The past few months have been difficult for our economy. Here in the Denton and Reddish constituency (which includes Audenshaw and Dukinfield) around 13,000 people have been paid their wages through the Government’s furlough scheme not to work.
That State support was absolutely right to remove the unenviable choice of people doing the right thing and staying at home or risking spreading the virus further by going to work because they have to bring money home.
But the scheme has been costly. Our national debt has hit £2 trillion for the first time ever, and completely dwarfs the previous £1 trillion record (which the Labour Government was pilloried for by the Tories) at the height of the global financial crash. Now – as in 2008 – it was absolutely the right thing to do to help protect jobs, businesses and prevent homes from being repossessed. But I accept the support cannot go on indefinitely.
But we need to be smarter. It cannot just come to a halt. Coronavirus is going to be with us for some time, at least until (or unless) there’s a vaccination for it. So in our ‘new normal’ we are going to see further spikes of the virus, and the tool of choice for the Government appears to be local restrictions – as we know from experience in Tameside – possibly leading to full local lockdowns in order to avoid a second national lockdown.
And this is the point: if we are to see full local lockdowns, where businesses will be stopped from operating within the geographical area concerned, and employees will be expected to stay at home if their workplace is outside of the lockdown area, then there will need to be a local furlough and business support scheme you drop into place. This isn’t being proposed, but without it, as the national schemes end, future local lockdowns just won’t work.
As Parliament returns for the long Autumn session next week, this is something I will be pressing Ministers on. Let’s hope common sense prevails.