Liam Byrne MP - Shadow Mayor of the West Midlands
Liam Byrne MP - Shadow Mayor of the West Midlands

Today, Liam Byrne outlined his vision for the future of the West Midlands, with a focus on saving lives and saving livelihoods throughout the Coronavirus crisis.

Liam, who is Labour’s candidate for Mayor of the West Midlands, spoke of the need for “a plan that is big, bold and green” as we look to recover from the fallout associated with Covid-19.

Jack Dromey MP said:

“Liam Byrne has set out a bold and ambitious vision for the future of the West Midlands as we look towards how we recover from this devastating economic shock to our region.

“It is widely acknowledged that the West Midlands will be one of the hardest hit in the UK, with forecasts of a 10% hit to the economy this year and 11% next year. This could see unemployment in our region rise to anywhere between 50,000 and 150,000 people.

“To combat this unprecedented challenge, we need unprecedented action and strong leadership. That is why I’m backing Liam’s proposals for a post-Coronavirus kick-start plan of up to £2.9 billion for the region. We must ensure that the ‘Great Lockdown’ does not become the ‘Great Downturn’ and make every effort to protect both lives and livelihoods across the West Midlands.

“This sort of leadership is why Liam is exactly the Mayor the West Midlands needs to help us recover from this devastating virus.”

You can watch the full speech here:

