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Crawley’s Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive gets to work

Crawley Borough Council’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive group met for the first time last week, to great success.

The Executive brings together the council, senior business representatives from across the borough, the local MP, a government representative, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and West Sussex County Council, to evaluate the true impact of the crisis on the local economy and to drive the development of a coherent Economic Recovery Plan for the town.

Crawley’s economy has been impacted significantly by the pandemic, with a recent Centre for Cities report estimating that up to 57 per cent of employment in the town is at risk.

Last Friday (15 May), the Executive group met for the first time to discuss the role of the taskforce, plan further engagement with government, and start the process of building recovery on the ground.

The Executive will provide strategic direction to the development of Crawley’s Economic Recovery Plan, working to unlock and harness public and private investment to the maximum benefit of Crawley’s community.

Further work endorsed by the Taskforce Executive will be undertaken to assess the full impact of Crawley’s economic crisis to gain maximum understanding of its real time impact on Crawley’s economy, community and businesses.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other part of the UK, but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.”

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital, said: “We are taking a leading role in economic recovery for the Coast to Capital area and Crawley has been disproportionately affected due to its unique relationship with and proximity to the airport. We must take urgent action in partnership with local and regional partners to provide targeted economic relief.”

The council is currently consulting with local businesses on the impact of the pandemic on their business prospects. If you’re a local business, you can fill out the survey at https://crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.This afternoon I was pleased to chair the first meeting of the #Crawley Economic Recovery Taskforce Executive. The lockdown has hit our economy harder than any other in the UK but all local businesses and public sector organisations are committed to getting things back on track.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th May 2020

The Government’s guidance is that we need to ‘Stay alert’, that is alert to their five stage Covid-19 alert system. The UK is at level 4, meaning the ‘epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially’. Meaning we must: ‘Stay at home as much as possible’, ‘Limit contact with other people’, and ‘Keep your distance if you go out’.

Let’s be clear: this means the lockdown remains in full force. While the Government has set out how they will scale back restrictions when the infection rate has reduced sufficiently, the timetable remains provisional and almost nothing has changed since the lockdown began.

The UK’s infection rate remains close to peak, decreasing at a far slower rate than other countries, and that means if people spend time outside of their home unnecessarily, if they meet up with people when it isn’t critical, and if they ignore the social distancing requirements infections will increase, and with them death rates.

Covid-19 has killed more British civilians than the Luftwaffe achieved in the whole of the Second World War. Those people aren’t just numbers, they’re people’s friends and family, deprived of their full measure of life.

Unfortunately, since the Government’s announcement we are seeing far greater numbers of people on our streets, very often ignoring the social distancing requirements. That continues to breach the guidelines, those individuals risk being fined by the police and their actions jeopardise all that has been achieved to limit the spread of the disease.

Controlling the coronavirus has come at a huge cost. The size of the UK economy is shrinking quickly, with tens of thousands of local jobs at risk, and the council facing a 15% cut in its budget. To help the disease to spread now is allow all that sacrifice, the pain of which we will only begin to feel after the lockdown ends, to be wasted for no reason.

The council is preparing plans to reverse the lockdown in Crawley, but until the infection rate has dropped significantly, we won’t do anything which will jeopardise local residents’ health or put our NHS at risk.

How is COVID-19 impacting your business?

Tell Crawley Borough Council about the impact of coronavirus on your business.

The council, working together with Manor Royal BID, has released a new survey asking businesses to report how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

In response to the pandemic, the council has formed an Economic Recovery Task Force alongside local businesses, community and stakeholder representatives to evaluate the true impact of the crisis on the local economy and develop a coherent Economic Recovery Plan for the town, including how the forthcoming Crawley Towns Fund programme should be spent to aid recovery.

This survey will provide the council and Manor Royal BID with “real time” information on the impact of the crisis on day to day business activity in Crawley and help the council and the BID to understand what additional support is needed for local businesses at this time.

Businesses will be asked how staffing levels and turnover have been affected, what Government business support schemes they have used and what further support they may need.

All responses to the survey will be treated with confidence and the results will only be read by those involved in formulating a response to the COVID-19 crisis as part of Crawley’s Economic Recovery Plan.

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, said: “Our initial aim was to support businesses as quickly as possible, using the Government’s Small Business Rates Relief Grant and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant. Now we need to look at our long term recovery plan and this includes hearing from businesses and finding out where further resources need to be directed.”

Executive Director at Manor Royal BID, Steve Sawyer, said: “How we come through this will depend on our ability to work together for an even better Crawley. We will work enthusiastically alongside the council as part of the Crawley Task Force, which begins with collecting meaningful data from businesses so we can design a place-specific collective response. We encourage all businesses to complete this short but important survey.”

