“Labour would make responsible choices” – Dodds’ full speech to Reuters

Anneliese Dodds
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Below is the full text of Anneliese Dodds’ speech to Reuters this afternoon on the upcoming spending review.

Last week, I visited the amazing team in Oxford developing a vaccine for Covid-19. As news emerges of increasing successes from clinical trials, we can finally sense some hope. But we are not out of the woods. Infections are still high and the economy is 10% smaller today than it was at the end of last year.

The UK has the highest excess death rate in Europe and is suffering the worst downturn in the G7 – a double tragedy for the British people. Just as our scientists work every hour of the day so we can escape this health crisis, the government must do all it can to lay the foundations for our economic recovery.

Wednesday’s spending review should be the moment to make responsible choices. Responsible choices that will support our frontline workers, ensure we have resilient public services and invest in a better, more secure future – right across the UK.

We’ve seen over the last eight months who our key workers really are. The social carers who look after the elderly and vulnerable. The staff in our NHS. Not just nurses and doctors, but hospital porters and others who make our health service what it is. And who, day after day, night after night, have put patients first, and themselves last.

The teachers and teaching assistants who’ve taught key workers’ children while they helped to keep us all safe. The delivery drivers and retail workers who’ve kept our economy going through lockdown.

But these workers, so critical during this time of need, have often had to survive on a shoestring. 7 in 10 care workers earn less than £10 an hour. So do many of our hospital porters. Many key workers in the private sector are barely keeping their heads above water.

And yet, unbelievably, it looks like the Chancellor is set to freeze the pay of those working on the Covid frontline. And key workers right across the country are still waiting to hear if they’ll get the £10 an hour minimum wage they deserve.

Freezing the pay of firefighters, hospital porters and teaching assistants will make them worried about making ends meet ahead of Christmas. That means they’ll cut back on spending and our economy won’t recover as quickly.

Our high streets and small businesses would suffer. That would mean yet more job losses, when we’ve already seen a record number of redundancies thanks to the Chancellor’s constant chopping and changing.

Penny-pinching for those on the frontline. But profligacy when it comes to doling out billions of pounds to a select group of contractors. A National Audit Office report published last week found that suppliers with political connections are ten times more likely to have won work from this Conservative government.

The Conservatives paid £2,000 a day to a former executive of the collapsed outsourcer Interserve. And they paid £7,000 a day to consultants building a Test and Trace system that still isn’t functioning properly. That’s £1,000 an hour – more than a hundred times the hourly wage of the average care worker.

Two months ago, I warned of this government’s “file of failure” when it comes to waste and mismanagement of public money. Incredibly, since then yet more has come to light. Over two-thirds of a billion pounds on NHS coveralls that were never used, including a contract to a firm run by a Conservative councillor.

A £500m pilot testing programme in Salford that was supposed to test all of its 250,000 residents – but was paused when they couldn’t even manage 250. And record redundancies caused by the Chancellor waiting until the very last minute to announce changes to wage support, by which point many had already lost their jobs.

The British people shouldn’t have to pay the price for a government that doesn’t know the value of public money, splurging it on outsourced contracts to Tory-linked firms that don’t deliver.

And they shouldn’t have to pay for a Chancellor who’s had to come back week in week out to change his plans, blocked a circuit breaker leading to a longer, more painful lockdown, and still hasn’t acted to fix Britain’s broken safety net – leaving millions excluded from support, including huge numbers of the self-employed.

The Chancellor’s irresponsible choices and unacceptable delays are damaging the economy. That’s why we’re in the grip of a jobs crisis – and it’s got Rishi Sunak’s name all over it.

The British people deserve a responsible approach from their Chancellor. A Chancellor who will use public money wisely to support resilient public services. Who will treat our front line workers decently, rather than grinding them down.

Who will protect delivery drivers and shop assistants from poverty pay instead of throwing them into it. A Chancellor who acts responsibly, so our families and communities can have a more secure future.

We went into this crisis as one of the most unequal countries in Europe. The pandemic has only made that worse.

People living in the North of England have experienced a larger fall in their mental wellbeing than people in the rest of the country. They’ve been more likely to have their working hours reduced, or to have lost their jobs altogether. They have, bluntly and tragically, been more likely to die of Covid-19.

