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We must invest wisely in areas that truly need it

Anneliese Dodds


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Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Anneliese Dodds MP pictured with (L) Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster and (R) Danny Coyles, Chairman of Hospitality Ulster during a visit to Ballycastle

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Anneliese Dodds MP pictured with (L) Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster and (R) Danny Coyles, Chairman of Hospitality Ulster during a visit to Ballycastle

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Anneliese Dodds MP pictured with (L) Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster and (R) Danny Coyles, Chairman of Hospitality Ulster during a visit to Ballycastle

The Covid-19 pandemic poses exceptional challenges to governments across the world. As well as the immediate public health impacts, there are also the huge economic effects that we will be living with for the foreseeable future.

We are already seeing the impact of this crisis across Northern Ireland. The unemployment rate here has doubled in just two months, and major employers like Bombardier have announced sweeping redundancies.

Unfortunately, the UK government simply is not rising to the level of the challenge. This month the Chancellor started to withdraw the income support schemes he introduced at the start of this crisis - not just for businesses that have reopened but across the entire economy.

And what have we got in its place? A new Jobs Retention Bonus that will hand out billions to companies that freely admit they do not need it but won't be enough for all of those that do.

Labour is not calling for the furlough scheme to be extended forever. Neither, I know, are Northern Irish businesses that are struggling. But there must surely be an acknowledgement that this crisis has not affected every firm in the same way and that some in the worst-hit sectors will need more targeted support for longer.

As I heard first-hand when I met representatives of Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality industry at the Giant's Causeway and Ballycastle yesterday, businesses here do not want a hand-out - but they do need a hand up.

That is why Labour is calling on the UK government to save jobs, lives and livelihoods by investing wisely: in industries that most need support and in public services to protect people.

The government also needs to establish a working test, track and isolate system in England. The fact that there is a functioning app here in Northern Ireland shows that this can be done. The Tories in Westminster must get their own operation up and running as a priority, as well as being clear how it will integrate with the system here in Northern Ireland.

Labour is campaigning to ensure no-one is left behind when local lockdowns are required. We want appropriate support for people living or working in areas where this is necessary, including help for the self-employed and those left out of existing schemes.

We need action to keep workers safe: by protecting workers' rights, boosting sick pay, making workplaces safe and giving our health and care services the resources they need today to prepare for a second wave of coronavirus.

And we need to drive job creation by investing in infrastructure, accelerating progress towards a zero-carbon economy and increasing access to skills and training opportunities.

None of this is impossible. These are simple common sense policies that many other countries across the world have put in place. It's time for the UK government to take stock, start listening, and change course.

Anneliese Dodds is Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

Belfast Telegraph