Early yesterday morning, the Centre for Cities published an analysis showing that Crawley’s economy is likely to be the hardest hit by Covid-19, by quite some way. It makes for grim reading.
This is a point I have been making for some weeks in my Crawley Observer column and weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions, so at least the issue is now starting to get some much needed national attention.
While many industries will experience their own negative impacts from Covid-19, the chief cause of our economic fragility is the also the greatest source of our economic growth: Gatwick Airport and wide range of industries which have chosen to locate here due to the airport. The economic significance of the airport to our area is hard to overstate, it is at the core of the Local Industrial Strategy which has been produced for our entire sub-region.
Even industries with no direct connection to aviation, no matter how distant, are likely to feel the impact of less money coming into the area. Less money in workers’ pockets means less money to spend in shops and on other goods and services, from retail to construction every sector risks feeling the pinch.
Crawley has no experience of mass-unemployment, most years we top the league tables for levels of employment in the UK. So, we don’t have the support structures or culture which has developed in more deprived communities to support community members through these periods. Coupled with one of the biggest mismatches between incomes and house prices in the UK–something which is unlikely to fall inline with incomes due to the ongoing pressure on our housing market from the growth in our London commuter-base–our community is at risk of serious hardship for years to come. Many are only now seeing how little is left of the UK’s social security net, right at the point when we need it most.
Disaster can be avoided, but it will take more than a council with a budget of £14m can afford to do by itself. To avoid years of pain Crawley needs the Government to intervene in two ways. Firstly, we need direct financial support for industries such as aviation, helping to avoid those businesses most heavily impacted by the outbreak until they return to pre-Covid-19 levels of demand. Secondly, we need support for the local community, that means both in the short-term a greatly improved offer for those who are rendered unemployed due to the Government’s enforced shutdown of these industrial areas, but also a strategy for the long-term.
Between automation and climate change we know that aviation will not be able to provide for our community’s future indefinitely, for that we need to prepare for the jobs of the future. I can think of no better way of doing so than for those communities currently playing host to high emissions industries being the birthplace of the new Green Industrial Revolution. The UK’s economy is going to have to shift to zero carbon, fast. The Government should look to communities such as ours to lead the charge for that rapid decarbonisation.
Yesterday’s report was a red alert for our local economy and when change comes it will hit us fast. The Government needs to wake up and listen before it is too late.