To fill out the survey, visit crawley.gov.uk/council-information/how-council-works/consultation

Crawley News 24 Column, Monday 18th May 2020

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.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th May 2020

The news that Virgin and British Airways are set to pull out of Crawley forms a very sad episode in the history of the town and has come as a shock to many, not least to those individuals now facing unemployment and their families.

I’m afraid to say that as things stand these job losses are only the beginning of what we seem set to face over the next few years. From the start of the lockdown I’ve warned that Crawley was likely to be one of the hardest hit communities in the country and analysis by Centre for Cities and Hatch Regeneris confirmed this weeks before BA made their announcement.

While Virgin are set to cut 3,000 jobs, the data indicates that 53,000 jobs–57% of the town’s employment, is at risk. Many of these jobs are of course attached to the airport and its supply chain, but almost no sector of employment will be entirely untouched.

Gatwick Airport is the largest source of employment between London and the coast, the amount of money it brings into the local area is vast and it circulates through all local businesses, not least through the pay packets of its workforce. Reductions in aviation means less money circulating through the local economy and that will affect everyone.

I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate how serious this is, but the more daunting things seem the more important it is that we fight for our community. Before BA’s announcement I co-wrote a letter with our local MP setting out the problem facing the town and the types of Government support which would help to avert an economic crisis in Crawley, recent news only confirms how vital it is that they act.

While the current crisis cannot be weathered without Government intervention, that is no excuse for those on the ground to sit idle, which is why Crawley Borough Council are bringing together local businesses and other public bodies to identify actions we can take individually and collectively to deliver economic recovery for Crawley. Times are tough, but if we stick together we will make it through.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th May 2020

Seventy-five years ago this week, victory was declared in Europe. To a generation which had twice in their lifetimes witnessed millions of lives lost in global warfare, the notion that after thousands of years of bloodshed we had seen the end of war in Europe would have been inconceivable.

Yet, that is the legacy of all those who fought in that conflict, a war which we fought not out of narrow national self-interest, but to stop the rampant Nationalism of another country. A Nationalism which not only claimed millions of lives through warfare, but millions more of that nation’s own countrymen with six million Jews murdered alongside Romani Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, socialists and many others. All killed with the support of a public which believed that removing those they saw as different would make them feel safer.

It is right we remember the sacrifices of all those who saw service and all those who suffered on the Home Front, in doing so creating the world in which we now live.

The question for us now is what are we doing with the legacy of the greatest generation? Are we living up to the principles which this country went to war to defend? Are we doing as they did and leaving the next generation better opportunities than we inherited from those who came before? Or are we squandering that legacy?

Over recent weeks we have faced our greatest national crisis since the Second World War and we have seen some of the best of people, with volunteers and essential workers putting themselves at risk to ensure the needs of others are met, along with some of the worst. This crisis will not last forever and as we emerge from it we have to decide how we will rebuild our country. Will we do as the soldiers returning from war did, build a country with first-rate public services, where everyone has a house of their own, and where the opportunities for the next generation are greater than the last? Or will we choose to restart along the road we were on?

Crawley Council Leader launches campaign to support #CrawleyOnline businesses

Cllr Peter Lamb, Labour Leader of Crawley Borough Council, has launched a campaign encouraging online shoppers to support local small businesses that have moved online during the coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking about the campaign, Cllr Lamb said:

“Over recent weeks, we have heard that Crawley’s economy has been hit harder than any other in the country. Yet, even now, we can see green shoots of growth, with more Crawley businesses going online than ever before. While we can’t support local companies with our physical footfall right now, we can offer then digital footfall to support them through this difficult time. I would encourage every resident to do their bit to help sustain local businesses online, until they can find their feet again.”

“If you know a Crawley business that is still trading online and you want to help support our town, then please do let people know about them by using the #CrawleyOnline hashtag.”

Commemorate VE Day in #Crawley with a difference

Crawley Borough Council is inviting residents to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8 May with a difference.

As VE day celebrations have been cancelled around the country due to the pandemic, the council will be marking the day with a variety of content on its Facebook page at facebook.com/crawleycouncil

Throughout the day, we will share content from the archives of the West Sussex Record Office and Crawley Library, performances by local talent, a live VE day remembrance service, and more.

Residents are also invited to join a nationwide toast at 3pm to honour our WW2 heroes and at 9pm a Vera Lynn singalong led by the Royal British Legion.

Everyone can get involved from home, including creating your very own Great British Bunting as part of the BBC’s VE Day celebrations. For templates and a step-by-step guide visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4TrqYDyf4PMdLypxzyTwGDg/great-british-bunting

Local theatre company, This Is My Theatre, has launched a special VE day photography project, 75 Years of Peace. They are asking people to send a picture of what peace means to them to info@thisismytheatre.com by 5pm on Tuesday 5 May.

