Leader's column: Our post-coronavirus future

In her latest column, Tameside Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington reflects on Chancellor Rishi Sunak's summer economic statement and what she would like to see next.

Two weeks ago, 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.

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 the summer statement has to be placed in a broader context and it is in these areas that I have questions that are 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. 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. 

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.

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