Keynote speech to the DIVERSECrawley AGM 2020

Could I start by passing on my thanks to Ashwin for inviting me today and my gratitude to all those who contribute to the work of this wonderful group?

I was asked if I could talk today about how we manage diversity in Crawley, the reality is that we don’t really ‘manage’ it. You manage problems, but diversity itself is and never has been a problem.

The very words I’m using are a creole of Germanic and Romance languages, far closer to Dutch than to our island’s original Celtic languages.

My notes were written using letters inherited from the Romans, who took them from the Greeks, who learnt from the Phoenicians, whose simplified script was copied from the very same hieroglyphs which line the burial chambers of Egyptian tombs.

The very mathematics which enables us to talk online today finds its origin in Hindu India, by way of Islamic Arabia.

We talk of a ‘clash of cultures’, but far from conflict it is the meeting of cultures which time-and-time again has allowed civilizations to grow and to prosper…and that is very much where I see the power of diversity running through the history of Crawley.

The truth is that immigration is part of the very foundations of our town…literally, it was Irish labourers who moved to the UK who built the first phases of Crawley New Town, laying the roots for the substantial Irish population living in the town to this day.

Each new culture which have come to the town over the following 73 years have followed that same pattern of bringing new cultural aspects to our town and setting down roots. Every time I visit the Sanatan Mandir at the Apple Tree Centre, I’m amazed by the intricacy of the craftmanship and proud to have something so beautiful in our town. While the highly modern architecture of the Crawley Islamic Centre and Masjid sat at one of the key entrances to the town, makes a powerful statement about Crawley as a proudly multicultural town.

Growing up here, you think nothing of it. Even at an overtly religious school like Holy Trinity, I had friends of all the town’s major faiths. Our families might have celebrated different festivals at different times, but any other differences were only skin deep.

To be clear, I am not talking about ‘integration’ in the way people often use it to mean the sacrifice of one’s culture in order to be accepted, that has characterised far too many dark chapters in the history of the world, my own great-grandfather took on the name ‘Lamb’ to try to avoid the discrimination which came with bearing a Polish name like ‘Ivaniski’.

Crawley’s motto is ‘I grow, and I rejoice’ and that is what is how I see diversity in Crawley. The continuous meeting of cultures, helping us to continue to grow forward together.

Of course, that isn’t inevitable, in fact that harmony has seemed increasingly at risk over recent years. While there are valid arguments both for and against immigration, and for and against the EU, in the wake of the EU result we saw an increase in racially-aggravated crimes across the UK, including in Crawley.

In some ways this isn’t surprising. As a country we have spent decades failing to build the housing the country needs, we have allowed working conditions to decline and public services to be cut to the bone. Is it any wonder that when people can’t get a place of their own, when they have no guarantee of decent paying work, and can’t get a doctor’s appointment when they need one, is it any wonder that the idea of more people moving into an area seems totally unreasonable.

Now, none of these problems were caused by diversity, nor would they be resolved by somehow turning back the clock on it. But anger is powerful, and for the unscrupulous stoking these emotions into a full-blown culture war is a far easier route to political power than actually fixing the problems which have caused it.

In the USA, this approach to culture war culminated in a President failing to condemn actual Neo-Nazis for starting a race riot in Charlottesville. In Britain, it has not yet gone so far, but I like many others was horrified to find that Far Right groups like Britain First now feel that sufficient support has been stoked up that they can tour towns like ours to get support.

But in that lies hope. For in the end, it wasn’t the police which sent them running, it wasn’t politicians, it was the community itself which made its feelings clear. The lesson today is the same as it was at the Battle of Cable Street, the only thing which has ever stopped Fascism is good men and women prepared to put themselves in its way.

If we want Crawley to continue to be a town which takes strength from its diversity, it cannot just be a case of stopping the most form of this culture war. We have to demand of politicians that they stop working to divide us. That instead of invoking Churchill and the Second World War to whip up nationalistic feeling, they remember why we actually went to war: to end the threat of Fascism. That real patriotism is found in what you do for country: housing the homeless, ending the scourge of poverty pay, and rebuilding the welfare state that the soldiers returning from war voted for.

