These are incredibly difficult times for the country and while it is paramount to protect jobs and the economy, questions are also being asked about the way the country does business.
A New Deal
On the 30th June the Prime Minister announced a “New Deal” which puts jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the government’s economic growth strategy. This will take the form of £5bn of capital investment projects, supporting jobs and the economic recovery. This included £1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance, £100m this year for 29 projects in our road network to get Britain moving, over £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, £560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively, £142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year, £83m for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities, and £60m for temporary prison places, and £900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next, as well as £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year.
I welcome the announcement of a new taskforce for ‘Project Speed’, the Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce, which is aimed at accelerating infrastructure projects. It will be charged with accelerating the modernisation of schools, hospitals, road and rail infrastructure.
In his Summer Statement, the Chancellor set out his three point plan for jobs: supporting people to find the jobs that are out there, creating new jobs through investing in our infrastructure and housing, and protecting jobs by revitalising the hard-hit sectors upon which many jobs depend. This includes a new policy to reward and incentivise employers who successfully bring furloughed staff back – a new Jobs Retention Bonus, a new Kickstart Scheme which will directly pay employers to create new jobs for any 16 to 24-year-old at risk of long-term unemployment, a doubling of Work Coaches in Jobcentres and increases to the employment support, and the reduction in VAT which will provide stimulus to the struggling hospitality industry.
As we recover from Covid-19, the Government needs to deliver an economy which is stronger, greener, more sustainable and more resilient. No government could expect to have all the answers itself. I was therefore pleased that, in June, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched five new ‘recovery roundtables’ bringing together businesses, business representative groups and leading academics, to unleash Britain’s growth potential and help the economy recover from the pandemic. The group will focus on: the future of industry; a green recovery; backing new businesses; increasing opportunity; and winning more high value investment in the UK. I welcome the £2 billion Green Homes Grant announced by the Chancellor in his Summer Statement, during which he pledged “a green recovery with concern for our environment at its heart."
I know questions have been raised about support for certain sectors. In the case of airlines, for example, firms can draw upon a range of financial support during this challenging time, including billions of pounds worth of loans and guarantees, tax deferrals and the furlough scheme for workers. The ministerial-led international aviation taskforce is looking at the best ways to support the industry, recognising the unique challenges they are facing. Rightly, any potential intervention would need to represent value for money for taxpayers. In exceptional circumstances, where a viable company has exhausted all options and its failure would disproportionately harm the economy, I understand the Government may consider support on a ‘last resort’ basis. As the British public would expect sensible contingency planning, I am assured, has been put in place and any such support would be on terms that protect the taxpayer, and come with conditions on, for example, executive pay, protecting employment, or climate change obligations.
Investment in Social Care
It is imperative that we should invest in social care, as it is thanks to the efforts of care workers that we have got the virus under control even in care homes. I welcome that the Adult Social Care Plan sets out how the Government will work with care homes in response to coronavirus, as well as providing additional funding for them. This includes £3.7 billion to ease pressures on adult social care, £1.3 billion to enhance discharge procedures and a further £600 million for infection control.
I share concerns following the latest GDP figures and it is very clear that the Coronavirus outbreak is having a very profound effect on our economy. This situation is completely unprecedented and sadly, it is a very difficult and uncertain time. As we move into the second stage of our recovery, it is right that the focus shifts from how we protect people’s jobs and incomes to how we can secure our economic recovery. There is no denying that there are difficult choices to be made ahead, but I am confident that the country can get through this together. I am hopeful that sticking to the economic plan and the plan for jobs will mean that nobody will be left without hope or opportunity.