With my Labour colleagues – Clive Betts, Olivia Blake, Gill Furniss and Louise Haigh – I’ve issued the following response to yesterday’s statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlining the Government’s strategy for economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
We are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis our country has faced for generations. What we needed from the government was a comprehensive stimulus package designed to seriously tackle this immense economic challenge. Unfortunately, what we got was a statement that promised too little, too late.
Support for local authorities was conspicuous by its absence. At the start of the crisis, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick pledged to “stand behind councils and give them the funding they need”. But the government has reneged on that promise, leaving nearly nine out of ten local authorities with a budget deficit.
In Sheffield, our council faces a shortfall of £16 million because of the prudent action it has taken to support our community through the pandemic. After a decade of cuts, councils across the country are at risk from bankruptcy unless more government support is forthcoming. The government must stay true to its word and ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to support our communities during and after this crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began and, unless the government takes urgent action, many more will be lost. The government should have announced a Back to Work budget with one clear focus – jobs, jobs, jobs.
Many sectors of the economy that have been particularly badly hit by the lockdown received no additional support in today’s statement. The government’s failure to extend the furlough scheme, even for these hard-hit sectors, will undoubtedly lead to businesses closing and many more layoffs. The Prime Minister himself announced last week that many of the jobs that people had in January are not coming back. Yet the government has consistently failed to take the decisive action that is needed to create new, well-paid jobs and protect those that still exist.
While the government’s package of green investment is welcome, it is far too limited in its scope and a drop in the ocean when compared with other countries. Germany, Denmark and South Korea have all announced ambitious stimulus packages with a focus on green technologies. By following a similar approach and properly investing in green industries, the UK government could have created a host of new, well-paid jobs while simultaneously combating climate change.
Instead, while the German government is investing £36 billion for its green recovery, the UK government has pledged just £3 billion. In fact, the UK government’s investment package only matches the amount of money Germany is spending on a single technology: hydrogen. The government’s lack of ambition now means that our economic recovery and industries are in danger of falling behind those of other countries.
Another clear absence from the Chancellor’s statement, which would have helped generate many new jobs, is a commitment to council housing construction. Not only would such a move provide thousands of jobs, but also bring certainty in providing new and affordable housing. Instead this government has announced a stamp duty freeze and slackened planning regulations with less local involvement. This is not what we need to fix our housing crisis, and it will not help those trying to get on the property ladder.
It is possible for our country to emerge from the pandemic with a fairer, greener economy that supports well-paid jobs and well-funded public services. But this will require vision and ambition from government. It will require more than piece-meal policies that merely paper over the cracks in our economy and ignore the threat of climate change.
We cannot afford more inaction. It is time for the government to recognise the scale of the challenges we face and act accordingly.