Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th April 2020

With each week the extraordinary measures taken to combat Covid-19 become increasingly normal as we adapt to the new ways of living required to tackle the pandemic.

The council is now fully on an emergency footing. Our food and medicine delivery service for vulnerable residents is up-and-running, supplementing the Government scheme targeted only at the extremely vulnerable, and we’re working with the police to enforce containment.

Last Thursday, I held my second question and answer session, this time on Facebook Live, where following an update on the work the council has undertaken over recent weeks I answered the questions submitted before and during the session. I intend to continue holding these weekly until the end of the outbreak to keep residents informed and maintain local democracy.

The biggest question was whether we could provide a council tax holiday. While Crawley collects all the council tax, of the average £153.96 charged per month only £17.41 stays in Crawley, the rest is charged by West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police and we have no control over it. While parts of the council have shut down, those are the bits which make money, the rest is diverted to essential services and emergency response. With business rates collapsing and no revenue being generated, even with council tax most councils will be out of money within weeks.

We need to start thinking about the long-term. Crawley has never had an unemployment problem due to the strength of our local economy, particularly aviation. However, even with grants, furloughing and rates relief a number of businesses will not survive and those that do will operate at a lower level than before.

Consequently, many of those currently furloughed are likely to be unemployed in due course. As a town we have no experience of this and we will need to build new support structures, particularly because the Government pays out universal credit at a much lower level than they do for furloughing. Consequently, as a council we’re seeking robust action from Government to help industries hit hardest by the lockdown and to support those it puts out of work.

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