The Leader of Crawley Borough Council and the town’s MP have written to the Government calling for urgent help and listing 10 interventions to rescue the town’s economy.
This follows the recent Centre for Cities report, which forecasts that Crawley – which is a key part of Greater Brighton – will be the most affected economy by the coronavirus crisis. The report predicts that more than 50 per cent of jobs are at risk of being lost or furloughed because the business sectors which are most adversely affected by the crisis contribute significantly to the town’s jobs and economy.
Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, and Henry Smith MP have written to the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the unique and huge challenge for the town – and the requirement to ‘ensure that Crawley’s amazing economic success, built up over many decades, is not lost in a matter of weeks’.
The letter states: “It is quite clear that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the national economy and indeed the world economy is unprecedented. However, due to the business sectors located within the town, and the proportion of local jobs and economic output from these sectors, Crawley is undeniably being hit far harder than any other part of the United Kingdom. These sectors include aviation, transportation, retail/wholesale, leisure and hospitality, all of which are likely to continue to struggle long after the lockdown is lifted.
“To prevent 57 per cent of the town’s workforce being made unemployed, it is critical that the Government takes urgent action, working with Crawley Borough Council and other local and regional stakeholders, to draw up, fund and implement a programme of targeted economic relief and investment in the town.”
Before this crisis began Crawley’s economy had been going from strength to strength. It grew by 23 per cent between 2013 and 2020, the highest in West Sussex, contributing 26 per cent of the county’s economic output, despite being just two per cent of the landmass. Over the same period, the number of jobs in Crawley grew by 13.5 per cent to reach a record 101,000, the second highest job density nationally outside central London.
Councillor Lamb, who sits on the Greater Brighton Economic Board, said: “Crawley generates £124m of business rates each year for the Government from its local business community. A massive economic downturn in Crawley will prove very costly to public finances. We’ve been helping the public purse for decades – it’s now time for the Government to repay that help.
“We stand ready and willing to work with the Government, business and stakeholders on a programme of investment and business relief aid to help rescue Crawley’s economy, preserve as many jobs for our residents as possible and provide desperately-needed support for our business community.”
Henry Smith MP said: “The Crawley and Gatwick economy has been an undoubted success story for many years but the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to negatively impact the area perhaps more than any other UK-wide.
“Key aviation and travel sectors were first to take an immediate hit and will likely be the slowest to recover in confidence.
“I welcome the swift, unprecedented and significant package of measures taken by Government in providing support to people and businesses nationwide, but it is clear that there is particular, extra action that needs to be taken in support of Crawley’s uniquely adversely affected community.”
The council and MP are calling on the Government to provide business relief aid and public investment resources necessary to make this programme happen. They believe that this tailored programme should comprise:
1. A major programme of infrastructure funding investment to mitigate falls in economic output, boost economic resilience and ultimately facilitate faster economic recovery
2. The development of a programme of aviation industry business financial relief and support for Gatwick Airport and on site businesses – a new pillar to the Government-led programme of business support measures
3. Grant packages direct to companies to enable business to continue to retain jobs, prepare for the uplift and be manufacturing ready
4. Extend the ‘furlough’ employee salary scheme to help businesses meet rent and other fixed costs, akin to an emerging scheme in Denmark
5. Invest in suitable and appropriate training and retraining opportunities including higher education, to help the workforce adapt post-crisis
6. Improve the social security to better support those who are made unemployed in recognition that the high cost of living in the south east means many will not be able to survive if they are forced to rely upon the current benefits system, and that the town’s long history of almost full employment means there is an absence of the community support structures which might otherwise help to mitigate the impact of unemployment.
7. Invest in R & D Grants to the plethora of manufacturing businesses to retain the capacity for ‘smart’ growth and to facilitate recovery
8. An overhaul of Local Industrial Strategies in order to focus them on mitigating the local economic impacts of the crisis and a revamp and scaling up of the Towns Fund for Crawley, repackaging it to focus on a greater intensity of government funding investment to deliver greater business resilience
9. Prioritise Crawley as a Green New Deal growth hub for green technological development and manufacturing, to enable long-term resilience to shocks in the aviation industry and building on the town’s business strengths in advanced engineering, construction and transportation
10. Further targeted support for our high street and retail businesses to help them adapt to the post-crisis economy.
The full letter can be read at https://crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers