The South West needs urgent action to rebuild a better and fairer recovery. It will require national, regional and local level intervention not seen since the end of the Second World War.
The lockdown of the economy has already caused a sharp rise in numbers claiming workrelated benefits, including unemployment benefit. While the official unemployment rates for the UK and indeed the South West have barely moved since restrictions were enforced, almost a quarter of all workers in the South West have been furloughed. These jobs will become vulnerable as the Job Retention Scheme ends in October. And as other temporary support measures are also wound down, a major economic stimulus for the region will be needed if we are to avoid mass unemployment and a deep decline in the South West economy.
It is important to recognise that the coronavirus pandemic alone did not cause the looming economic crisis. Following a decade of persistent dis-investment in regions, cuts to essential public services and communities held back from realising their potential, the route to recovery for the South West will undoubtedly be tough. This is in addition to the pressures businesses and working people will face as national government continues to seek postBrexit trade deals in a considerably shorter time frame than anticipated.
Choosing the wrong approach to recovery creates a very real risk of a deeper recession with higher levels of job losses and long-term unemployment for the next generation.
An effective route to recovery should at its very core aim to support more and better employment and job opportunities that are accessible, sustainable and fair. Regions and local leaders should be able to take the lead to create the jobs needed to build a better future for their communities, with investment and greater policy-making powers available to ensure no community is left behind.
The scale of action needed is also an opportunity to address long-running problems in the British economy, including the long-term decline of our industrial base, which has contributed to regional inequalities and the growth of insecure and low-paid jobs, while stepping up action to decarbonise our economy and better preparing our public services to deal with future challenges.
The TUC has set out the measures needed to rebuild our economy:
In order to build back better, we need to see regional recovery panels, mirroring the National Recovery Council for the UK, that involves unions, employers, Jobcentre Plus, relevant civic partners and local and regional governments, to feed into the planning and delivery of recovery strategies at local and combined authority level.
These regional and devolved structures are essential because there are wide variations across the country in terms of both the nature and scale of the challenges faced and the institutional arrangements and capacities for addressing these challenges. In these circumstances, a one size fits all solution simply does not work. Instead, we need to turn headline objectives into tailored strategies for each region, led by the very people who understand the region.
Furthermore, we know different parts of the country will be hit in different ways. The UK economy is already highly regionally imbalanced and the uneven impact of lockdown on different sectors, combined with their uneven spread across the English regions, means there is a danger of compounding regional inequalities. 8 per cent of the South West’s employment is found in ‘at risk’ occupations – rising to nearly one quarter (23 per cent) for workers aged 25 and under.
We hope the government takes real action to tackle these issues in the chancellor’s summer fiscal event, but there is already much that the South West can do within existing structures.
As well as calling on the chancellor to provide support for the South West as part of a national recovery plan, this report sets out a South West regional recovery plan that the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), South West Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), and local authority leaders in collaboration with trade unions, businesses and civic society, can start putting into action right away.
Download full report (pdf)
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