TIS THE SEASON TO WEEP.
Vast swathes of the north are to remain in virtual lockdown following the government’s latest change of course as it grapples with COVID-19. As the newly formed research group UnitedCity have said it is going to be “cataclysmic” for pubs and restaurants during what would have been their busiest time of the year.
The Tier 3 status was not unexpected as infection rates remain high, but business organisations are demanding more financial support and greater consistency. This must be right. Business is finding it very difficult to cope with the constant changes. Although a further review is promised for Dec 16th and there is the Christmas interlude; it looks as if the north is going to be under tough restrictions until Easter. Further financial support for the hospitality industry, in particular, is needed.
A word about Liverpool where Mayor Joe Anderson will have his critics for being the subject of more praise from Tory ministers.
Joe’s enemies need to reflect that there are fine margins here in terms of political tactics. Joe gets Tier 2 through cooperation; Andy Burnham is still in Tier 3 after a showdown with ministers.
CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE.
The new tier system is an immediate headache for business but this week it is vital to look at important developments which will frame our economic world for years to come.
The government deserves credit on a number of fronts. The change in the Treasury criteria for backing infrastructure projects is hugely significant. The north has lost out for years because its case for investment couldn’t deliver the immediate economic development available to London and the South East. Now civil servants will have to consider other criteria like the government’s levelling up agenda when deciding on projects.
Next Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary and Preston North MP. Westminster gossip had this affable and competent minister for the chop, no doubt because of lingering resentment that he had supported Remain in the referendum. Not only is Ben still in place but he has negotiated a £24bn four-year defence spending deal that will help with a vital industry in the North West.
There was also good news in the Chancellor’s statement about a UK Infrastructure Bank to be based in the north. But just when you think the government is getting the devolution message it decides to operate the levelling up fund centrally. That old begging bowl approach must go.
The Chancellor’s statement was as chilly as the Great Frost of 1709 when the economy was last in this state.
The government has been right to borrow these eyewatering amounts to support jobs and will need to do yet more (see above). However, the government must look to some level of prudence as it props up employment.
Therefore, I back the reduction in foreign aid. We will still be a generous contributor at 0.5% of GDP and we are better equipped than most to deploy our forces in the event of natural disaster. It must also be said that not all this aid has been spent well by recipient countries.
It has been a week of major developments across many fronts and we’ve had no chance to discuss the minor matter of a Brexit trade deal!