Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:23 pm, 9th September 2020

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that this crisis may, ironically, afford us the opportunity to do so. That is why we cannot afford to cut off the job retention scheme in October. We need it to help us through that transition into the post-covid economy, whatever it looks like. None of us knows what that will be. None of us knows which sectors of the economy will survive or even thrive, and which will struggle or collapse.

That is the one point on which I take issue with the Labour motion. How do we know which sectors to target, and if we target, who do we leave out? Which industries do we allow to go to the wall? Which employees do we throw on the scrapheap? I come originally from Clydeside. I know—the memory of it is seared on my consciousness and runs through everything I do in politics—the damage that is done to lives when an industry dies and those who depended on it have nowhere to turn. We cannot allow that to happen to another generation.

If this virus has confronted us with the challenge of a lifetime or of a century, it also offers an opportunity, because we are now as close to having a blank sheet of paper as we are ever likely to be. Use the job retention scheme and the structure of support, and develop it further. Furlough people while we begin to transition and develop our future. Use the scheme as the basis of the Government’s strategy, for which we are all waiting.

It has been calculated that keeping the scheme going until June of next year would cost £10 billion. Surely, that is a drop in the ocean compared with what will be lost if we do not. In that time, we can ensure that the industries and employers that can survive do so, and we can help the others to transition. Instead of mothballing companies, encourage them to work. Look at the flexible schemes in Germany, France and Austria, and at what they are doing to protect their economies. Let us use the time we have to upskill and retrain.

We need to innovate our way out of this, and we can. We need to create new industries and green jobs, investigate hydrogen power and encourage our aviation industry to be greener. We must make wellbeing the measure of our economy, and quality of life the measure of our success. The world and its economies are changing around us. The job retention scheme has given us time and we need to ensure that we use it properly. We must turn the birthplace of the industrial revolution into the home of a new green revolution.