Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"The chancellor's stimulus package doesn't go nearly far enough" Keir Starmer

"Where is the support for renters, the social care sector, public services or local authorities? The Guardian

We are living through a global emergency. There are no easy solutions. Soundbites will not turn the situation around. And all of us have a duty to act in the public interest.

So far, the government has, understandably, focused on a public health approach. But we must have confidence in the advice that is being given. This confidence requires full transparency from the government about the evidence and the modelling being relied upon. The last few days of confused messaging and policy-making has exacerbated uncertainty and cannot continue.

We need a clear and accessible public safety campaign, along with up-to-date information and clear guidance to the public about the steps required of them. It is good the prime minister has accepted the need for daily press conferences, but it is no use people waiting by their television for advice that is incomplete and incoherent.

In addition, the sheer scale of the challenge ahead requires a coordinated national response going well beyond a public health approach. It is no good telling older people to stay at home without an accompanying plan to guarantee their wellbeing. Ministers and departments cannot act in isolation.

There should be a coordinated resilience plan on a huge scale, anticipating problems wherever possible and flexible enough to adapt to swiftly changing circumstances.

How we provide core public services – police, transport, childcare, housing, social care – and ensure a supply of basic goods during a prolonged period of uncertainty is critical. In the absence of clear cross-departmental planning, urgently needed resources will not be allocated quickly enough or put to best use.

What is needed is a national plan of action, which the government should draw up as a matter of urgency and publish. This plan should then be coordinated and rolled out through the civil contingency secretariat, the agency responsible for emergency planning.

Alongside public health and the provision of core public services, safeguarding our economy is vital. The government’s fragmented, incomplete and insufficient announcements caused huge concern and anxiety, especially for those working in the hospitality, arts and entertainment sectors. In future, any new social distancing measures should be announced alongside a comprehensive financial package to help businesses, families and employees.

The extra fiscal stimulus announced by the chancellor is overdue, but we have to be honest that it is does not go far enough. The chancellor announced no new support for renters, no new money for social care, insufficient clarity for employment support and no new money for public services and local authorities. And for industries most at risk, the government has yet to provide concrete solutions for how it will protect these businesses and the people who depend on them.

If the government fails to appreciate that what is now a health crisis will soon be a fully-blown social-economic crisis, then they will have failed to grasp the severity of the situation.

The chancellor should commit to making regular financial statements, with updated economic forecasts. That way, Parliament will be able to subject the government’s approach to effective scrutiny and test what further intervention may be necessary to protect jobs and the economy.

The scale of this crisis we face means things cannot simply be left to Whitehall. The government should convene an economic taskforce involving councils and devolved nations, representatives of key sectors of the economy, businesses (large and small), trade unions and economists to thrash out the economic implications of the crisis and the stimulus required to maintain investment and jobs for the future.

Finally, we need an international response to the crisis. So far, the default position of most national governments has been to take unilateral action. Yet, this is a global threat that demands a global response. If countries with weaker health systems are overwhelmed, we will never defeat the virus. Any geopolitical conflict over this issue must be resisted. It is our duty to be leaders on the world stage helping to coordinate international efforts and an international response.

For the Labour party, this crisis will straddle a period of change as we elect a new leader and deputy leader. Whoever wins will not get to choose the circumstances they will inherit. But he or she must rise to the challenge.

That is why, if I am elected leader, I am determined that the Labour party will act with the responsibility and care needed to put the best interests of the public first. We will ensure that we are in a position to speak for the country over the practical measures the UK needs by using the expertise from local and devolved governments, the trade union movement, businesses, economists and other key sectors.

The role of the opposition is vital in this period. We must be constructive and forensic. We should ask searching and difficult questions; not to score party political points but to give voice to the concerns of the public and because scrutiny and challenge improves decision-making.

When ministers are doing the right thing, we should have the courage to say so. When they are not, we should have the courage to call them out. The public interest must come first.

• Keir Starmer is the MP for Holborn and St Pancras and a Labour leadership candidate

No comments: