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Peter Lamb: Crawley has “the second largest pay gap in the UK”

In his article this week, the leader of Crawley Borough Council talks about gender inequality.

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In 1910, an international conference of socialist women decided that an annual day for women should be held, highlighting gender-based inequalities. The following year saw the first International Women’s Day and since 1914 it has taken place globally every 8th March.

While progress has been made over the years, not least around female suffrage, inequalities persist. #MeToo highlighted the scale of hidden sexual violence and the ongoing failure of our systems to provide justice to those affected by discrimination.

Yet, inequalities also remain in the open. Organisations employing more than 250 people are now required to publish gender pay gap figures, which across the UK is currently estimated to be around 18.4%. Unfortunately the picture in Crawley is somewhat worse.

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While Crawley Borough Council has a median gender pay gap of 0%, meaning that across the council as a whole the average wages of men and women are the same, figures suggest the town itself has the second largest pay gap in the UK, with the average wages in Crawley for male employees being half again what their female colleagues earn. That impact on take home pay is before we consider the fact that cuts to public services and social security have impacted women harder than men over the last eight years.

Only a Labour Government is committing to closing the gap, requiring companies employing over 250 workers to show what action they are taking to deliver pay equality or else face fines. There will be those who claim this is illiberal or anti-business, yet Governments are required to act when systems fail to fix themselves and the same objections have been made every time an individual has sought to be judged on their merits and not the circumstances of their birth. Ultimately, enough ink has been spilt discussing the problem, a Labour Government will act.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

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West Sussex Labour expresses concern for future of Fire and Rescue Service after severe funding cuts

West Sussex Labour challenges unfair funding of West Sussex Fire & Rescue as county council warns it intends to make further cuts.

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Labour county councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green), outside Crawley Fire Station.

West Sussex Labour County Councillors are challenging the position that West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is a victim of unfair funding from the Tory Government, receiving considerably less than other neighbouring local councils and fire authorities, and being the hardest cut fire authority in England, according to recent figures published by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

The Labour Group is calling on the Tory-led council to at least maintain its current funding and also for the council to challenge the Government on the unequal funding West Sussex is receiving, and is set to get worse.

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At the last meeting of the Environment Communities and Fire Select Committee in September, when discussing the implementation of the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) Integrated Risk Management Plan, the Chief Fire Officer warned members that the financial strains meant middle management in WSFRS would be having to do this on top of their other roles, and that he would not rule out three member crews in future for fire engines arriving to tackle fires, having decided to move the standard crewing number in West Sussex from five to four.

The Chief Fire Officer, Gavin Watts, also indicated that the Cabinet Member for Safer, Stronger Communities Debbie Kennard (Con, Shoreham North) would be coming forward with proposals for further cuts to the Service in November, which she subsequently confirmed at the meeting, although as of the date the motion was submitted, this was still not indicated on the council’s Forward Plan of key decisions.

Mr Watts said: “The savings question, I believe we are coming back here in November with thoughts around the savings potential within the Fire and Rescue Service, contributing to the broader whole.”

Labour county councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) has put forward the motion on behalf of the West Sussex Labour Group, which is printed on the agenda papers for the next Full Council, published today.

• Figures from the FBU indicate that there is an existing gap in the funding provided per person from the Government towards WSFRS, in comparison to the per person funding in all of those Fire and Rescue Services immediately surrounding it. This gap has grown considerably over the past few years.

• Not only are many of the surrounding fire authorities receiving much higher sums to protect their communities, but with further Government cuts in 2019/20, the gap is set to become far worse, and even more unfair, for West Sussex. The local government Settlement Funding Assessment for fire authorities shows West Sussex having the largest funding cut in England, in the three years between 2016/17 and 2019/20, of 45%. The English average is a 15% cut. By the end of 2019/2020, WSFRS will be receiving less than half the funding of East Sussex Fire Authority, with £6.34 and £12.85 per person respectively.


• WSFRS has already suffered from very deep cuts made to it in recent years by the Tory-controlled council, with £2.5 million and £1.6 million in 2012 and 2014 respectively, making it according to FBU figures the second worst hit fire authority in the proportion of its overall number of firefighters lost in the whole of the UK, with a reduction of 37% of its firefighters, during that time.

• If further savings proposals were to come forward, Labour is arguing that WSFRS is already stretched and doing its best in practice to keep enough engines available. However, between 7am and 7pm there are rarely more than 15 crews available out of the 35 possible, sometimes as few as 10, and that firefighters are having to work hard to keep such numbers and maintain the resilience of the Service.

• Moreover, cuts are apparently being proposed before the forthcoming HMI inspection of WSFRS, which is not even due to begin until November, and aside from some preliminary feedback expected during the following month, is not due to formally publish its conclusions until its final report, expected in May 2019.

The West Sussex Labour Group is therefore calling on the Tory leadership of the council to protect WSFRS from further cuts for the reasons above, and arguing it is impossible to predict what issues or extra demands the HMI inspection may reveal which will require action, and to maintain the amount of funding WSRFS receives.

The motion therefore calls on the council to:

– abandon any plans to bring forward further proposals for cuts to WSFRS, as the service has taken as many cuts as it can bear without further compromising public and firefighter safety, and further threatening the availability of crews and appliances at the county’s fire stations.

– requests the Leader of the council Louise Goldsmith and the Cabinet Member for Safer, Stronger Communities Debbie Kennard to jointly write to the relevant Government Minister on behalf of the council, challenging the inequalities in funding for WSFRS and calling for it to be raised so that it is in line with the funding that other neighbouring fire authorities receive, per person.

Speaking about the reasons behind the motion, Cllr Jones said:

“Our firefighters in West Sussex risk their lives on a regular basis, and they deserve more than just being offered up for more savings. This is already the second worst hit Fire Service in the country. Too much has already gone. The facts are staring the Tory leadership in the face, but they seem to ignore them.

“It’s not just a question of letting our firefighters down if there are more cuts, although that is bad enough, if they are coming out and not able to tackle fires as effectively as they otherwise could, then public safety is at stake.”

Labour Group Leader Sue Mullins (Northgate and West Green) agreed with Cllr Jones, adding her own concerns about the future of WSFRS:

“There’s a grimly familiar theme emerging here, where when we look at the finer details, things aren’t as satisfactory at the county council as they are painted to be, and once again the people of West Sussex are the ones losing out as this Government fails to put their interests first.

“Unfortunately they have a Tory leadership at the county council either too embarrassed, or worried about party reputation, to speak out when these things happen, and Tory MPs who are strangely silent when it comes to their constituents being short-changed.”

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