Residents can also join in by printing and colouring in posters and sharing images and stories of loved ones who served in WW2 on social media or hosting a party at home with your family. For poster templates, inspiration and ideas, visit https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “While we might be commemorating this anniversary slightly differently from originally planned, we will be marking the day with some interesting and creative content for our residents to enjoy. I would also encourage all our residents to get involved and have fun while honouring those who served in WW2.”

Crawley Council Leader and MP urge Government to help ‘worst affected’ economy

The Leader of Crawley Borough Council and the town’s MP have written to the Government calling for urgent help and listing 10 interventions to rescue the town’s economy.

This follows the recent Centre for Cities report, which forecasts that Crawley will be the most affected economy by the coronavirus crisis. The report predicts that more than 50 per cent of jobs are at risk of being lost or furloughed because the business sectors which are most adversely affected by the crisis contribute significantly to the town’s jobs and economy.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, and Henry Smith MP have written to the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the unique and huge challenge for the town – and the requirement to ‘ensure that Crawley’s amazing economic success, built up over many decades, is not lost in a matter of weeks’.

The letter states: “It is quite clear that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the national economy and indeed the world economy is unprecedented. However, due to the business sectors located within the town, and the proportion of local jobs and economic output from these sectors, Crawley is undeniably being hit far harder than any other part of the United Kingdom. These sectors include aviation, transportation, retail/wholesale, leisure and hospitality, all of which are likely to continue to struggle long after the lockdown is lifted.

“To prevent 57 per cent of the town’s workforce being made unemployed, it is critical that the Government takes urgent action, working with Crawley Borough Council and other local and regional stakeholders, to draw up, fund and implement a programme of targeted economic relief and investment in the town.”

Before this crisis began Crawley’s economy had been going from strength to strength. It grew by 23 per cent between 2013 and 2020, the highest in West Sussex, contributing 26 per cent of the county’s economic output, despite being just two per cent of the landmass. Over the same period, the number of jobs in Crawley grew by 13.5 per cent to reach a record 101,000, the second highest job density nationally outside central London.

Councillor Lamb said: “Crawley generates £124m of business rates each year for the Government from its local business community. A massive economic downturn in Crawley will prove very costly to public finances. We’ve been helping the public purse for decades – it’s now time for the Government to repay that help.

“We stand ready and willing to work with the Government, business and stakeholders on a programme of investment and business relief aid to help rescue Crawley’s economy, preserve as many jobs for our residents as possible and provide desperately-needed support for our business community.”

Henry Smith MP said: “The Crawley and Gatwick economy has been an undoubted success story for many years but the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to negatively impact the area perhaps more than any other UK-wide.

“Key aviation and travel sectors were first to take an immediate hit and will likely be the slowest to recover in confidence.

“I welcome the swift, unprecedented and significant package of measures taken by Government in providing support to people and businesses nationwide, but it is clear that there is particular, extra action that needs to be taken in support of Crawley’s uniquely adversely affected community.”

The council and MP are calling on the Government to provide business relief aid and public investment resources necessary to make this programme happen. They believe that this tailored programme should comprise:

1.     A major programme of infrastructure funding investment to mitigate falls in economic output, boost economic resilience and ultimately facilitate faster economic recovery

2.     The development of a programme of aviation industry business financial relief and support for Gatwick Airport and on site businesses – a new pillar to the Government-led programme of business support measures

3.     Grant packages direct to companies to enable business to continue to retain jobs, prepare for the uplift and be manufacturing ready

4.     Extend the ‘furlough’ employee salary scheme to help businesses meet rent and other fixed costs, akin to an emerging scheme in Denmark

5.     Invest in suitable and appropriate training and retraining opportunities including higher education, to help the workforce adapt post-crisis

6.     Improve the social security to better support those who are made unemployed in recognition that the high cost of living in the south east means many will not be able to survive if they are forced to rely upon the current benefits system, and that the town’s long history of almost full employment means there is an absence of the community support structures which might otherwise help to mitigate the impact of unemployment.

7.     Invest in R & D Grants to the plethora of manufacturing businesses to retain the capacity for ‘smart’ growth and to facilitate recovery

8.     An overhaul of Local Industrial Strategies in order to focus them on mitigating the local economic impacts of the crisis and a revamp and scaling up of the Towns Fund for Crawley, repackaging it to focus on a greater intensity of government funding investment to deliver greater business resilience

9.     Prioritise Crawley as a Green New Deal growth hub for green technological development and manufacturing, to enable long-term resilience to shocks in the aviation industry and building on the town’s business strengths in advanced engineering, construction and transportation

10. Further targeted support for our high street and retail businesses to help them adapt to the post-crisis economy.