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Gloucestershire Business News

Ian Mean: Concentrate economic firepower on twin targets

The Government has been urged to concentrate on replacing lost jobs and helping people find work and training as the look to repair an economy ravaged by coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is today scheduled to give details of Project Speed, designed to help major infrastructure projects turned into reality rapidly to stimulate recovery.

And Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to outline a recovery package in the coming days.

But Ian Mean, Gloucestershire director of Business West, warned it would be far more difficult than imposing the coronavirus lockdown.

Here he explains the challenges ahead of both men and how their decisions will affect Gloucestershire:

"In our darkest hours of the Second World War, Churchill's government developed the Beveridge report of 1942 which proposed a social and economic settlement to protect people's lives for decades to come.

"That Beveridge vision provided the framework for our NHS and the welfare state of the future.

"Post COVID-19, we need nothing less for this country and Gloucestershire.

"I hope Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will concentrate their firepower and resources on two vital areas - helping replace lost jobs and assisting our young people into work, apprenticeships and training.

"A jobs tsunami is on the cards as the government's furlough scheme to retain jobs starts coming to an end.

"This is a huge challenge and I believe the Government must find new ways of incentivising employment.

"An obvious and easy way would be to cut employers' National Insurance contributions, making it easier to keep people on the payroll.

"I think Boris Johnson needs to look at a jobs plan for young people that could be based on Gordon Brown's 1997 New Deal to keep university and school leavers in training.

"When Gloucestershire developed its 2050 project, we found to retain our young people in the county we must ensure they were given a stake in Gloucestershire's future.

"When our local enterprise partnership GFirstLEP developed its Local Industrial Strategy, we believed young people were front and centre of our business future.

"That has not changed. It must be key to restarting and building the county's economy.

"Key to that will be the encouragement of more apprenticeships in our growing digital and cyber businesses as well as our traditional advanced engineering companies of which we can be proud.

"Apprenticeships are important, but so is the provision of more government skills and re-training schemes for those forced out of a job by COVID-19.

"So, after Boris Johnson's seemingly off-the-cuff pledge to guarantee apprenticeships, he must do that quickly.

"The main problem here is that most employers—and we have great apprenticeship advocate companies in Gloucestershire - are not in a position to commit to apprenticeships on the scale needed.

"The apprenticeship plan must be to incentivise companies to take on our young people.

"Over the weekend, we heard the Prime Minister is introducing Project Speed to build more homes and develop major infrastructure projects.

"That will obviously help employment, but this will not be a quick fix for the impending jobs crisis - that surely must be the priority.

"Project Speed will need to be backed up by the relaxation of some of our planning laws which beset our local authorities.

"I hope the government's urge to build, build and build will at long last lead to a clear, regional planning policy for Gloucestershire - not the mess we currently have to endure."

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