Henry Smith MP and Crawley Borough Council Leader urge Government to help 'worst affected' economy

Henry Smith MP and the Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Cllr Peter Lamb, have written a joint letter to the Government calling for urgent help for the local economy and listing 10 interventions to benefit Crawley going forward.

This follows a recent Centre for Cities report, which forecasts that Crawley will be the most affected economy by the coronavirus (COVID-19) 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.

Crawley’s MP and Borough Council Leader have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Secretary, the Housing, Communities & Local Government Secretary and the Transport Secretary 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’.

Henry 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.

“Alongside Crawley Borough Council, I am calling for ten interventions which Government can take to ultimately facilitate a faster economic recovery locally.

“Targeted support towards the aviation and travel sectors, grant packages for companies and the scaling up of the Towns Fund are just some of the areas where action taken now will have a long-term impact in ensuring Crawley’s continued economic success.”

The Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Cllr Peter Lamb, commented;

“Crawley generates £124 million 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.”

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.

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.”

The MP and the Borough Council 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.

Note to Editors:

Full text of the letter:

Dear Chancellor

We are writing to you to make you aware of the severe impact that the Government’s lockdown is having on Crawley’s economy, the worst hit in the UK according to a recent report by the Centre for Cities, and to urge that the Government takes rapid action to prevent an employment catastrophe in the town.

Since its post-war development as a New Town, Crawley’s economy has grown rapidly, despite its relatively small population, to become one of the major business and economic success stories outside London, contributing nearly £6 billion per annum to the national economy.

The rapid growth of Gatwick Airport – providing 24,000 on airport jobs, the vibrancy of more than 600 businesses proving 30,000 jobs which make up Manor Royal Business District, and the success of Crawley’s town centre as a regional shopping centre have all contributed significantly to Crawley becoming a major regional powerhouse.

Before the COVID-19 crisis began Crawley’s economy was going from strength-to-strength, growing by 23% during the period we have either served as Council Leader or as Crawley’s MP and contributing over 26% of the county’s economic output despite being just 2% of its landmass. Over the same period, the number of jobs in Crawley grew by 13.5% to reach a record 101,000, the second highest job density in the UK outside of central London.

As a consequence of Crawley’s economic weight and the presence of Gatwick Airport, which supports 85,000 jobs more widely, the town is also a huge contributor to the public purse, providing an annual yield of £124m in business rates alone, of which 85% is retuned directly to Government. This annual contribution is at great risk.

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% 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. We believe the key elements of any such programme are as follows:

TEN INTERVENTIONS NEEDED TO RESCUE CRAWLEY’S ECONOMY

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.

In view of the gravity of the unfolding economic crisis, we are requesting urgent dialogue with you and your officials so we can work together alongside our business community and stakeholders to design and implement such a programme. We are currently establishing an Economic Recovery Taskforce to coordinate our efforts

We must ensure that Crawley’s amazing economic success, built up over many decades, is not lost in a matter of weeks. Above all, it is critical that as many of Crawley’s residents as possible are able to retain their jobs and livelihoods - this will not happen without a major programme of government intervention to mitigate the worst effects of this crisis.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Henry Smith MP
Member of Parliament for Crawley

Copy to:
Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Attachments

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Henry Smith MP and Cllr Peter Lamb letter to Chancellor, Housing Secretary, Transport Secretary and Business Secretary 643.58 KB