to support young people with eating disorders and £200 million will go to developing new ways of caring for patients.
As the population increases and as we live longer, the demands on the NHS will continue to grow. If we are to receive good health care, we must have a strong economy and sound public finances that can finance these growing demands. Anyone can make promises of more spending, but only the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan will give us a strong economy for the long-term to pay for it.
If we were to go back to the reckless spending and damaging economic policies that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls enacted under the last Labour Government, we would ultimately see the NHS become unaffordable and unsustainable for us as a nation. To protect our NHS, we must protect our economy, and that means not giving the keys back to the same people who crashed the economy last time."

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Supporting Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday. Last week in my Crawley Observer column, I wrote about Small Business Saturday and how the Conservatives are helping to create the right conditions for small business to trade successfully and to grow.

A poster from the USA, where Small Business Saturday started
"A week on Saturday (December 6th) is Small Business Saturday. Since last year, this takes place on the first Saturday in December in the UK. Small Business Saturday is a grassroots, non-political and non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to shop locally and support small businesses in our local communities.
While the campaign may be highlighted on one day, the aims are to have a lasting impact on small businesses which are a key part of both the local economy and of local communities. I know that many Crawley residents support small businesses and I hope even more will do so this Saturday and beyond.  

The idea started in America in November 2010 after concern that local businesses were missing out on the biggest shopping days of the year which are after the Thanksgiving holiday, known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Therefore, the following Saturday was designated Small Business Saturday. Its on-going success in the USA led to it being introduced here. 
The Conservative-led government recognises that small business is the lifeblood of the economy and has been creating the right conditions to help them thrive. Over 20,000 government-backed start-up loans worth over £100 million, have been awarded to help get new businesses off the ground. These start-up loans are helping people build something of their own and create jobs.

A key policy has been George Osborne’s major reduction of up to £2,000 of national insurance contributions that small businesses no longer have to pay. At a stroke, this new relief, called the National Insurance Employment Allowance, removed the ‘jobs tax’ on millions of small businesses, which has enabled many one-man businesses to take on their first employee. This has contributed to our record level of employment.
Other helpful measures brought in include the doubling of rate relief meaning that 360,000 small businesses now pay no rates at all, and the scrapping of red tape which has saved businesses £1.5 billion. Small businesses are a big asset to Crawley and ensuring we provide the right conditions to help them grow is vital."

Friday, 5 December 2014

Starbucks Comes To Crawley

This week in my Crawley Observer column, I have written about the new Starbucks that opened in Crawley's Queens Square last Friday and the joint £3 million investment for Queens Square that Crawley Borough Council (decision taken by previous Conservative Administration) and West Sussex County Council are putting in to transform the centre of our town.

Crawley MP Henry Smith officially opening Starbucks Crawley
"Last Friday, along with other councillors and popular Crawley MP Henry Smith, who did the honours in cutting the ribbon, I was pleased to attend the official opening of the new Starbucks in Queens Square. Starbucks is a major brand that has been missing from Crawley town centre (excluding the one in the leisure park cinema) and I welcome this greater variety and choice for our town centre.
Some people say there are too many coffee shops in the town centre but I would say there are only too many if there are not the customers to sustain them all. While I may be euro-sceptic in my political outlook, I do embrace a more European-style café culture when it comes to ensuring that our town centre remains popular. Nobody wants to see a declining town centre with lots of empty shops.

Town centres have to change and evolve if they are to stay vibrant and successful. Major changes in shopping habits with booming online sales, means that while shopping will always be an important part of town centres; it can no longer be the sole focus. We have worked hard to help Crawley buck the declining trend of other towns, with the new development of Morrisons, Turtle Bay and Travelodge regenerating the north of the High Street.

We need to invest if we are to keep the town centre thriving, which is why I am enthusiastic about the £3 million Queens Square project that is being jointly funded by Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council. This is good partnership working between the two councils and as well as between the two main political parties, with at Crawley Council, the new Labour administration continuing with the work started by the previous Conservative administration. 
We are now at the public consultation stage and three design concepts have been published. We very much welcome your feedback and we will listen to residents, businesses, visitors and expert advice, in coming up with a design that ensures Queens Square is a credit to our town and a place that people want to visit."