Stopping the Lockdown becoming a Downturn

Saving Lives & Saving Livelihoods: A Plan for the Green Heart of Britain Tonight I want to share some thoughts with you about the future. Over the last few weeks, as a country and the magnificent seven boroughs of the West Midlands we’ve risen to every challenge this terrible pandemic has thrown at us. We may be isolating ourselves – but we’ve come together like never before. Neighbours mucking in to do each others shopping. Foodbanks, baby banks, volunteers packing bags and boxes for people in need and hospital heroes coming off shift. Our public services coming together like never before to do incredible things like build the Nightingale Hospital. But now we’ve got one more challenge to face. It’s the challenge of the future. The challenge not just to save lives – but to save livelihoods. The challenge of making sure the Great Lockdown doesn’t now become the Greatest DownturnThe truth is this government was slow and late to plan for Covid We cannot afford a government that is slow and late to plan for the life Post-Covid. This crisis has brought out the absolute best of humanity. Everyone has out their lives on hold for the greater good. The scale of that sacrifice is immenseNearly 28,000 people have lost their lives. Our key workers everywhere have worked with courage and skill – and more than 100 working for the NHS have lost their lives. Lives losts so that we are safe. Workers everywhere have taken pay cuts. Families across the country are now forecast to have some £20 billion less in their pockets this year because of the hit to wages.We have to make sure that this sacrifice was not in vain It is now possible that Peak Covid is behind us. That means leaders have some big calls to make. So let’s be clear about the stakes. The judgements made now will shape politics for the next decade. Move too quick and a double peak of infection will bring a double-dip recession. Move too slow and we’ll end up in a hole so deep it’ll take years to get back on our feet. Every day of lock down costs our economy some £2 billion in lost output. So: today I’m calling on leaders across the region to focus on a plan not just to save lives, but save livelihoods – and share the sacrifice. That means a clear plan to step-up the relief, source and share a remedy and secure a huge recovery – that is genuinely shared by all, not just those at the top. To deliver relief we urgently need the government to get a grip of the basics; there is simply no excuse for the frontline crises we see in PPE supplies, testing and track and trace. Anyone who watched last week’s BBC’s Panorama programme will have been horrified about frankly, a government that has not got a grip. Second: to deliver remedies we need our government to start twisting arms for a big global fund for vaccine development, And then to insist that vaccine is available as a right to all and not a privilege for some.But third, we need the government to dramatically step up the pace developing plans for the recovery. We are, as it is now widely understood in the grip of the biggest economic shock since the great depression. The IMF says that the world economy – where we sell our goods – is likely to shrink by over 2020 and 2021 by £7 trillion – that is bigger than the whole of the Japanese and German economies put together. Experts believe the world economy could take as long as five years to recover to their pre-outbreak level. Now, support has gone in. Around the world, some £6 trillion has been pumped in by governments. Comparatively, our UK response has much smaller than Germany, or Italy or Japan. About three-quarters of the UK plan is focused on subsisiding cheap bank loans and tax holidays.Now, our mayor may think the bankers should be given a medal. Well, in fact the loan scheme is not being used much. Employers are saying the Job Retention Scheme is simply not flexible enough. Income protection is actually modest in itself and modest compared to other countries around the world. SO: the crucial point is this: we need to prepare NOW, a huge stimulus to demand to make sure that our economy flies – not limps out – of the Lockdown. It’s not good enough to re-open and go back to the past. We need to re-open and set course for something new. And that’s why we need a plan that is big, bold and green. I’ve looked at how long it took countries to recover from Spanish Flu, SARS, and Ebola. It can take anywhere between three years and a decade to recover. Right now, it’s not clear how many businesses will take up cheap debt or opt instead to shrink their workforce. That’s on top of a unique challenge for the self-employed where we in the UK are uniquely exposed because 5 million people are self-employed. So I don’t want to sugar coat this. I don’t want to hide from you the facts.I think that you deserve to know the truth. There is a risk that our region will be hit hardest of all.Both KPMG and Oxford Economics are forecasting that we will take the biggest punch in Britain – with a 10% hit to the economy this year – and 11% next year. That means unemployment in our region could rise to anywhere between 50,000 and 150,000 people.I say this now, because I want us to prepare for it now. So before there is any talk of withdrawing the Job Retention Scheme, or the help for the self-employed, we need to see the plan to turn on the taps of government investment so that we can all be confident that work will be there in the months to come. Right now, people are anxious. 85% of us feel that the economy is going to get a little or a lot worse over the next 12 months. Almost half of people think that their household financial position is going to get worse over the next 12 months. If we don’t sort out a bold plan now, then we risk a crisis of confidence paralysing our economy for years to come. I think that means four big moves. First London needs to hand mayors and city leaders everywhere, the power to organise the recoveryGlobally, the world cities account for 80% of our economy. City leaders are uniquely placed to push through the demand side shifts now needed. The re-shaping of the post-Covid world cannot be left up to national governments alone. National governments working alone don’t have the tools to meet the challenges we face today.Second, we need an investment surge to get our economy back on its feet – and put us on a new path. Based on the conversations I’ve had with economists this week, I think we need to be asking for between £1.5 billion and £2.5 billion in emergency capital investment next year. Crucially, we need to use this investment – not to restore the past – but to finance a plan that is big, bold and green. We need to use it our region on a path to zero carbon, in a way that creates jobs for working people. That means jobs fitting cheap solar panels to help families bring down energy bills It means a huge boost in green home-building – and looking at converting offices which may not be needed to beautiful new homes. It means a big new investment in metro-lines and electric buses. And it means speeding up HS2, which could be the single biggest construction project in the region. Now, as part of this plan we need to make sure that some of the new schemes rushed into place, aren’t temporary but become permanent new rights. All over the world, this crisis has revealed how big the holes have become in the social safety net after 10 years of austerity. So this is now a moment to renew the call made in 1944 by Franklin Roosevelt for a new Bill of Rights to deliver the freedom from fear and want. It was something Churchill signed up too in the Atlantic Charter – and Clement Attlee drove into place when we created social security in the 1945. Today, what we need to enshrine is the right to work. Because if we do not crystallise the emergency wage subsidies into job guarantees for those who ask nothing more than an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, then it will prove impossible to restore consumer demand – and get the flywheel of our economy moving again. I want everyone who loses their job to be offered a job guarantee to help keep them in work and spare them and their family unemployment which may last for years. Today the TUC has set out exactly how the scheme would work. We need to push the button and make it happen and ask Government today for a budget of £150 million to deliver to those we fear will lose work in our region. Finally, we need to guarantee that as we move into the years ahead the sacrifice of these years is genuinely shared. The truth is that public debt is going to rise. It could go as high as £2.2 trillion pounds next year. In the short term that is the right thing to do – but in the long term that has to be paid down. But what we cannot have, is a repeat of the last decade when the cost of bailing out the banks was born by the poorest in society because George Osborne and David Cameron ripped up the plans I left them, and decided that 90% of the fiscal consolidation came from cuts to spending instead of tax rises on those that could afford it. This time round we will need to make sure that the wealthiest pay their fair share, as we shift the burden of taxes on unearned wealth, poisonous air, and planet-warming carbon. I’ve been in politics for 15 years now. I was elected in the middle of a war I didn’t vote for and since then, we’ve barely seen a peace. War followed by financial crisis and now pandemic. It’s often said we live in a era of change. But this does really feel like a change of era. So, we have a responsibility to learn from the past and plan for the future. And we’ve not got a minute to wasteSo: let’s start now.

Posted by Liam Byrne on Monday, May 4, 2020

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