The big event in Parliament this week was the Chancellor’s ‘mini-Budget’ statement on Wednesday. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to the hype and the measures he announced do not come close to properly addressing the looming economic crisis. Although some of the announcements – for example the Kick Start package, which is modelled on the Welsh Labour Government’s long standing and successful youth unemployment scheme – were welcome, there still seems to be a failure on the part of the Government to grasp the size of the economic catastrophe we face. The voucher scheme is also welcome, but it will only be in effect for 13 days in August. This, again, is not an adequate response to a challenge of this scale. We were promised a new deal but have instead been given a meal deal. Different sectors of the economy have been affected in different ways by the virus, but the Chancellor is still pursuing a ‘one size fits all’ approach which risks further damaging those industries already hardest hit. I fear this lack of timely and proportionate economic intervention will lead to more pain for the people of the UK.
One of the sectors which has been ignored in this announcement was transport, which is already facing the most severe consequences of the pandemic; with aviation facing a 90% fall in demand and car manufacturing down by 99.7% in April. I asked the Chancellor on Wednesday why there was no support for the latter, when other countries, such as France and Germany, are doing so much more to support the transition from diesel and petrol cars to greener methods of transport. Why is the Government not taking the opportunity both to support a struggling sector and invest in decarbonising transport? Transport is the largest contributing sector to UK emissions, so a truly ‘green’ recovery needs to prioritise this. I’ll keep reminding the Government about this important issue.
On Monday, I spoke in Defence Questions, asking the Defence Minister what support the Government is making available for veteran’s mental health services. The lockdown will have been a stressful time for many veterans – some may have to shield away from their family members, and others may be suffering from mental health problems, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and find that lockdown has exacerbated their conditions or made it harder to access the support they need. The Government needs to ensure that proper support is made available to help people through these immensely difficult times. The Minister talked about funding for armed forces charities, but my concern is that they will not always know which veterans need help, and veterans may not always be willing or able to ask for it. We need a more targeted programme of intervention.
A huge number of you have emailed me over the past few weeks with regards to funding for the arts sector, which has been so badly hit by Coronavirus. Like you, I was pleased this week when the Government finally announced a cash injection for the sector, but I do wonder why it took so long to do this. Iconic theatres around the country have already closed their doors, and it’s unclear whether this money can undo the damage already caused. We also need guarantees that this money will be fairly distributed, both geographically and across the sector. Music venues have been under huge financial pressure and need this money just as much as theatres. And this money can’t just go towards saving the big-name theatres and venues, but must also help smaller, grassroots venues – which play an important role in kicking off the careers of artists who go on to become huge stars. Bristol’s arts scene is one of the best in the country, and I’m sure it’ll be a huge relief to patrons of all our venues – from the Hippodrome to the Fleece, from the Old Vic to the Trinity Centre – that these businesses will reopen when it is safe to do so.
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