It is only by working together as a community to overcome these threats that we can be certain we will again be a town confident in our diversity.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 25th November 2020

Since the first lockdown, Crawley has gained the reputation for being England’s ‘furlough capital’ due to 40% of working age residents either being forced onto furlough or claiming Self-Employment Income Support. This should come as no surprise, with Crawley’s economy the hardest hit in the country by government restrictions, the number of people necessary to keep the remaining businesses running over this period has been far lower.

However, all of this is changing…and not in a good way. With each passing month, we are seeing large numbers of Crawley residents made redundant. Wages are not the only cost employers face and the vast majority of Crawley’s businesses have not qualified for any financial support from the government so far, while working in some of the most vulnerable sectors. With so many businesses either going under or downsizing in preparation for a long road back to full operation, the reality is that these redundancies are not going to end any time soon.

Since last May, local leaders have been calling for targeted support for those communities which have been hardest hit by the government’s restrictions in order to save local jobs, but despite being the worst impacted community in the country the government has yet to provide any significant support.

If we cannot save those jobs and with residents facing unable to access new jobs–Crawley has seen the sharpest fall in new jobs being advertised in the country, the reality is many local families now face years stuck on Universal Credit.

Just under 13,000 local residents are already claiming Universal Credit. This was not a situation they chose and until things return to normal, they don’t have any alternative. So, why is the government in the midst of a crisis planning to cut Universal Credit by £1,000. For households already struggling to adapt to unemployment, this is a cruel blow, particularly when those earning up to £37,500 can continue to claim 80% of it from the government?

It’s wrong. Labour nationally and locally are calling on government to wake up to the financial crisis facing families this Christmas and cancel the cuts to Universal Credit .

Open letter to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP on evictions during the pandemic

Dear Secretary of State,

Re: Tenants facing historical eviction crisis during COVID-19 pandemic

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns about the growing inability of hundreds of thousands of private tenants across the country to meet their rent payments and keep a roof over their heads at this most precarious of times.

As the recession deepens and unemployment continues to rise, the threat of eviction looms ever larger for many private tenants. Soon, an unthinkable number of people will find themselves falling behind on rent payments. For some, these payments were in more normal times comfortably affordable; others, already out of work, will see their bleak situations take yet another turn for the worse as the gulf between their rent arrears and ability to pay widens further.

To illustrate the scale of the problem, Shelter estimates that of the 4.5 million households in the UK living in the private rented sector, 227,000 of these private tenants have already fallen into rental arrears since the onset of COVID-19. This is deeply troubling as the worse is yet to come. As the cold winter months set in and the pandemic continues to rage, it is of the greatest importance that more help is given to tenants who find themselves and their families in arrears and becoming increasingly exposed and vulnerable.

With that in mind, we bring to your attention below three key issues and ask that you give them your urgent attention.

1. Reinstatement of the eviction ban to 30 April 2021

We welcomed your decision on 21 August 2020 to protect renters during the pandemic by extending the eviction ban by a further four weeks to 20 September 2020. While we were bitterly disappointed that the ban wasn’t extended beyond that date, we could see the number of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths caused by COVID-19 were all reducing since the peak in the Spring allowing the economy to largely start up again.
However, since the date of that announcement to end the ban, the goalposts have shifted significantly. The Government’s delay and indecision over recent months around whether to commit to either an extension of the Job Retention Scheme or the introduction of the proposed Job Support Scheme has created huge uncertainly for employers and, in turn, put enormous strain on working households across the country. We are also now firmly in the grip of a second, potentially more deadly, wave of CVOID-19 which has once again returned the UK to a state of high alert, significantly impacting on many people’s ability to earn and, consequently, meet their rent payments.
While we understand that courts will not grant possession orders in areas which are subject to lockdowns, we strongly believe that, given the current economic circumstances, private renters across the whole country should be protected from the threat of evictions until 30 April 2021. We would therefore ask you to reinstate the ban on residential evictions to this date.

