Cross-party politicians urge government to give Luton emergency funding

A cross-party group of politicians have called on the government to come to the aid of Luton which they say has suffered a huge financial hit as a result of Covid-19.

Last week Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Qurban Hussain and Luton’s Labour MPs, Rachel Hopkins and Sarah Owen, called on the government to support the town. The group said the impact of coronavirus on Luton Airport has caused major financial issues for the town.

The council is facing a shortfall of £49m in its finances. The trio said that without crisis funding from the government, the council will have to make drastic cuts to services in a July emergency budget.

The warning comes after Luton was identified as the country’s second most vulnerable town to the financial impact of coronavirus. Approximately 40 percent of employment relies upon a fully functioning airport and across the town there are tangible fears for future livelihoods.

In a speech to the House of Lords, Lord Hussain highlighted 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 stressed 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.

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-19 support packages.

Vauxhall, a major employer in Luton, has faced severe financial constraints. Credit: ITV Anglia

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."

However, Cllr Simmons added that the council is "extremely disappointed" with the "dismissive" response it has received.

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.”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know