Returning, as councillor for Gossops Green, to Crawley Borough Council, after a gap of 8 years, I have come to understand just how much has changed during that time. I was always used to Labour being in charge of the council, with myself being responsible for Leisure and Cultural services, as part of the executive leadership, that we had at that time.
Many of the services provided by the council are statutory, like refuse collection, environmental health, planning, homelessness, to name but a few.
But there are other facilities that we provide by choice, or indeed public demand. Labour always believed in providing extra services to the town. We built leisure centres, provided parks, playing fields and the Hawth theatre. They were never set up to be profit making businesses. They were the property of the Crawley people and were provided for by taxpayer’s money. Now the Tories have brought in charges for families to go into the Nature Centre and have investigated privatising Tilgate Park. This is bad policy for our town and we need to protect these family facilities.
We were always very reluctant to bring in private companies, but we were forced to, under Conservative government legislation, this was called compulsory competitive tendering. We had to put Crawley Leisure Centre out to contract, we were not allowed to judge quality, only price.
However, we always resisted putting the Hawth theatre out to tender as there was no compulsion from government concerning theatres. When we built the Hawth, it was to be a fully functioning community facility. We were able to fund it and its community arts programme, this gave many advantages to all Crawley residents to be part of this. In its existence, since 1988, it has proved to be a resounding story of success and always available to the town’s schools, arts groups, musicians etc. for amateur performance. Giving a real outlet, to the talent, that exists in this town.
Why do I raise this now? Well, since January 2012, the Hawth theatre has been privatised, by the Conservative council. Already there are changes that are affecting the community arts program. Labour councillors now have a vital role in protecting the arts from this commercial organisation, who have got their hands on this great facility.
I predict that the cost of going to the Hawth will rise and as a consequence will be out of reach for many poorer families in the Town. Already there are handling charges for tickets that they sell.
As the Shadow portfolio holder for Leisure and Cultural services, I have a watching/representing brief for these services and I will be doing my duty to the very best of my ability, as I keep a close eye on future developments.
By Cllr Chris Mullins
Crawley Borough Council (Gossops Green)