This morning I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to speak to representatives of local public and private sector organisations by providing the key-note speech to the Gatwick Diamond Economic Forum, titled ‘A Vision for Crawley’, in which I focused on the post-war Labour Government’s vision for the New Town, how we’ve worked to live up to and refresh that vision since regaining control of the council and what it should teach the country about how we can deliver infrastructure, housing (in large numbers and at affordable prices) and growth.
It’s worth remembering that when Crawley was designated a New Town in 1947, the National Debt stood at 215% of GDP, compared to the paltry 50% before the 2008 credit crunch. Yet, the New Towns got built, national infrastructure was rejuvenated and the country benefited fro m far higher levels of economic growth than we’ve seen for decades. I don’t intend to rehash my full argument, but in summary none of the proposals currently on the table can deliver anything like the housing and the infrastructure we need, to do so we would need a monumental change in the way we approach these challenges and the post-war Labour Government provided a model which succeeded in very similar circumstances.
Unusually the presentations given to the forum this occasion focused purely on economic development in Crawley. As Council Leader I ‘knew’ about a lot of the work the council and our partners are delivering in the town, but it was only after hearing the detail, the amount of investment, the number of schemes in progress, the transformation of our skills and employment offer through the rebirth of Crawley College, the ongoing success in Manor Royal and regeneration in the Town Centre, that the staggering pace at which Crawley is now moving really comes into focus. I believe in Crawley, so does the council, our partners and the business Crawley and in our seventieth anniversary we’re continuing to grow and continuing to rejoice.
It was also very touching to hear the number of employers cite the council, the way it welcomes new opportunities for the town and works to help find solutions to challenges businesses face as one of the major reasons they continue to invest in the town. I regularly joke with Cllr Peter Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development, that he does all the work and I get to take all the credit and there is some truth to it, but this highlights the true heroes behind most of what the council does: the local government officers, who turn up to work everyday and deliver well beyond what they are paid to do because they believe in the work that they do.
One last point, residents are, and always will be our priority as a council and as socialists we will always place people before profit. The reason we welcome businesses into Crawley is because we welcome what they can do for our residents: the jobs, the contribution to the tax take, the services they provide and the investment they sometimes make in public facilities. So long as companies treat their employees well and act responsibly, we will do everything we can to make the town a great place to do business, but if they deviate from that they are likely to find out response very different indeed.