Jeff Prestridge  

Rishi Sunak to the rescue

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

Although the government has made some big mistakes in coping with the impact of coronavirus – both economic and health related – no one can fault it for effort. Or for a reluctance to throw money at the horrifying economic and social fallout from Covid-19.

In terms of financial support, it has responded to the crisis quite magnificently. So, step forward and take a bow chancellor Rishi Sunak, an individual surely destined for political greatness. The boy done good. Number 10 beckons, methinks, at some stage.

Since late March and the beginning of lockdown, Mr Sunak and the wider Conservative government have handed out grants, loans and furlough payments as if they were confetti.

All rather unexpected, given that such largesse is normally associated with free-spending Labour administrations, rather than Conservative governments usually known for their tight grip on the nation’s purse strings.

Yes, we do live in extraordinary times – certainly the most scary in my living memory – but I do wonder what we would all be saying if it were Labour throwing the confetti so liberally. Reckless? Bankrupting the nation?

The latest figures from the Treasury – released just ahead of Mr Sunak’s recent ‘mini Budget’ – quantify the scale of the government’s largesse.

They indicate that the government has so far provided £80bn of support to businesses, their workers, and the self-employed. Mind-boggling sums, whichever way you analyse them.

This support has given a financial lifeline to thousands of businesses that otherwise would have gone under. It has also prevented millions of workers from being made redundant, while many self-employed businesses have managed to keep financially afloat as a result. Without it, we would now be looking at mass unemployment, the destruction of the high street and an economic apocalypse.

Yet, with furlough being wound down and big employers beginning to cull jobs (200,000 of them at the last count), it was obvious that the Government would have to do even more.

Hence Mr Sunak’s mini Budget last Wednesday, and a series of further measures designed to prevent unemployment levels not seen since the deindustrialisation of the country under Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s.

While much of the detail in the mini Budget had already been revealed, it did not steal Mr Sunak’s thunder as he confirmed to the House of Commons the launch of a £2bn kickstart scheme for the under 25s.

There was more on the jobs front – a job retention bonus designed to encourage companies to keep furloughed workers rather than make them unemployed.

And lots of financial support for schemes that assist youngsters in finding work – for example, work coaches and the National Careers Service.

Of course, being Mr Sunak, there was more besides.

An immediate stamp duty holiday for buyers of homes priced at below £500,000, grants for people to make their homes more energy efficient, VAT cuts on most tourism and hospitality-related services, and an imaginative ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme.