Anneliese Dodds has urged the government to “get far more of a grip on the public health response” to protect the retail sector during the pandemic – and warned a lack of confidence in the UK’s approach.
In an online speech to Bloomberg this morning, the Shadow Chancellor discussed the collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams and what the government should be doing to support those being made unemployed.
Dodds spoke of long-term trends contributing to the decline of the high street giants but described a general lack of confidence in the government’s health response as “the special problem in the UK”.
During the Q&A session, she said: “There has been that long-term trend of people increasingly shopping over the internet but of course that’s then compounded by what’s going on with the public health situation…
“We know from the International Monetary Fund and others there’s been a huge behavioural impact with people’s confidence being reduced and that’s been the special problem in the UK with people’s lack of confidence in the public health response.
“So I would say the first thing that needs to be done to protect retail is to get far more of a grip on that public health response. I think that’s absolutely essential.”
The Shadow Chancellor went on to call for a greater focus on adult retraining programmes to help those who have already lost their jobs, and urged the government to rule out employer contributions to the furlough scheme in January.
Dodds argued: “We need to remove those factors that are continuing uncertainty for the sector – you know, the fact that we still have the spectre of potentially a change to employer contributions to furlough in January.
“I think that is a dreadful idea right now. The Chancellor should just being saying right now he’s not going to be changing the employer contribution because sadly it looks like we won’t be out of the public health crisis in January at all.”
Dodds discussed the ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Restart’ schemes but emphasised that most of the support from government will not “come into play until well into next year”, by which time many affected now will have been out of work for a year.
She stressed that the government should work with industries to make sure that when there is change, not only that prompted by the Covid crisis but also as a result of the climate emergency, it is “planned change and not destructive change”.
Dodds reiterated to attendees that now is not the time to consider repaying the debt burden for the Covid crisis and stressed that the government should be focused on retaining and recovering jobs and protecting business.
She said: “We saw for example a couple of weekends ago the Institute for Fiscal Studies making this point quite forcefully. That actually some of the discussions around taxation changes that have taken place recently from within government… those were not helpful.”
The Shadow Chancellor added: “The UK right now is unfortunately in a very precarious economic position. I mentioned in my speech just yesterday, the OECD suggested we would be likely to see the slowest recovery in all of the G7.
“We do need to be focused right now on trying to recover jobs, on trying to rebuild businesses, trying to keep people in work, trying to keep businesses going.
“And eventually, obviously dependent on what happens with the interest rates, there will be those discussions… But the time for that is some way off right now.”
Labour’s Shadow Chancellor offered in her speech today to work in a “genuine partnership” with financial services towards a clean and jobs-rich recovery while pushing the sector to go “further, faster” on delivering a green economy.
Her speech was strongly criticised by campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal, which said it represented a “big step back in ambition” and indicated the party was in favour only of “piecemeal market mechanisms”.
The activists argue that Labour has recently embraced a net-zero 2050 target on pension scheme rather than a 2030 target and has abandoned a pledge to delist companies that fail to take robust action on climate change.
LabGND spokesperson Lauren Townsend said: “Instead of seeking partnership with a financial sector exploiting people and planet alike, Starmer’s Labour should be outlining the case for fundamental change in our economy.”