Anneliese Dodds has declared that the government “stumbles from one crisis to the next” following last-minute announcements by Downing Street of a second England-wide lockdown and the extension of the furlough scheme.
In an urgent question to the Chancellor in the Commons today, the Shadow Chancellor criticised Rishi Sunak for failing to set out a long-term plan for economic support and called on the Tory ministers to provide certainty.
Dodds criticised the lack of communication from the government and asked why she had to “drag government ministers” to parliament “week after week” to answer questions on their newly announced policies.
Treasury minister Steve Barclay, standing in for the Chancellor who did not attend the session, claimed that the “diligence of ministers was demonstrated” by the Prime Minister’s Commons statement on the lockdown on Monday.
The Speaker intervened to criticise the suggestion, telling the House that it was wrong for the government to argue it had communicated properly after the news of the national lockdown was “played through the press” on Saturday.
Dodds told the Commons: “The ‘circuit breaker’ Labour proposed three weeks ago would have been shorter and more effective, so less damaging to jobs and businesses, than the government’s last-minute but lengthy lockdown.
“The cost of that Conservative delay will be counted in lives and livelihoods. So can I ask: Was it the Chancellor who vetoed the circuit breaker? Why did he tell the Welsh government it was impossible to extend furlough? And why did he dismiss those in the North who said his plans would lead to hardship?”
She added: “Businesses need to know what support they will receive if their area faces further restrictions the other side of lockdown but the Prime Minister yesterday said they won’t find out until just before those restrictions are imposed.
“How can any business plan on that basis? How can people cope with that level of insecurity? The lack of any plan for economic support is making a very, very difficult situation even worse. Will the Chancellor and his ministers finally get a grip and set out that plan for the next six months?
“Will they indicate how the different scenarios facing us will be dealt with? Not retrospectively, not at the last minute, not once businesses have gone bust and jobs have already been lost, but in advance.
“Will they set out a plan for support if the lockdown is extended, or if different regions or devolved nations remain under restrictions afterwards? And finally, will I continue having to drag government ministers here week after week after this government stumbles from one crisis to the next?”
The intervention from Dodds comes after she wrote to the Chancellor on Monday to urge him to “stop the last-minute scramble” on economic support and bring forward a six-month plan outlining any future support packages.
Sunak has been forced to U-turn on five planned Covid measures in recent months, including a local furlough scheme, employer contributions to the proposed job support scheme and recently on the extension to national furlough support.
Reiterating her call for a six-month economic plan and discussing the furlough extension on BBC Breakfast this morning, the Shadow Chancellor said: “It’s a real shame that it has taken so long, that we’ve had such a confused situation.
“If you think about hospitality workers at the end of last week – they didn’t know if the following week they were going to be paid at 80%, which is what’s ended up happening, or at 67% or 73%… This is a complete mess.”
Her comments in the Commons today follow the announcement by the Prime Minister on Saturday that England will this week enter a second national lockdown, with all non-essential businesses forced to close, for a period of four weeks.
Labour MPs will be whipped in parliament to vote in favour of the second national lockdown, which will see hospitality and retail businesses completely shut while schools, colleges and universities remain open.