COLUMN by by Cllr Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council

There have been media reports that the last full meeting of Crawley Borough Council was quite raucous. This is true. There were some exchanges and points made which were unfortunate in terms of the personal upset that they could have caused.

We spent a remarkable amount of time examining the minutes of the October meeting. A further significant debate occurred on the possibility of turning the K2 Crawley indoor bowls facility into a more flexible space, reflecting the waiting list of more than 1,000 gymnasts. No decision has yet been made. The matter is out to public consultation but that fact seemed to get lost.

Arguably the most important matter up for debate was the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. This is a local scheme, which has been widely consulted upon, and which replaces Council Tax Benefit. It is regrettable that the Labour Opposition voted against the policy. Had their view prevailed, Crawley people would have had a default national scheme foisted upon them. That is not the Crawley way. Traditionally we have local solutions for local people.

Outside of the Council Chamber, more amicable and normal relationships were resumed. That is how things are in Crawley and I am thankful for it. I have known some councillors for many years and I believe that many have what you might call the Council Bug. They keep coming back to provide the benefit of their experience and knowledge. Sometimes we hear an unkind reference to re-treads but these people with an affinity for local government are important contributors to our community life.

Those of us privileged to serve as councillors must never forget where we came from. Mostly in Crawley, we are elected with the support of a party political machine despite occasional claims that party politics have no bearing. We need to remember that while what we do is important, it can be damaging for us as individuals to acquire too great a sense of self-importance. Ultimately we are representatives whose power is temporary and derived from others.

In my experience, many councillors enjoy a greater degree of power and influence in that role than in their outside working life. This has important implications embedded in the local government codes of conduct, particularly the need to pay due regard to officer advice. Certainly many decisions are taken by elected members but some parts of the country would be unfortunate places to live if these judgements were unassisted by professional advice.

Power and influence need to be applied with care and thought because they affect real people and their real issues. The risk of crass judgements being made has to be mitigated. Mostly it is, making it possible for us all to have a Merry Christmas.