Introducing Peter Chowney
I come from a working class background – my father delivered paraffin and my mother was a clairvoyant. I was educated at a state grammar school and was the first person in my family to go to university, to study microbiology at Aberystwyth.
I worked in scientific research for a time, then worked for government departments, the Audit Commission, and for urban and rural councils.
I moved to Hastings 20 years ago, and was first elected to Hastings Council in 1999, taking on the regeneration portfolio in 2006, and becoming Leader of the Council in 2015. I have taken on other roles locally too, including chair of the Fisheries Local Action Group.
I live with my partner, Jo, in Maze Hill, where I spend as much time as I can gardening and growing vegetables. I have a daughter who lives in London, three cats, a classic car and an electric bicycle.
It’s been an enormous privilege to serve Hastings as its council leader. I’ve adopted Hastings and Rye as my home, it’s an area I know well, and understand. I welcome the opportunity to serve you as the Hastings and Rye MP. I hope you’ll vote for me.
Hospital service cuts are planned in nearly two-thirds of England. And while the government says that healthcare funding is ‘protected’, that doesn’t account for the cost of supporting an increasingly older population, or the cost of new drugs and treatments that are continuously being developed.
We need hospitals with the most up-to-date treatments and equipment available to all, with sufficient well-trained doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff.
Under Tory proposals, only 6–8% of all ambulance calls will get the fastest 8-minute response when the ambulance response programme is rolled-out later this year. Presently 50% of calls do.
But it’s not just about hospitals. Everyone needs a local GP, including in rural areas, with appointments available at short notice.
Community healthcare services must also be improved, particularly mental health and social care for elderly people. Untreated mental health problems in particular have led to increased homelessness, rough sleeping, drug dependency, alcohol dependency, and antisocial behaviour, all of which create burdens for other public services.
We need much better preventative healthcare too, tackling poor health outcomes in the most deprived areas of Hastings and Rye where life expectancy is a shocking 20 years less than the least deprived areas.
Our Local Economy
Our local economy is vibrant and innovative, with many new businesses setting up in Hastings and Rye. But this revival is fragile, and needs support. Despite the decline of domestic seaside holidays in recent years, tourism is still significant and growing again, with overnight visits from Europe particularly important.
The local economy includes our traditional industries such as fishing, agriculture and language schools, but there are newly emerging sectors too. As a scientist, I’m keen to promote specialist manufacturing that’s developing in Hastings and Rye, with components made locally used in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and on the Curiosity probe on Mars!
Viticulture for example (cultivating grapes for wine making) is growing in significance – perhaps one of the few benefits of climate change.
The creative arts have become hugely important in the area, from individual artists and musicians to software and website designers. These local industries are often based on small employers, who need security and stability to make their businesses work and grow. I will make sure that they are supported and given the incentives they need to be successful and to provide local jobs.
Recently, more and more schools have been converted into academies. That means parents no longer have the choice to send their children to an academy or a council maintained school.
But the Government’s promise to maintain funding per pupil for all schools will lead to real-terms cuts in school budgets. The impact of inflation and extra costs means the actual value of funding per pupil will fall by 8% or more. In East Sussex this means £22m in cuts, an average of £311 per pupil, the equivalent of 590 teachers.
More funding is needed to protect schools and colleges from these cuts. We also need to abandon the wasteful Free Schools programme, and not setup any new grammar schools, which research consistently shows lead to poorer results overall in areas where they operate.
But supporting young people isn’t just about schools. We also need better-funded youth services, to support young people and avoid them being tempted into anti-social behaviour and crime. And of course, it’s about colleges and universities offering the right courses in the right places, ending unaffordable £9,000 a year tuition fees, which exclude poorer students from a university education.
Public Service Cuts
Cuts to public services have been disastrous, especially for local government. Hastings Council has lost more than £30m in government grant funding since 2010, with a £1.2m cut over the last year alone.