2. Increase Local Housing Allowance to the 50th percentile

As you know, the Local Housing Allowance (“LHA”) is a key lifeline for many private tenants. While this benefit has in recent times fallen drastically short of providing the level of support that claimants need to cover their rent payments, we were encouraged by the Government’s decision earlier this year to increase LHA to match the 30th percentile of rents in each local area.
This increase, however, was designed to make a positive impact on tenants’ ability to pay in a pre COVID-19 economy. We live now at an extraordinary time where the rate of unemployment and the number of Universal Credit (“UC”) claimants are rising at alarming rate. Given that 70% of private rented homes remain above the LHA rate, countless tenants who rely on LHA to pay a proportion of their rent now find themselves facing a shortfall due to redundancy or a reduction in pay, leaving them unable to pay the balance.
We would therefore ask for the Government to temporarily increase LHA to the 50th percentile for a period of 12 months and remove the caps for this period so that it covers average market rents across every local market. This would enable struggling private tenants to meet their rent commitments and prevent them from falling further into arrears, or even homelessness, during this period of enormous uncertainty.

3. Abolish Universal Credit’s five-week wait

The number of new claimants for UC has surged at an unprecedented rate over the past few months, many of whom are private tenants applying for LHA for the first time. These claimants, together with all other first time UC claimants, are forced to endure a period of five weeks before receiving their first payment.
The harm generally caused by the five-week wait was highlighted by the recent Economic Affairs Committee report which stated that: “the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is the main cause of insecurity for claimants. Many people have nothing to fall back on during this period when their needs are most acute. The wait entrenches debt, increases extreme poverty and harms vulnerable groups disproportionately”.
In addition, you will recognise that the five-week wait is of particular concern in the context of housing benefit due to the punitive nature of Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, as amended. This provision, which gives landlords the ability to commence eviction proceedings when their tenants are in 8 weeks’ in arrears, poses a clear threat to tenants working in sectors that have been worst hit by the coronavirus, such as hospitality, many of whom are on zero hours contracts with no statutory notice periods.
We would therefore ask that the Government address this widely accepted shortcoming of UC by abolishing the five-week wait and replace it with a non-repayable, two-week initial grant for all claimants in order to mitigate the anxiety and uncertainty caused by the current system.
In sum, we call upon you to proactively do more to protect vulnerable private tenants by:

  1. extending the ban on residential evictions until 30 April 2021, and
  2. increasing LHA to the 50th percentile and removing the caps for a period of 12 months, and
  3. replacing the five-week wait with a non-repayable, two-week initial grant.

We look forward to hearing from you in relation to this.

