The effects of lockdown on our economy are starting to bite. Whilst I am pleased the furlough scheme has been extended we all realise we are in this for the long term. Businesses, charities and the public sector are having to make tough choices. Some companies are simply closing up shop and others are looking to make redundancies.
A doubling of unemployment figures could well be just the start. This is an economic hit but more importantly, behind every number is a person – a person whose life has just been turned upside down. At best, losing a job is a blow to your career and sense of self worth. At worst it means you may not be able to put food on the table for your family, and with Christmas coming the future can look bleak.
Add to this the reality that we are all looking at, at least, another year of disruption (but probably longer). There won’t be jobs for everyone and we will all suffer as a result.
No one in government has yet talked about how we are going to pay for the money we have spent, nor the money we will have to spend supporting people who are unemployed. A reduced tax take will mean public services will suffer and we are in real danger of becoming a more unequal society. Poorer people will get poorer, the young are simply waiting to start their careers and the most vulnerable will see their support cut to the bone.
Things are about to get tough.
But tough times can also signal a new start. New and innovative businesses can thrive and because the Covid crisis has helped us to see what is really important we can choose to focus on creating an economy that works for everyone and helps us to live in harmony with our planet.
If we are going to do this right, two things need to happen.
The first is the devolution of more powers from Westminster to cities and regions. Locally we know what is best for our city. Business support can be focused where it is needed – for example to support our vibrant creative industries and vital care sector. Bristol leads the world in green projects and technology. As a city we should have the ability to invest in supporting green business to grow its impact and show how cities can become greener and more prosperous.
Secondly, we must invest in our infrastructure. This is one of the key jobs for local government. Our transport system continues to be the biggest drag on our local economy. The good news is that more buses and cycle lanes create jobs, keep us healthier, clean up our air and reduce our carbon emissions. Insulating our homes can create tens of thousands of new jobs, reduce our bills (especially those of the poorest) and reduce our carbon emissions.
The council, WECA and business have the opportunity to kickstart the economy we want in Bristol. An economy that is green, creates new jobs and prosperity for all. But we risk missing the key moment. Investment must start now, otherwise unemployment will rise, people will languish on Universal Credit and young people won’t get the start they deserve. Again, we must take action and not simply talk about the future we want to build.