Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd April 2020

During my time as council leader our local economy has grown by 23%. That growth came to a halt last month as the lockdown hit local businesses hard. With aviation playing a central role in Crawley’s boom, it was inevitable we’d be ‘one of’ the hardest hit parts of the country and I’ve warned residents over recent weeks it would take time for our economy to return to full strength, something a report released last week by a leading UK thinktank has confirmed.

In the Centre for Cities report, Crawley was identified as not only having more jobs at risk than anywhere else, but by far more than the next most impacted economy. Unfortunately, this isn’t something a council with an annual budget of £14m is going to be able to fix by itself, we have had to give more than two and a half times that in business rates relief on behalf of the Government already.

In the days following the report, I have met with other local council leaders and discussed the economic impact for our sub-region, arranged meetings with key economic decision-makers in our area, and written to Government identifying the major areas of support our town now needs.

In the short-term we need the Government to provide far greater direct support both to those places and industries which have been hit harder by the lockdown than any other, and also for those who lose employment as a result of the restrictions. This support will need to continue beyond the end of the lockdown until the local economy is well way on its way to recovery.

In the longer-term, it highlights the importance of diversifying Crawley’s economy. The UK has committed to building a zero carbon economy, something essential for the survival of our species, but that will certainly impact aviation. To ensure job growth mirrors job losses we need to make Crawley one of the new centres of green technology in the UK. Covid-19 is a wake-up call, we now need to listen and act to build an economy more resilient to the shocks of the future.

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