Opinion: ‘Time to start up the economy’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 7th March 2021, 4:56 am
Investment in carbon neutral homes.

Optimism can be a useful quality; it can inspire one to persist despite obvious difficulties, to push on towards a brighter dawn.

However, optimism works best when it is grounded in reality. I’m afraid that Boris Johnson has shown a propensity to ignore reality until it is too late.

The country is then left to improvise and carry on as best we can. Fortunately, we’re a tough nation.

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Johnson’s over-optimism was reflected in another report over the weekend; he stated his belief that in not too long a while, commuters will be returning their offices like the pandemic never happened. I am not sure which businesspeople with which the Prime Minister has been conversing; many firms have discovered that they can operate just as efficiently online as they can in an office. Furthermore, they save on the cost of premises and all the ancillary costs associated with it.

Many employees prefer the new arrangements: there was always something absurd about an individual who works mainly with documents getting up at 5 AM to catch a train into London to sit in an open plan office for 8 hours with their head buried in their screen.

“Yesterday’s gone” as the Fleetwood Mac song said. It’s time to focus on the future. What we can and should do is support the firms of tomorrow rather than hope beyond all reason that the old world is revived.

The Labour Party has a plan: we would increase support available for start-ups. Our intention is to help create 100,000 new businesses over the next five years.

This is a realistic, achievable goal. First, we would boost the Start Up Loans Scheme; at the moment, this scheme is only helping circa 9,500 firms per annum at the moment. This should be expanded to accommodate 20,000 businesses per year over the next five years. We have priced the scheme at £1 billion; however, this would yield a return as these loans would be repaid with interest.

Second, we want to target particular regions; contrary to what the Prime Minister says, levelling up simply hasn’t happened. The current loan scheme has seen £1 in £4 go to firms in the South East; in contrast, only £1 in £20 has gone to the North East.

Third, we want to make sure that the scheme is integrated with others; the present government has created an alphabet soup of schemes and initiatives without any unifying theme. We’d ensure that this scheme is tied in with Job Centres, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Growth Hubs and local chambers of commerce. We also will ask employers to provide information to furloughed staff.

Fourth, we want to see more co-operatives and alternative forms of ownership be implemented. The Co-operative shops and services have shown the value of this model: employees are motivated by having a share in the enterprise. Furthermore, as their business grows, so does their share in that success.

In Peterborough, the Labour Group will:

1) Build sustainable carbon-neutral council-owned homes.

2) Create a Transformation Bond so that we can invest in our communities and meet our carbon reduction targets.

3) Invest in digital transformation to support local business and communities. We want to foster digital start-ups.

4) Invest in Green Technology so that we have a strong and viable economic green recovery.

5) Build a wellness centre to support our city with mental health challenges and improve overall health rates across all communities.

We believe, contrary to what Boris Johnson thinks, that the pandemic has acted as an accelerant for changes in the economy that were already underway. We were all working more online before Covid 19 arrived. We were all doing more shopping online too. To think that this is going to dissolve into the mist once we are all vaccinated is optimistic to the point of foolishness. If we couple optimism with realism, we can do better.