Since my last column, the country has begun to come out of the Coronavirus lockdown. Last Saturday saw pubs, cafes and restaurants reopen; a symbolic step forwards, but not the end. Indeed, there was never going to be a single dramatic moment in which our lives go back to normal. The reopening process will be careful and gradual, and the rebuilding phase could take years.
In cities like ours, on the up prior to the crisis, our recovery must see us intensify that improvement. For whist industries and employment opportunities were improving, we still lag behind other regions, after decades of neglect and we need to ensure that the rebuilding process does not leave us behind again.
Our children cannot afford to be a lost generation, and therefore our local economy must recover quickly. This recovery must bring about a step change in our fortunes and truly level-up our country, so that people living in Stoke-on-Trent can enjoy the same opportunities and prosperity seen elsewhere.
We saw promising signs of this at the Chancellor’s statement last week. The centrepiece of the measures announced is a ‘kickstart’ scheme, where companies will be given cash bonuses for creating full-time jobs for 16-24 year olds. Helping champion the great aspiring talent of our city upon which our recovery and future prosperity will depend. The more we can help employers to take people on get people into the jobs market, the quicker they can build their skills and experience, and start to compete for higher-paying jobs.
Other measures included a £2,000 bonus per apprentice hired until January, a bonus for many of our manufacturers, and a reduction in VAT for restaurants, bars and hotels, from 20% to 5%. Stamp Duty will not be charged on properties up to £500,000, up from £125,000 – this means almost all families and workers buying a house in our city will pay nothing, saving them up to £15,000 per move. Finally, to get our high streets up and running even quicker, the Government will pay for 50% of meals at restaurants on certain days of the week.
As far as these measures could go across the whole of the UK, I think these are ideal for Stoke-on-Trent. Naturally, however, more specific support for the type of high-end manufacturing, which is the core of our local economy, is required too. Especially those so intrinsically to reduced demand in retail and hospitality. This is something this week I have called on the Government to give greater consideration to.
From today beauty salons, nail bars and tattoo studios will start to be allowed to reopen for some services. I know this newspaper is encouraging people to ‘buy local’, to help our high streets. I could not be more supportive of this, we should be all supporting our local retailers, traders and restaurateurs who are now starting to open up again.
I believe we can go even further to support our homegrown local industries too. Government departments and public bodies, like our NHS, buy many ceramics products each year, from tableware to synthetic replacement joints for use in knee replacements. Why shouldn’t all of these be made in Stoke-on-Trent?
It is our Government and our money which pays to run these institutions, so it is only right that our manufacturers benefit from the goods which they use. To that end, I have launched a campaign to encourage Government and British businesses to ‘Buy British’ and ‘Buy Stoke-on-Trent’. I held a round-table with pottery bosses last week, and I am preparing a report based on their views to take to the highest level of Government to present our case.
From I have also seen people encouraging us to take a ‘Stokecation’. What a marvellous idea; our summers might have been disrupted, but we can still take a break, and why not help to get Stoke-on-Trent back on track at the same time?
We can have a bright future ahead. Until Coronavirus our economy was extremely healthy and strong. We cannot allow this one shock event to wreak permanent long-lasting damage. We must all now play our part in getting Britain and Stoke-on-Trent back onto the path to success.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, 13th July 2020.