This government claims it has the answers to regional inequality. But the Conservatives have simply not delivered, and regional inequalities have deepened.

On Wednesday, they’ll make a lot of noise about ‘levelling up’ the country with another set of pledges on infrastructure. But when it comes to infrastructure, from Boris Island to the Boris Bridge, the Prime Minister’s record on delivering on his promises is one of utter failure.

And those failures don’t start and end with the Prime Minister. Ten years of Conservative failures have seen billions wasted on pet projects and white elephants instead of action to make a difference to people’s lives.

People in the West Midlands are still waiting for the Midland Metropolitan University Hospital, which should have been open for two years by now. Instead, it’ll be four years late and cost twice what it should have done, with taxpayers footing a bill of £700m.

Northern Powerhouse rail, six years on from first being announced, still hasn’t even been approved, let alone started.

Right now, victims of domestic violence are being forced to wait for months to see their abusers brought to justice. The government’s £1.2bn courts modernisation programme has completely failed – it’s now running three years behind schedule and is costing £172m a year more than the original plans.

Even where projects have got off the ground, the Conservatives never ensure that this spending really makes the difference that it should – employing and up-skilling local people, and improving the local environment and people’s quality of life. That is a collective Conservative failure.

After a decade of letting Britain down, people don’t want to hear more empty rhetoric and last-minute decision-making from this government. They need urgent action on Wednesday to make this country the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in.

That means opportunities on people’s doorsteps, not at the other end of the country. Young people shouldn’t feel that they have to get out, to get on.

We need high-quality businesses in every town, providing well-paid and secure jobs so people don’t just survive but thrive. Government has a clear responsibility: rewarding businesses who do the right thing and not handing public money to those who don’t.

And where government invests public money, it should commit to using local supply chains and providing opportunities for people who live locally.

It also means every part of our country feeling like a good place to set up home. We need genuinely affordable homes, built to last and not expensive to heat.

Local authorities should be able to ensure our green spaces are high-quality and safe, and our high streets are places people want to visit. Every local area deserves decent services we can all be proud of: children’s centres, schools, leisure centres, youth clubs, post offices and libraries.

Instead, we’ve had years of decline under Conservative governments, with local authorities cut to the bone and many being forced to shed even more staff this year – despite the jobs crisis.

The spirit of solidarity and mutual aid we’ve seen so much of throughout this crisis, from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, from Cornwall to Caithness, from Blackburn to Brighton, should be supported – not forgotten.

People right across our country should feel safe and secure where they live – settled and part of a community. Not insecure and just about clinging on.

Labour would make responsible choices to protect our key workers, secure the economy and recover jobs in every part of the country. We need to recover jobs – by bringing forward £30bn in capital spending over the next 18 months and investing it in the clean industries of the future right across the UK.

Action now, to build it in Britain again, match the green ambitions of other countries and deliver a clean, jobs-rich recovery.

And the Chancellor needs to learn from the damage he caused with his last-minute changes to wage support. Rather than threatening yet more change just after Christmas, he needs to provide certainty for employers that they’ll be able to keep their staff on.

We need to retrain workers – with an emergency programme providing help right now. Not waiting until April, when the government’s main plans for older workers are due to start – by which point many will have been looking for work for over a year.

And rooted in local communities, building on successes like Greater Manchester’s ‘Working Well’ scheme – not outsourced through giant contracts.

And we need to rebuild business, with government providing clarity, not confusion, on how we will emerge from lockdown, including what support will be available under different tiers.

Still today, businesses in areas like Liverpool and Middlesbrough simply do not know what support they will receive if they go back into Tier 3.

That’s additional, unnecessary uncertainty, when so many firms feel like they are already only just clinging on. And we need Labour’s proposed National Investment Bank, to bring us in line with other countries and maximise public and private sector finance to fuel the recovery.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor has the chance to take the right, responsible choices for our country. To use public money wisely in support of those at the front line – so we can be resilient against disease and resilient against economic decline.

And to face up to regional inequalities with action, not just rhetoric – for a more secure future right across our country – in every region and community. Thank you.

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