It’s six years since I became Leader of Crawley Council. At the time I thought the challenges we faced were huge. The council’s budget was almost half what it had been when the cuts began, empty shops littered the town centre, and Crawley hadn’t built council housing in large numbers for decades. How on Earth would we keep services going, regenerate the town centre, and ensure the next generation of Crawley residents could afford somewhere to live?
We worked extremely hard and over the following years the council avoided any further cuts by generating new revenue to replace that lost by ongoing Government cuts to Crawley, the town centre became one of very few in the UK whose footfall increased and saw significant private sector investment, and affordable housing was built in Crawley on a scale the not seen in decades.
Then Covid-19 came. We now know that Crawley’s economy will be the hardest hit in the UK by the lockdown, with tens of thousands of jobs at risk, and 15% of the council’s revenue lost in the process. The challenges facing Crawley when I became Leader were tougher than any the town had ever faced before, but they are a paradise compared to what we face today.
Economists have predicted without Government intervention over half of Crawley’s jobs are at risk. That was before BA and Virgin made their announcements. To be clear, that doesn’t just mean aviation, Gatwick’s economic footprint is so big there will not be a single sector untouched by the airport’s decline. Crawley is regularly rated as having the highest level of employment in the UK, we do not even remotely have any experience of what we face once furloughing ends.
Yet, if the Government acts now all the pain can be avoided. Our economy depends upon aviation. The money from aviation flows across our entire local economy. It is a growing sector and one important enough that the Government were prepared to give away billions of pounds of public money for Heathrow to build a third runway. The only reason aviation is struggling now is due to the Government’s restrictions and those the sector will continue to face once the lockdown ends. By spending a fraction on what they would have spent on a third runway propping up aviation they can preserve a nationally important industry, ensure our sub-region remains one of the biggest sources of economic growth and tax revenue for the Government, and in the process safeguard the livelihoods of tens of thousands in our community.
In the long-term this would pay for itself and in the short-term it would ensure our community avoids destitution. I think it’s an open and shut case. I hope the Government agrees.