Labour representatives from across the regions and nations of the United Kingdom have come together and formed a new ‘Alliance for Full Employment’ backed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The Alliance includes Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham, Liverpool City Region’s Steve Rotheram, North of Tyne’s Jamie Driscoll, South Yorkshire’s Dan Jarvis and Bristol’s Marvin Rees.
With many expecting a major jobs crisis as the government’s furlough scheme ends in October, the Labour politicians are promoting economic recovery policies to prevent redundancies and unemployment.
The Chancellor has unveiled a job retention bonus, which will see employers receive £1,000 for every furloughed employee brought back to work, and a ‘kickstart’ scheme to encourage new jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds.
But the Alliance will urge Rishi Sunak to go further by setting up a fully-funded youth guarantee of jobs training or employment. This would extend beyond the provisions of the six-month ‘kickstart’ programme.
In a joint statement announcing the new project, Drakeford and the five Labour metro mayors said: “The biggest economic issue of our times is high levels of unemployment.
“Recognising the need for working together – locally, regionally and nationally – to deal with the current jobs emergency and the need for good employment that is well-paid and fulfilling, we want to work with colleagues in every region and nation of the UK.
“We want to support an Alliance for Full Employment to mobilise all the resources of the United Kingdom to end the recession and create good, quality jobs.”
Gordon Brown is working with the Labour representatives, and calling for all national institutions – including the Bank of England, which became independent in 1998 when he was Chancellor – to focus on job creation.
The Bank is responsible for setting monetary policy, and accordingly sets interest rates to meet an inflation target currently of 2%. It can also consider the need to support economic growth and jobs.
Brown said: “The democratic part of our constitution is no longer just MPs and local councillors but directly-elected regional mayors and elected decision-making bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“And – by coming together and linking up the power of the regions around Newcastle, Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and London to create an Alliance for Full Employment – they can force the Prime Minister to listen.
“A strong, broad-based UK-wide Alliance for Full Employment, encompassing trades unions and businesses, can not only press him on the economy but also revive the solidarity and spirit of co-operation and unity our country desperately needs.
“Instead of the stand-off between Scotland and the UK, I want to emphasise co-operation, shared values and common ground that exists between the nations and regions.”
On his specific request for institutions to adopt a stronger focus on employment, the former Labour Prime Minister added: “All UK institutions have to make high levels of employment a greater priority.
“Having been the Chancellor responsible for the Bank of England Act 22 years ago, I am disappointed that while obligations for employment are included in its statutory objectives, the Bank of England does not place greater emphasis on maximising employment.
“The Bank should announce an operational target that interest rates will not rise or stimulus end until employment returns to its pre-crisis levels. And we should agree a new constitution for the Bank imposing a dual mandate: to take unemployment as seriously as inflation.
“In truth, austerity – which was always the wrong policy – now makes even less economic sense in 2020. When interest rates have seen record inflation and interest rate falls, our first priority cannot be fiscal retrenchment when the needs in our communities are so great and when the cost of borrowing for investment in our long-term future is so low.”
Brown has unveiled criticisms of the economic measures taken so far by the UK government during the pandemic, and urged the Chancellor – as Labour has done – to “reintroduce the more generous Future Jobs programme of 2009″.
He said: “Young people are now facing the worst of times, yet the government’s kickstart youth employment programme will assist only 250,000 of 3.5million under-25s not in full-time education and only for six months.
“Preventing unnecessary bankruptcies and unemployment this winter will lead to a stronger and more lasting recovery later. I would maintain furlough payments in key sectors vital to our economy, if necessary supporting part-time work.”
Demanding more financial support for workers, Brown said: “Where a local lockdown occurs and workers are forced to stay at home, I would offer a wage subsidy and not the current £13-a-day token payment.”
The TUC has criticised the government’s scheme to pay low-paid workers in England up to £13 a day to self-isolate, with Frances O’Grady saying: “These paltry payments will not make the difference needed.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth this week accused the government of not doing enough to stop Covid-19 outbreaks in poorer areas, and stressed the need to help the poorest self-isolate.