In Rother, although funding cuts have not been as large, they have still been substantial. Councils everywhere have been adept at absorbing these cuts, by making efficiency savings, and by making better use of IT, moving service applications and problem reporting online.
But with cuts on this scale, and in Hastings a council workforce reduced from 600 to just over 300, services have suffered. For example, much of the work the council did to support local communities and employment initiatives for young people has gone.
These public service cuts are misguided, and often don’t save money, shifting the burden onto other public services. They must be reversed, and public services funded at sensible, sustainable levels.
Cuts to county council budgets have been damaging too, particularly cuts in adult social care – cuts which force people to remain in hospital care, rather than getting back to their own homes.
Now, the cuts are falling on more prominent services, such as public toilets. This year, Hastings Council consulted on closing two of its public facilities, and closed one of them. Conservative-controlled Rother Council is currently consulting on the closure of all its toilets across Rye and rural Rother.
I will call for the restoration of community policing, to reintroduce community police with their own patch, so they can gather local intelligence and keep on top of problems before they get out of hand.
The police now have extra burdens, particularly in terms of global threats from terrorism and priorities given to child protection, so local community policing has suffered. This has made it harder to deal with anti-social behaviour, street drinking, and drug use.
Pensions and Benefits
Older people who have worked throughout their lives deserve a decent pension. Labour will maintain the state pension ‘triple lock’. But we need a more intelligent approach to pension planning, with better incentives for people to save for a guaranteed decent pension, rather than being dependent on the vagaries of the investment market on the day you decide to retire. We must also reverse the unfair pension ‘taper’ that means women born in the 1950s are no longer entitled to the state pension they’d planned for.
Other working-age welfare cuts must be restored too, with an end to benefit caps, unreasonable assessments for disability benefits, and cruel benefit sanctions. These have led to hardship and homelessness. Rather than saving money, they simply shift the burdens onto councils and charities.
Cuts to benefits are also damaging to local businesses. Hastings has lost £40m from the local economy through benefit cuts, while Rother has lost £23m. Benefit cuts don’t help people back into work. They make claimants more stressed, meaning they’re less likely to get a job. What’s needed is genuine support, skills training, and education. There are families in parts of Hastings and Rye where three generations have never worked. Rather than blaming them for being ‘lazy’, we need to get them out of this cycle of deprivation and despair, and into productive employment.
The government said in its recent White Paper that the housing market is ‘broken’. But they want to depend on private developers to build housing, while allowing them to refuse to include social rented housing in their schemes. But private developers are failing to provide housing most local people can afford. This is particularly true in Rye and the Rother villages, where sky-high prices are way above what most local people can afford.
‘Land banking’ must be stopped too. In Hastings alone, there are sites where the council has given planning permission for over 2,000 homes which have not been built because developers just wait until the value goes up.
Labour has promised to build a million new homes across the country, half of them social rented.
This needs to be the right kind of housing in the right places: well designed, spacious, energy efficient, sensitive to the local environment, and genuinely affordable. Councils need to be given more stringent planning powers to make sure that happens, and to prevent inappropriate development.
Climate change is the biggest threat facing humankind. We must do all we can to limit the damage it will cause. That means much more investment in sustainable energy generation, electric or hydrogen powered cars and public transport, and an end to the use of fossil fuels.
We must aim to become dependent entirely on renewable energy, with Britain leading the way.
This is not an impossible dream, there’s plenty of energy from the sun, from wind, from waves, from the earth itself. We just need the will and determination to harness it and make it work for us.
A world without fossil fuels does not mean a world without progress, travel and comfort. We can support our modern lifestyles, without choking ourselves or our planet to death. We just have to use our ingenuity to capture it.
Transport infrastructure in Hastings and Rye is terrible, with poor road and rail links to London and east-to-west along the south coast. This damages local businesses, and inhibits investment.
Whilst one-off projects to bring Javelin trains to Hastings and Rye are welcome, what’s really needed is a proper integrated transport infrastructure. That means local offroad routes for walking and cycling to link public transport interchanges, a comprehensive charging network for electric cars, and better longdistance road and rail connections.