Yours sincerely,

James Bacon – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Steve Bell – Branch Secretary of UNISON Bucks Health and Community
Dan Carden MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for International Development (2018-20) and MP for Liverpool Walton
Tania Charman – Councillor on East Sussex County Council and Hastings Borough Council
Paul Barnett – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Andy Batsford – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Ann Black – Labour Party NEC Member
Paul Carpenter – Regional Political Secretary of CWU South East
Sarah Carpenter – Regional Secretary of Unite The Union South East Region
Peter Chowney – Former Leader of Hastings Borough Council (2015-20)
Hannah Coombs – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Alexa Collins – Chair of Bucks Labour Forum
Cal Corkery – Councillor on Portsmouth City Council and Labour Group spokesperson for Housing and Community Safety
Ruby Cox – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Isobel Craddock – Chair of Wycombe Labour CLP
Godfrey Daniel – Councillor on East Sussex County Council
Jim Deans – Founder and CEO of Sussex Homeless Support
Nina Dluzewska – Chair of Chesham & Amersham Labour CLP
Alex Down – Chair of Housing Campaign Group for Unite South East Community
Frances Duncan – CEO of The Clock Tower Sanctuary
Maya Evans – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Lorna Fielker – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Louise Gittins – Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council
Margaret Greenwood MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2018-20) and MP for Wirral West
Liane Groves – Head of Unite Community
Sam Gurney – Regional Secretary of TUC London, East and South East
Andrew Gwynne MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (2017-20) and MP for Denton and Reddish
Sarah Hallworth – Founder of Siam Boxing Camp
Keith Hamilton – Branch Political Officer of CWU South Central
Satvir Kaur – Councillor and Cabinet Member for Culture & Homes on Southampton City Council
Peter Lamb – Leader of Crawley Borough Council
Ian Lavery MP – Former Chair of the Labour Party (2017-20), President of the National Union of Mineworkers (2002-10), and MP for Wansbeck
Gordon Lean – Regional Chair of Unite the Union South East Region
Jonathan Lee – Secretary of Hastings & District Trades Union Council
Steve Leggett – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Leah Levane – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Tony Lloyd MP – Former Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (2018-20) and MP for Rochdale
Barrie Margetts – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Alan Mathison – Chair of Hastings District Trades Council & Hasting District Secretary for Unite The Union
John McDonnell MP – Former Shadow Chancellor (2015-20) and MP for Hayes and Harlington
Cathie McEwing – Councillor on Southampton City Council
David Norris – Chair of Beaconsfield Labour CLP
Bobby Noyes – President of Southampton and South West Hampshire Trades Union Council
Margi O’Callaghan – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Steve Phillips – Branch Secretary of CWU Central Counties Thames Valley
Chris Reilly – President of Reading Trades Union Council
Judy Rogers – Former Mayor of Hastings (2016-2017) and Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Dominic Sabetian – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Nigel Sinden – Councillor on Hastings Borough Council
Trevor Snaith – Former Mayor of High Wycombe (2016-17)
Kelly Tomlinson – Coordinator at Unite South East Community
Nick Warren – Centre Manager of Christians Against Poverty
Brenda Warrington – Executive Leader and Councillor of Tameside Council
Matt Webb – General Secretary of Brighton & Hove District Trades Council
Trevor Webb – Councillor on East Sussex County Council and Hastings Borough Council
Vaughan West – Regional Political Officer of GMB London
Gill Williams – Councillor on Brighton & Hove City Council
Gina Williams – Hasting and St Leonard’s Community Help Group
Vivienne Windle – Councillor on Southampton City Council
Baroness Uddin – Life peer in the House of Lords

Apply now for discretionary business grants

Eligible businesses can now apply for discretionary business grants.

The government has given the council £2,248,180 in Additional Restrictions Grant, which is given to businesses that don’t pay business rates and have been affected by the lockdown but are not legally required to close.

This funding lasts until March 2022 and is based on £20 per person in Crawley rather than the number of businesses in the town.

Eligible businesses are those who:

  • Are not entitled to Local Restriction Support Grants, and
  • Were open and trading the day before national restrictions were imposed (Wednesday 4 November), and
  • Are now required to close under national restrictions or, while not legally forced to close, are severely impacted by the restrictions.

Applications for the Additional Restrictions Grant can now be made at grantapproval.co.uk

Businesses can check if they’re eligible for the Additional Restrictions Grant by visiting gov.uk/guidance/check-if-youre-eligible-for-the-coronavirus-additional-restrictions-grant

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “While we haven’t been allocated enough funding to help every local business, we will do everything we can to support as many Crawley businesses as possible. If you need support please get in touch via the council’s dedicated webpage.”

Applications for the Local Restriction Support Grant opened on 17 November. Businesses forced to close by the second lockdown can apply for this grant at grantapproval.co.uk

For more details on help available for businesses visit crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers

Help available during lockdown

Crawley Borough Council is continuing to provide practical support to people affected by Covid-19 during this second lockdown.

