Businesses and workers have been pleading for certainty from this Government, but the Chancellor keeps ignoring them until the last possible moment, after jobs have been lost and businesses have gone bust. The national lockdown was announced on Saturday, many weeks after both SAGE and Labour called for a circuit breaker. The Chancellor ridiculed those proposals for a shorter, more effective circuit breaker as a “blunt instrument”. Just a moment ago, he argued that it was only last week when the Government’s scientific and medical advisers presented data showing that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed. SAGE presented that evidence on
When the lockdown was announced, the Prime Minister said that furlough would be extended for a month, five hours before that scheme was due to end. Two days later, realising that the self-employed had been forgotten, there was a last-minute change to the self-employment scheme. Now there are further changes—the Chancellor’s fourth version of his winter economy plan in just six weeks. The Chancellor can change his mind at the last minute, but businesses cannot. We need a Chancellor who is in front of the problems we face, not one who is always a step behind.
Until last Saturday, hospitality workers in the north had to plan on the basis that they would receive two thirds of their previous income—not 80% or 93%, as I think the Prime Minister said, but two thirds for huge numbers of them, because of this Government’s failure to fix flaws in the social security system. The Chancellor said no to those hospitality workers, only to accept their demands today. Ahead of announcing a firebreak, the First Minister of Wales made workable requests that could have offered support for Welsh workers. Again, the Chancellor said no, only to U-turn now.
Labour argued that Scotland should have access to the furlough scheme should there need to be a national lockdown north of the border. Once again, the Chancellor said no, then the Prime Minister said yes—cue another undignified scramble to accept that demand today. How many jobs could have been saved if this Government had recognised reality and let businesses plan for the future? Will the Chancellor apologise to those who have already been made redundant because of this last-minute approach?
Earlier this week, I called on the Chancellor to use the moment of the national lockdown to set out a proper plan for the next six months. Finally, today, he has indicated that furlough will remain for lockdown areas until March, as Labour called for. Of course that is welcome, but many other questions remain. When will he deliver any information about the retention incentive, which Labour has been warning for months is poorly targeted?
By the time we get to March, it will be a whole year since the first economic support package, but there was still nothing in the Chancellor’s remarks for those people who have been excluded from Government schemes until now. What does the Chancellor say to those groups? Will we face another scramble before the end of March? Can he guarantee that we will avoid such uncertainty then—dependent, of course, on the health circumstances? Other countries seem to be able to plan for the future. Why cannot this one?
What is the future of the phantom funding formula, providing a seemingly arbitrary £20 a head to local areas under tiered restrictions for business support? How long will that support last? What happens when it runs out? When will the Chancellor fix social security, so that it stops penalising the self-employed, homeowners and huge numbers of other workers facing hardship because of problems that could be fixed quickly? What are his Government doing to rectify the problems with the £500 self-isolation payment, so that workers receive it when they need it and are not pushed into debt for doing the right thing?
Above all, when will this Government enable all local areas to deliver the test, trace and isolate system, which we know is more effective than the enormously expensive outsourced national system? The Chancellor needs to stop blaming our NHS, as he appeared to do a moment ago, when it is his Government who are still blocking local areas in lower tiers from delivering a more effective service. Our economy is struggling much more than many other countries’, because this Government simply will not acknowledge that, until they get a grip on the health crisis, they will not be able to deal with our economic crisis. Confidence is indeed key, and that is what this Government need to start delivering.