Last week Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Qurban Hussain and Luton’s Labour MPs, Rachel Hopkins and Sarah Owen called on the government to come to the aid of Luton which, as a result of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on London Luton Airport and its other commercial income, has suffered a massive financial hit. The council is facing a massive shortfall of £49m in its finances and, without crisis funding from the government, will be forced to make drastic cuts to services in an emergency budget in July which will impact residents across the town.
Not only is the council placed in a difficult situation, but Luton has already been identified as the country’s second most vulnerable town to the financial impact of coronavirus. Approximately 40 per cent of employment relies upon a fully functioning airport and across the town there are tangible fears for future livelihoods.
Lord Qurban in a stark speech to the House of Lords, highlighted the irony that, although it was currently struggling to get the support it desperately needed, last year the airport provided £116m from passenger duty alone to the Treasury. He highlighted the catastrophic impact at the airport and that short-term forecasts gave no cause for optimism of a swift recovery.
In the same week Local MPs Rachel Hopkins and Sarah Owen signed a joint letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. In it they reminded him that at a recent select committee meeting he implied that Luton’s current plight was an exceptional situation due to the strategic investments made by the airport, consistent with the government’s own policies for the expansion of aviation.
They also pointed out that both the local government association and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy have said that lost revenue from commercial streams should be considered within the government’s Covid support packages.
The MPs also emphasised that Luton had already been hit particularly hard by the lockdown with key employers Easyjet and Vauxhall both facing severe financial constraints.
Lord McKenzie of Luton has also given his support to the voices of the town’s leaders: “Without funding from the airport, which has contributed so much to the regional and national economy, the council and whole town, face an uncertain future. It is only right that central government does all it can to give financial aid at this time of crisis.”
Hazel Simmons MBE Leader of the Council, said: “Since the start of the current crisis the council has lobbied government relentlessly to understand the dire situation in which Luton finds itself. We are fortunate to have passionate advocates in both the Upper and Lower Chamber relentlessly declaring that the government must fulfil its promise to give financial aid to help us through the current crisis.
“Yet despite their hard work and the exposure our situation has had across local and national media, we are extremely disappointed with the dismissive response we have had so far.
“Indeed we have been recently appalled to read a statement from the Ministry saying that the emergency funding we have received to date broadly covers both spending and lost income so far. This is patently untrue and our returns to the Ministry confirm this.
“Government at any level cannot work unless those represented have faith in the promises and statements made by leaders and we are calling upon this government to keep its word and give us the support we need to avert catastrophe in Luton.”
Leader of Luton’s Liberal Democrats, Councillor David Franks, added: “The coronavirus outbreak has had a very serious effect on the town’s finances. Only the government has access to the resources to cushion the blow and now is the time for them to support the people of Luton and protect the vital local services on which our most vulnerable residents rely.”