Column: recovery from COVID-19

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 4th September:

The last few months have been incredibly challenging for our community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused a devastating loss of life, it has been damaging economically, with the Bank of England forecasting the worst recession for 100 years.

Too many businesses have struggled, and as the Government prematurely winds down the furlough scheme, too many jobs are already being lost.

This week, the Government launched an ad campaign to urge people to return to the workplace.

But this has not been accompanied by any clear plan to tackle the economic crisis we face.

Last weekend, we saw reports of disagreements between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over the best approach to take.

Worryingly, the reports claimed that one response the Government is considering to this crisis is to slash spending, ushering in another decade of cuts.

Here in Barnsley, we have faced the worst cuts in the country over the last ten years.

Our NHS has faced the most severe funding squeeze in its history, our Council has lost 40% of its funding, and local people have seen too many of the vital services that they rely on stripped back or closed.

Our community does not need more damaging cuts to funding, closing services and driving people into poverty.

Instead, the Government should adopt the approach the Labour Party is pushing, put the focus on protecting and creating jobs, and safeguard the livelihoods of working people in our area.

Over the last few months, I have been pushing the Government to do more to support our local economy.

I have asked questions in Parliament on accessible funding for small and medium sized businesses, support for workers to self-isolate, the impact on hard-hit sectors like the beauty industry, and the need for a tailored package of funding for our region.

I have also written to the Government about support for the self-employed, financial support for Barnsley Council, the Bounce Back Loan and Business Interruption Loan schemes, and support for our local sports clubs.

During this pandemic, our community and our country have come together for the greatest collective effort in a generation.

But sadly, this has not been matched by the Government.

They have been too slow to act at every stage of this crisis, and they must learn from those mistakes, act now, and provide the support we need to protect the jobs of working people here in Barnsley.

As we rebuild after COVID-19, it is vital that local residents here in Barnsley have the opportunity to shape our post-pandemic recovery.

That’s why I’ll be launching a survey next week so that local residents can share their views with me directly, and I’ll continue to support local people in any way I can as we try to rebuild our economy and way of life over the coming months.