Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 15th April 2020

Last week, Crawley Borough Council distributed more than £12m in grant funding to local businesses struggling from the lockdown, under the Government’s Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant schemes.

While only a few industries are required to shut down completely, many have been hard hit by the lockdown depriving them of a customer base and self-isolation depriving them of a workforce. While some jobs can be done from home and others adapted to physical distancing, for many that isn’t possible.

The lockdown has hit Crawley harder than almost anywhere else. While furloughing enables employers to offload salaries for the period of the scheme, they still have big costs–particularly around accommodation–which means additional support is necessary, current schemes just don’t go far enough.

The reality is that regardless of what support is put in place for salaries over the period of quarantine, without more help for businesses those sources of employment won’t be there once we ‘go back to normal’. There are several ways of doing this. For instance, I have had many businesses complain to me that they did not qualify for a grant under the current schemes, so the Government could relax the qualifications. Alternatively, we could have a rent holiday on commercial property, without which it’s fairly hard to see the town’s retail sector surviving in its current form.

To be effective, such support to cannot be limited simply to the quarantine period, we need it to continue until business levels return to sustainable levels and that could take some time.

The council is compiling a list of all the types of local businesses which need support and do not currently qualify, and the type of support they need so we can lobby Government. As ever, we will continue to work to make the town a good place to do business. However, this support comes at a price, we expect businesses to support their workers in turn. I’m hearing of companies needlessly choosing to fire staff rather than furlough them. If you want council support that is unacceptable, and I’m prepared to name names.

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