The council’s Community Hub, which helped more than 1,000 people with food and essential supplies between March and May, continues to operate.

While calls are significantly lower during this lockdown, staff have been proactively calling those residents who needed us in the spring to check if they need any help.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “The low number of calls we’ve received is due to a variety of reasons.

“The community is better prepared and more resilient now, the time between lockdowns has been spent cementing relationships with Crawley’s community and voluntary sector, while fewer people are shielding.”

For more details about the help available from Crawley Borough Council visit crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus

Residents in receipt of a letter from the NHS telling them to shield because they are clinically extremely vulnerable will receive support from West Sussex County Council’s Community Hub.

This include access to food parcels, medicine, signing people up to priority supermarket slots and other wellbeing support. Residents can contact the county council’s Community Hub by calling 03302 227980 or by visiting westsussex.gov.uk/fire-emergencies-and-crime/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-and-information/community-hub-covid-19/

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Most people will have heard the phrase ‘There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics’. It’s ironic the quote is typically attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, as that itself has no basis in fact. Yet, the point remains a good one: just because someone uses numbers to back up their argument, doesn’t mean that it’s true.

Over the last ten years, councils have lost their entire grant from government, had their ability to raise money from council tax capped, and faced significant rising costs. To balance budgets, local government has been increasingly forced to rely upon the money it can raise from its services and investments. While there are bad examples of this, by-and-large this has enabled councils to survive a decade of austerity.

With the lockdown, this came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, councils were required to shut down the profit-generating parts of their operations (the expense-incurring parts have been up-and-running throughout), while generating new costs tackling COVID-19 from the frontline. Even when the pandemic is over, economic damage in the form of empty business units and unemployment mean that council finances will take a hit for years to come in the form of lower retained business rates and a smaller council tax base.

So, why, in the midst of councils going under, do I have people telling me that the council has ‘extra’ money to spend. Well, it all comes down to a matter of presentation. Take the answer to this written question for instance.

£1.9m for Crawley Borough Council plus these other pots of money, sounds good right? Well, as I’ve already covered, the council has taken a significant financial hit in various areas, so to know if £1.9m is good, you need to know how badly the borough has been hit (the government knows this, as every council has had to submit forms detailing it on a monthly basis since the pandemic began). Fortunately, this is easy to find, as Crawley Borough Council produces a quarterly report monitoring the local authority’s actual expenditure against it’s planned budgetary expenditure.

As the table shows, the council has actually received more than the government has set out, £2.4m in total, but between increased expenditure and lost income the council is £4.8m worse off. The only reason why the council is not at risk of bankruptcy right now is the action taken by the council to find £1.8m of in-year savings, but that still leaves a £900k deficit before the second lockdown began.

What about the other figures in the answer? Those figures are grants the council was given to support local businesses. While it seems like a lot of money, again that all depends upon the number of businesses needing support. Now, a sensible approach for working out how much to give councils would have been to roughly gauge the number of local businesses and allocate funding on that basis. There’s plenty of data for this, not least councils’ business rates records. Instead, the government allocated funding on the basis of the size of an authority’s population, which in West Sussex has had a predictable impact.

Before the first lockdown, Crawley had the second highest jobs density in the country outside of London. Despite forming 2% of the landmass of West Sussex, Crawley was responsible for 25% of the economic activity in the county and yet we are receiving just 12% of the grant funding for keeping local businesses afloat while our neighbours have money to spare. Given that two-thirds of jobs in the town are taken up by people commuting into Crawley on a daily basis, this isn’t even a good deal for the many residents in those neighbouring councils whose jobs are now at risk due to this incomprehensible approach to grants.

Which brings us on to question number two.

When a council receives only a fraction of the money necessary for supporting local businesses, logically lots of companies will not be able to qualify for funding. That isn’t the local council being cruel or inept, it’s just basic maths. To be fair, while the items raised in the bullet points do all have their own issues, there’s no reason to get bogged down in the minor detail and –while insufficient–they are valuable forms of support in their own ways.

