Throughout the correspondence I have had with the Government since it became clear Crawley’s economy would be one of the hardest hit in the UK by coronavirus restrictions, one issue kept coming up: the Town Deal.
The Summer before the last General Election the Government promised 100 towns, mostly marginal constituencies, up to £25m for their area. You might remember it from the extensive Facebook advertising campaign they ran just before the election began. Of course, this predates the pandemic, it was investment which was considered necessary even before COVID hit and yet time-and-time again the Government’s response to our pleas for support have been to tell us we will be getting Town Deal funding.
It is now 19 months since the Town Deals were announced and only seven out of 100 communities have received any investment. Despite Crawley being essentially the hardest hit town, we haven’t seen a penny. That’s 19 months the funding could have helped improve town infrastructure, making it more attractive to potential employers and putting support in place for families whose household incomes have been slashed. An opportunity wasted.
Worse, £25m isn’t even a significant sum of money when it comes to tackling the problems we face when you bear in mind Gatwick Airport was losing £1m a day during the first lockdown. This year Crawley Borough Council alone is investing almost £80m in the town, with £300m of combined public and private investment in Crawley set to take place over the next five years. The council is doing everything it can to protect existing jobs, attract new employers, and ensure the survival of the high street, and I am confident we will not only recover, but stronger, greener, and with better career opportunities.
We can deliver this without the Government, but it will take far longer and involve much greater hardship than necessary. The time for kind words is over, what we need is investment and the risk for us is that the Government in focusing their support on ‘levelling up’ in the North, will allow towns like ours to be ‘levelled down’. We cannot allow that happen.