We must have regard to environmental consequences – what’s needed is better thought-out transport solutions, rather than new motorways carved into our countryside.
Bus services need to be improved, with investment in less-polluting buses, and bus regulation through regional transport bodies to bring better, more frequent, and more reliable bus services to Hastings and Rye, in particular to the rural villages.
Austerity has not been a success. The deficit has got smaller, but national debt has almost doubled since 2010, to 2.3 trillion pounds, or 90% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But this isn’t the highest it’s ever been. After the second world war, national debt peaked at 238% of GDP but, the 1945 Labour government didn’t respond with austerity cuts. Far from it – they increased public spending, creating the NHS and welfare state. And they invested in industry and infrastructure. Thanks to a cross-party consensus for this approach, national debt was just 46% of GDP by the mid-1970s, because economic growth had been stimulated through public investment.
Which is why we need to invest more now. Labour would increase taxation only for those earning more than £80,000, and would borrow to fund investment in industry and infrastructure.
What’s needed to get rid of the ever-increasing national debt is investment and an end to ideological austerity.
Tackling Coastal Deprivation
Hastings and Rye is a fabulous place to live and work, with all its colour, character, heritage and quirkiness. But coastal areas have suffered since the 1960s, when domestic seaside holidays began to decline. Since then, targeted regeneration programmes have helped, but problems remain.
In Hastings, one neighbourhood is the 13th most deprived in the country – out of 33,000 such neighbourhoods. And there are significant levels of deprivation elsewhere in Hastings, Camber and Rye, as well as isolated rural poverty.
Jobs are often seasonal and low-paid; there are high levels of unemployment, and low levels of skills and education. There are also many older people surviving on the state pension, with no other means of income.
Local actions by the council in Hastings have helped to boost the local economy and create jobs. These include the ‘Grotbuster’ programme to force owners of dilapidated properties to improve them, compulsory purchase of empty properties, improving seafront structures, supporting the creative arts, and providing grants to small local businesses. The council’s refurbishment of the seafront, restoration of White Rock Baths as The Source, a world-class BMX arena (pictured), and compulsory purchase of Hastings Pier, have helped local community groups and businesses create new jobs and boost tourism.
I will do all I can to get the necessary resources to support the work done by local councils, ensuring the long-term economic decline of coastal areas such as Hastings and Rye is reversed.
We need national recognition of the problems faced by coastal communities, to provide jobs for local people, apprenticeships, and training to those who’ve missed out on a decent education, as well as a better transport infrastructure.
The decision to leave the EU was bad news for the local economy. In Hastings alone, I have helped to secure over £10m in EU funding over the last five years, for projects ranging from supporting local fishing to improving thermal insulation in older housing. Hastings and Rye also benefit from spending by EU tourists.
The referendum question was far too simple. The final deal could well please no-one, especially if it both fails to control immigration and fails to give us unrestricted access to European markets.
In the short term, we need to make it clear that EU nationals living in the UK will be allowed to remain, whatever happens, and that needs to be applied to UK citizens in the EU too.
Why I support Jeremy Corbyn
I first met Jeremy back in the 1980s, when I lived in London. I’ve always been impressed by the way he sticks to what he believes in, and doesn’t say one thing while meaning another, as too many politicians do. To me, that makes for a strong leader: honest, clear and determined. He will make a good Prime Minister, he’s someone we can trust.
Write: Peter Chowney for MP, The Labour Party, 84 Bohemia Road, St Leonards on Sea, TN37 6RN.
Voicemail: 01424 559811
Facebook Campaign page: tinyurl.com/kdc8d4p
Facebook page: facebook.com/peter.chowney
If you’d like to help with my campaign to become the Labour MP for Hastings and Rye, or you would like to display a poster, please get in touch.
In addition to the content above, you can read the national Labour Party Manifesto here.