I have written about the Towns Fund previously. Before the General Election, the government committed to give a range of towns–mostly in constituencies considered to be marginal at the time–up to £25m to improve their areas. The funding has no direct connection to COVID-19, yet despite Crawley being the hardest hit economy in the UK it remains the only funding which has so far been committed for our area…fourteen months after it was first announced we still have yet to see a penny of the funding or any idea when some of the investment might head our way.

To be clear, even if we were to get the full £25m tomorrow, the impact would still be extremely limited. During the peak of the first lockdown Gatwick Airport were running at a deficit of £1m per day, in the grand scheme of things the Towns Fund is a drop in the ocean when it comes to the support Crawley now needs.

Last, but not least, we have an issue which is very close to my heart: homelessness.

To address this question and where it’s misleading, we need to bring back the table from the council’s quarterly monitoring report, I’ll highlight the relevant lines.

Over the course of the pandemic, the council has spent £707k tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, some of which was paid for out of the ‘Additional funding – Covid-19 grant’. However, throughout the pandemic, at each point financial support for addressing homelessness has arrived, the council’s costs in tackling it were already significantly higher than the grant we were receiving. £297k is a lot of money, but if £707k has already been spent on this through the pandemic, does anyone really believe that less than half of what the council has already had to spend is going to be enough to help these residents off the street permanently?

So, that’s the full picture of what is actually going on with government funding for Crawley: the government still hasn’t lived up to their promise to compensate councils for their costs involved tackling COVID-19 in the first lockdown, the grant formulas they are using mean there isn’t enough money to support our local businesses while neighbouring councils have money to spare, despite being the hardest hit economy in the country we have yet to receive any significant government support, and government grants are far too small to make any lasting impact on rough sleeping.

No doubt, all the claims of government generosity towards Crawley will continue to be repeated every time the council has to take a tough decision or when we call on the government to act to save local jobs and deal with the consequences of mass-unemployment, but for anyone who takes the time to go through the numbers the truth isn’t hard to find.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 18th November 2020

Pensions aren’t the most exciting topic to write about. Most pensions stories focus on their affordability with an ageing population and longer lifespans. They talk about the retirement age increasing, benefits from company pensions reducing, and people not saving enough in private pensions, where they have them. This is a huge problem and it’s not going away, but this week I’d like to discuss what happens with the money which is actually invested.

UK pension funds hold trillions in assets, they’re a substantial percentage of the country’s overall wealth and an even greater proportion of investment activity. This isn’t money controlled by a few billionaires, it’s trillions of pounds belonging collectively to tens millions, through which they indirectly own a vast number of UK companies. The question is: would everyone be happy if they knew where their money was invested.

A few years ago a doctor who was horrified to discover that after years of treating cancer patients her pension was investing in cigarette companies, kicked-off a campaign to divest tobacco companies from pensions. Local government pensions in our county are all managed by West Sussex County Council and back when I was a county councillor I tried persuading the county council to join the campaign. Despite West Sussex being responsible for stopping smoking in our area, they said no.

Campaigners are now asking councils to remove fossil fuels from their investments, as part of the attempt to avoid climate catastrophe. Crawley has already delivered this with the council’s own investments, but West Sussex are again refusing to impose any restrictions on how local government pensions are invested in the county.

Nationally things aren’t much better. This week Labour tried to amend the Pensions Scheme Bill to commit funds to draw-up strategies for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, in-line with the UK’s international commitment, yet the Conservatives again voted this down. Climate change puts us all at risk, our money should not be invested in ways which make our lives worse. If the UK is going to keep it’s promises on carbon reduction, we need concrete action now, including on pensions.

Business grant applications are open – but council warns there is not enough funding to meet demand

Eligible businesses can now apply for the latest round of business grants but Crawley Borough Council says the funding is not nearly enough.

Despite Crawley being responsible for 25 per cent of the economic output in West Sussex, it has been given some of the lowest grant funding in the county.

