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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

More Ambition Needed to Build the Post-Coronavirus Future

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Last week in the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a summer financial statement to begin to address the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. While not a proper Budget it nevertheless contains up to £30 billion of new financial measures.

That would be a substantial amount of money in normal times, but it is actually quite small in comparison to what similar countries such as Germany (4 times larger) and Japan (20 times larger) have announced in terms of economic stimulus. That being said, I want to start by saying that the statement contains a number of measures that I agree with. The funding of schemes to help young people into jobs correctly recognises that those at the beginning of their working lives are more likely to be hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic. VAT cuts and voucher schemes for the restaurant, leisure and hospitality sectors will also provide a boost to those businesses that have borne the brunt of the lockdown.

However I am disappointed that high-street retail, which has been severely hit as well, was barely mentioned. I also have serious concerns about the decision to re-impose sanctions for Universal Credit claimants. Every piece of independent research has shown that the current regime all too often drives people into dire financial straits and away from the jobs market entirely. At a time when unemployment is predicted to rise sharply, it’s an unnecessary and counterproductive move, driven more by politics as opposed to what jobseekers need.

Ultimately the summer statement has to be placed in a broader context, and it is in these areas that I have questions that the Chancellor has not yet addressed. Since this economic crisis has largely been caused by a massive drop in demand for goods and services, a recovery will only be possible when people have the confidence to once again go out to shop, eat and drink.

Despite this, the government s “test and trace” system to detect and prevent the spread of new coronavirus infections remains, in the words of the British Medical Journal, “too slow and fundamentally flawed” compared to systems in other countries throughout Europe and Asia. Where data on outbreaks does exist, it can take weeks before it is shared with local authorities and other organisations that have the knowledge and expertise on the ground to take action. The reintroduction of lockdown measures in Leicester at the end of last month shows the weakness of our current approach. Throwing all the money in the world at our shops and restaurants isn’t going to make a bit of difference if their customers can’t or won’t leave home.

The summer statement also leaves unanswered the big questions about what kind of economy and society we want to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. This is a golden opportunity to not just return to the way things were before, but to build back better.  We know that our residents want more funding for the NHS, better treatment and pay for our key workers, and more investment in towns and communities outside of London.  After a decade of grinding austerity now is the time to do things differently, and local government can play a vital role if they are given the money and authority to deliver improvements where they are needed most in jobs, education and training, infrastructure and environment. 

The decisions that will be made in the next six months have the potential to make or break the UK for years to come. In that light the summer statement is an encouraging first step, but anything that comes next must be much broader in its scope and ambition. Not only do we need to secure people’s health during this pandemic, we need to secure their future after the pandemic. The history of our country has shown that time and again our greatest triumphs have come after our gravest crisis. Let’s make sure that coronavirus is remembered in the same way. 

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