Time to bring our economy out of the deep freeze

By Ian Mean Business West Gloucestershire Director

Over the next week, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are working to bring our economy out of the deep freeze of coronavirus, get people working  again and restore confidence in our communities.

It will not be easy.

It will be far more difficult than imposing the coronavirus lockdown.

In our darkest hours of the Second World War, Churchill’s government developed the Beveridge report of 1942 which proposed a social and economic settlement to protect people’s lives for decades to come.

That Beveridge vision provided the framework for our NHS and the welfare state of the future.

Post Covid-19, we now need nothing less for this country.

I hope that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will concentrate their firepower and resource now on two vital areas to re-start our local economy.

Those two crisis areas are helping replace lost jobs, and in particular, assisting our young people into work, apprenticeships and training.

As we look at pictures of crowded beaches, we need to be careful not to lull ourselves into a false sense of security.

A jobs tsunami is very much on the cards as the government’s excellent furlough scheme to retain jobs starts coming to an end over the next few months with a close at the end of October.

This is a huge challenge, and I believe that the government must find new ways of incentivising employment.

An obvious and easy way would be to cut the employers national insurance contributions making it easier to keep people on the payroll.

I think that Boris Johnson needs to look at a jobs plan for young people that could be based on Gordon Brown’s 1997 New Deal to keep university and school leavers in training.

When Gloucestershire developed its 2050 project, we found that to retain our young people in the county we must ensure they were given a stake in Gloucestershire’s future.

When our local enterprise partnership, GFirstLEP developed its Local Industrial Strategy, we believed young people were front and centre of our business future.

That has not changed. It must be key to re-starting and building the county’s economy.

And key to that will be the encouragement of more apprenticeships in our growing digital and cyber businesses as well as our traditional advanced engineering companies of which we can be proud.

Apprenticeships are important but so is the provision of more government skills and re-training schemes for those forced out of a job by Covid-19.

So, after Boris Johnson’s seemingly off the cuff pledge to “guarantee” apprenticeships, he must now do that quickly.

The main problem here is that employers—and we have great apprenticeship advocate companies in Gloucestershire- is that most are not in a position to commit to apprenticeships on the  scale needed.

The Boris apprenticeship plan must, therefore, be to incentivise companies to take on our young people.

Over the weekend, we heard that Boris is introducing “Project Speed” to build more homes and develop major infrastructure projects.

That will obviously help employment.

But this will not be a quick fix for the impending jobs crisis –that surely must be the priority.

However, “Project Speed” will need to be backed up by the relaxation of some of our Byzantine planning laws which beset our local authorities.

I hope that the government’s urge to build, build and build will also now at long last  lead to a clear, regional planning policy for Gloucestershire-not the mess we currently have to endure.

One of Winston Churchill’s most famous sayings was:” Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

Boris Johnson’s government must do that , and here in Gloucestershire our councils must be innovative in the way they come together to re-start and rebuild the county’s economy. There has never been a better opportunity.