The government has given the council £3,733,396 made up of:

  • £1,485,216 in Local Restrictions Support Grant to distribute to businesses that pay business rates and have had to close during the second lockdown
  • £2,248,180 in Additional Restrictions Grant, which is given to businesses that don’t pay business rates and have been affected by the lockdown but not legally required to close.

Out of seven local authorities in West Sussex, only one received less than Crawley’s combined grants figure. Five councils received more.

The Additional Restrictions Grant is based on £20 per person in Crawley rather than the number of businesses in the town. This means that Arun District Council, for example, has received £3,215,160 due to a larger population but smaller economy.

And only one council in West Sussex received less than Crawley across both rounds of grant funding in April and November. Crawley received a total of £17,167,646. The highest – Chichester District Council – received £43,739,396.

In the first round of grants earlier this year only 23 per cent of Crawley businesses received financial help from the government.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “The pot of grant funding provided by the government is very limited and does not recognise the number of businesses we have in Crawley.

“The way the grant settlement is calculated – on population and not on the size of the economy – means we have to turn most businesses away, while other councils have millions to spare. This is causing major hardship at a time when Crawley is already the hardest-hit economy in the UK.”

Businesses that have had to close during the second lockdown can apply for a Local Restrictions Support Grant by visiting https://grantapproval.co.uk

For more information visit: crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers/business-support-grants

The rate of payment for eligible businesses will be:

  • For properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants will be £1,334 for the four weeks
  • For properties with a rateable value of more than £15,000 and below £51,000, grants will be £2,000 for the four weeks
  • For properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over, grants will be £3,000 for the four weeks.

To make a claim, businesses will need their business rates number and to electronically upload the following documents:

  • Proof of identification (e.g. financial accounts for a limited company or for passport or driving licence for a sole trader)
  • Evidence of trading on 4 November 2020 (e.g. delivery note, expenses receipt, purchase order, sales receipt)
  • Evidence of named holder of bank account (e.g. copy of bank statement)
  • Evidence of occupation on 4 November 2020 x2 (e.g. utility bills including gas, electric, water or landline).

Applications for the Additional Restrictions Grant, which is given to businesses affected financially by the lockdown but which are not legally required to close, will open on Monday 23 November. Visit crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers for more information.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 11th November 2020

This is Living Wage Week, the annual awareness-raising event run by the Living Wage Foundation informing employers of the benefits of paying employees a ‘real’ Living Wage. Benefits there certainly are, with employers who’ve made the shift experiencing increased productivity and higher retention rates balancing out the cost of paying workers enough to live on.

It remains an important cause, but it also reflects the change in priorities we’re now facing. Crawley’s economy grew around a quarter from when I became Leader until the first lockdown, yet even before that growth we had one of biggest UK employment markets. Consequently, our priority on regaining council control wasn’t generating new employment, it was improving the quality of employment by focusing on attracting new sectors into Crawley, retraining opportunities, job support, and promoting the real Living Wage.

Yet, with Crawley’s economy the hardest hit in the country by the government’s coronavirus restrictions and their decision not to support the British aviation sector despite every other major competitor doing the same for their industries, we’re being forced into a position where the priority is attracting new jobs regardless of how poorly paid they might be.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the government is determined to ignore the actions of every other competing economy in protecting major national industries, then at the very least we need to be building new industries to replace them. Without this economic growth, there will simply be no way for the country to ever pay off the debt the government is currently accruing.

This week Labour put forward a fully-costed plan for rapidly creating an extra 400,000 high-skill jobs–complete with retraining–to decarbonise our economy, making the UK a global leader in green growth, funded from the £100bn the government has already committed to spend over the next five years.

Crawley’s economy will recover, but if the government continues to refuse to support existing industries, it will take years to get the jobs back.  People can’t afford to live for years on Universal Credit, we need rapid action to ensure local families can make ends meet.