A Crawley newspaper once remarked that debates in the Council Chamber sometimes had to be seen to be believed. This was a reference to vociferous contributions and the strident nature of discussion. While our political interactions can become heated, it is important to note that our differences are often about how we do things rather than what we do. This is reflected in the fact that Crawley Council’s Corporate Plan is signed up to by all three political parties. It describes what we would like to do with our core objectives.
Thinking about how we do things, it is easy to enter a really sterile debate about public versus private sector service provision. In various political circles, I have heard and read the most absurdly dogmatic statements about methods of service delivery. While wrapped up in rhetoric, they essentially said, “private good, public bad” and vice versa. Dogmatic thinking at either end of the political spectrum does not get us very far. Our choices about how to provide a service are situational – they vary on a case-by-case basis.
At a political level, our approach is best described as neutrality on the method of service provision. Otherwise, how could we possibly look objectively at the best way to serve our community? Effectively, some options would be closed before they saw the light of day. We would be living in a world that did not maximise opportunity because we would not be looking for it.
In Crawley, K2 is a Council and community asset and it is operated as a hybrid trust. This is not for any dogmatic reason. It just so happens that this is a very effective way of operatingK2to provide a good service with value for money to the tax payer. A hybrid trust would not necessarily work for every service but it does forK2and if we were politically dogmatic, we would never even have looked at the possibility.
More recently, we have made a bid to the HCA (Homes and Communities Agency) for the Council to start the direct build of some social housing. That might seem a counter-intuitive route for a Conservative Council to embark on but why? Our analysis shows that a bid for this option now makes economic and strategic sense and we have not allowed any ideological baggage to get in the way of the project.
A few years back, when the Conservatives were the Opposition, I chaired a scrutiny panel that looked at social housing delivery. We recommended that the Council should focus on working with housing associations, with ourselves providing some capital and land to enable schemes. The Council would largely withdraw from direct provision. These recommendations were made and accepted because they were economically and socially sound with the central government policies then in place. The pragmatism of that decision enabled the delivery of more new homes just as commonsense in 2009 will assist with the same objective.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
18th November 2009