When the Government announced the furlough scheme in March, I expressed my support for it on Twitter. To this day it remains my most commented upon tweet, with over 1,400 people calling me a traitor. Yet, it was clear to me at the time the main employment sectors in Crawley could not survive under the restrictions necessary to tackle a pandemic and the alternative would be mass unemployment.
While the UK has emerged far more rapidly from COVID restrictions than most other European nations, despite the country still having a far higher level of infections and excess deaths than comparative nations, the rate of infection does appear to be stable enough for many industries to resume operation without the need for the furlough scheme.
Inevitably there are industries which are hit harder and for longer than most, requiring ongoing support, and in Crawley we have more jobs in these sectors than anywhere else. So, while there is a limit to the financial resources available to the Government, it’s hard to understand why the Government continues to pay out billions in public money to businesses who no longer need it while refusing to commit to ongoing support for those sectors who are struggling precisely because of the COVID restrictions the Government is currently forcing them to operate under.
The council has repeatedly asked the Government to take such steps to safeguard local employment, but while the Labour Party has made such a commitment nationally, after five months of lobbying there is still no real action from the Government of a scale which would enable us to avoid mass unemployment in Crawley.
So, it’s left to those of us on the ground to do what we can and Crawley Borough Council has pulled together local businesses, public sector bodies and other organisations to provide employment support, invest in skills training, and speed up infrastructure delivery to attract new employers. Yet, the reality is after a decade of cuts, no part of the public sector now has the resources to protect our community from the pain to come, only the Government can do that.