Almost everything that we want to achieve in this House depends on having a strong economy, whether it is protecting the NHS, putting police on our streets, giving every child the best education or conserving the natural environment. All those things and so many more depend on economic prosperity, so the question of how we pull ourselves out of this covid economic catastrophe could not be more crucial.
The Government’s intervention package, as many have said, is bigger than anything ever attempted in our nation’s history, and it has protected the livelihoods of millions of people, but it cannot last forever. That was one of the reasons why I was one of the MPs pressing from the earliest point to get the lockdown lifted, to allow shuttered businesses to open up once again. With a global economic recession that is probably going to be the worst on record, many businesses and jobs are in peril. I welcome the Government’s determination to invest in infrastructure, better transport, better broadband, better flood protection and better school buildings. They can all play a part in a plan for recovery, and I appeal for London to get its fair share of that investment.
I welcome the pledge to build back greener. Only a few days ago, constituents logged into a Zoom lobby of Parliament, asking for a concerted push to insulate homes and buildings, and the Chancellor has confirmed that that is going to happen.
We will need to train up thousands of people to do such work, and investment in skills needs to be a second key element of our plan for recovery. That will help improve our poor productivity, but it can also be a powerful driver of social justice. The Conservatives are committed to aspiration and ensuring that everyone has the chance to get on in life and go as far as their talent will take them. Giving people of all ages and backgrounds access to the highest quality training and apprenticeships can help us make good on that vital commitment. In delivering those training opportunities, active efforts must be made to reach out to BAME communities to unleash the potential of people who may have been held back by discrimination and disadvantage.
Lastly, I turn to the public finances. The covid crisis has devastated the nation’s balance sheet. Even the driest of fiscal conservatives recognises that we need to spend big when our economy suffers an external shock. With borrowing costs at a historical low, the steep increase in borrowing seems just about affordable. However, it does leave us vulnerable if interest rates rise in the future or if we are hit by a second shock, whether a renewed outbreak or some other unforeseen disaster.
Thankfully, as many have said, the current situation does not require a rush to austerity, but we will need a clear plan for starting once again the painstaking task of repairing the public finances and getting the deficit down to manageable levels. It will take time, it will take work and it will take some hard choices, but the Conservatives have never shirked this task in previous decades. Now, we must rise again to that challenge and ensure that we put the nation’s finances back on a sound and stable footing for the future.