Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 14th July 2021

Congratulations to Gareth Southgate and the England team on getting nail-bitingly close to a win at the Euros. Sunday was heart-breaking, but only because our hopes had been raised so high by their remarkable performance throughout the competition, made all the more significant for Crawley due to Gareth’s background in the town.

It has really felt like we needed these last few weeks, particularly in Crawley, after so many months of bad news and tough choices. Unfortunately, despite the brief respite, we’re not out of this yet.

As the Government, continues to act as though the pandemic is over in the face of rising infections, hospitalisations, and deaths, we have been seeing the systems put in place to maintain jobs through the pandemic being rolled back, including the significant tapering of support for furloughed workers.

Figures show that the tapering has triggered large numbers of businesses have to remove workers from furlough. While this has been presented as part of the UK getting back to normal, there is no evidence at this point that those removed from furlough are actually back working rather than being let go. For sectors which have been almost entirely shut down over the last 16 months, it has been hard enough to cover their fixed costs, without a genuine return to normal there is going to be little chance of keeping people on payroll.

Crawley’s economy has been the hardest hit in the country by the COVID restrictions, with our largest employment sector largely dependent upon Summer trading booked months in advance. For our community, winding down furlough before local businesses have had the chance to find their feet again could be devastating.

While we work to attract new employment sectors, we depend on systems like furlough to prevent local families from major hardship. As general schemes are rolled back, the obvious solution is new targeted support for disproportionately hard-hit communities and sectors. This is something only the Government has the power to do and, despite calling for it for months, there remains no sign of any interest in Whitehall for supporting communities like ours.

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