The Coronavirus crisis is having a profoundly damaging impact on the British economy. Lockdown and social distancing has all but eradicated demand for the vast majority of non-essential retailers and research shows that 60% of businesses do not have the revenues or cash flow in order to survive beyond three months of lockdown. The Government have pledged to do “whatever it takes” to keep firms afloat and ensure that workers have the financial resources they need to stay at home and observe the official guidelines; but only 1.4% have been able to access the loans and grants that have been made available. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the Coronavirus has already cost £50 billion to the British economy. We will be grappling with the long-term effects of this crisis for years to come.
In the face of this enormous pressure, I am working around the clock to ensure that local businesses get the support they need. I have committed additional resources into the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub to provide practical advice for struggling firms and I’m leading our region’s economic response through my South Yorkshire Economic Recovery Taskforce. This Taskforce will bring together our region’s anchor institutions and key strategic partners to forge a collective response to the greatest economic and public health crisis any of us have faced.
At the same time, we are seeing local businesses step up to the plate and contributing to the fight against this disease. This week I issued a ‘call-to-arms’ to South Yorkshire’s engineering, manufacturing and technological sectors to support the efforts to increase production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the workers in our NHS and social care system who are on the front line of this battle. The response from our manufacturing sector and Further and Higher Education providers – such as McClaren, Boeing, Naylor Industries, our universities and Barnsley College has been simply magnificent. My heartfelt gratitude and thanks goes out to those going beyond the call of duty to help tackle this virus.
Local businesses are helping to support our NHS and our sick family and friends in their hour of need. We must do everything in our power to support them and safeguard the local economy. Therefore, where possible, please shop at local, independent retailers and market stalls that are weathering the storm of the Coronavirus. See if your favourite shop, pub or restaurant is offering a home delivery service. Both now and when the lockdown is eased, you can play your part in our economic recovery through shopping local and backing Barnsley.
The post-Coronavirus economy will provide the opportunity to forge a new country and a different economic consensus. We can take our lead from other towns and cities that are already leading the way in introducing local economic strategies, for example Preston Council and the ‘Preston Model’ of community wealth-building. This new economic approach means councils and key public and private sector organisations putting local companies first when it comes to buying services and promoting the Living Wage for all workers. In turn, this approach will mean stronger local supply chains, a more democratic and equal regional economy and creating thousands of decent, well-paid jobs for Barnsley workers.
This crisis has shown who really matters in our economy – the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, cleaners, porters, administrators, shop workers, refuse collectors, postal workers and so many more besides – and we cannot return to the pre-Coronavirus normality of undervaluing and underpaying them for the vital work they do. When we, together, come through this crisis their service, and in some cases their sacrifice, must be remembered and it must be properly rewarded – starting with forging a new economic consensus.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 24 April 2020.