Crawley council leader warns of ‘long road back’ for town’s economy

The leader of Crawley Borough Council has warned the town’s economy faces ‘a long road back’ to recover from the battering it has taken during the coronavirus lockdown.

The town faces the daunting prospect of having the hardest-hit workforce in the country, with a potential 57 per cent of jobs at risk.

Speaking during his weekly online Q&A on Thursday, Mr Lamb appealed for more help from the government, and said:

“Crawley has been, up to this point, an incredibly vibrant economy.

“Ever since the new town was built we’ve had almost full employment in the town.

“So it’s not something we’re really used to seeing, this potential impact in terms of unemployment.

“It is going to require a great deal of intervention from the government to try to resolve it.”

With Gatwick Airport on its doorstep, Crawley is hugely reliant on the aviation industry, and the knock-on effect from job losses there will be felt throughout other businesses in the town, particularly retail.

Mr Lamb said that, over the last few weeks, the council had delivered some £34m of business rates relief and handed out £5m of grants to local businesses.

But he added that he was ‘well aware’ that two-thirds of businesses which may be eligible for a grant had not applied.

Urging those firms to come forward, Mr Lamb said:

“The impact on aviation and many of these industries will linger on and a number of businesses will genuinely struggle to get through this period, even with some of the support that’s been required.”

Looking to the future, he predicted a tough time to come:

“The reality is, as a town, we need to prepare for what is going to be a long road back to where we started.

“Crawley has an awful lot going for it in terms of its workforce, in terms of its location, in terms of the businesses already based here – but it’s going to take some time to get that all up and running again.

“The fact is, if we see a decline in terms of the total amount of money going into people’s pockets, that’s less money that’s going to be going into the local shops as well.

“We may well see a very significant impact upon the town’s retail sector without support.”

The financial impact of the lockdown has already been heavy.

The council has a budget of £14m for 2020/21 and is already £2m worse off thanks not only to extra expenses but to income sources such as the K2 leisure centre, Tilgate Nature Centre and most community centres being closed.

Government help so far has come in the form of a £64,000 payment, which Mr Lamb said was ‘not nearly enough to try to do some of the things that need to be done to support our town’.

(By Karen Dunn – Local Democracy Reporter)

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