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"'Lockdown: one year on' Hot takes"

 

Journal column, Jonathan Walker, director of policy, North East England Chamber of Commerce

Unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime, profound, transformational. All words that have been regularly (over?) used to describe the consequences of the pandemic.

They are probably not words that will be used to describe my decision to add to the list of ‘lockdown: one year on’ hot takes.

But with growing optimism for a more normal summer, whatever that means, and a return to growth, it feels right to start the process of exploring what the past 12 months have done to our economy.

Overall, things have clearly improved since the initial shock of lockdown and the closure of swathes of the economy last spring. Businesses have adapted, we’ve all got better at Teams/Zoom etc. and our own surveys show that there are business opportunities out there.

Of course, if you’re in the hospitality, leisure, retail, cultural or travel sectors and are reading this now, you’ll feel very different.

The headlines from surveys such as ours mask the very different trading conditions facing different parts of our economy right now.

We’ve got to be realistic, these sectors have taken a hammering over the past year and will need time and vast amounts of support to recover.

If we look back to the last major economic downturn following the financial crisis, there are clear warning signs about the long-lasting effects of these crises.

Yes, they are different causes and very different situations, but this should serve as a reminder to Government not to be blinded by bumper GDP figures into missing what this has done to people’s lives, livelihoods and career opportunities.

It will be a long time before I stop talking about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on regions such as ours. We must not take it as inevitable that we will be among the last to recover. A goal of ‘levelling up’ should be for us to be one of the first.

There’s been a lot of attention towards parts of our region in recent weeks, with big Government investments and announcements. These are great, very much welcome and things we have long campaigned for.

But they do not get levelling up ‘done’. They must be the start of something bigger; a national economy in which large gaps between regions are not tolerated or even possible.

With confidence rising, I know businesses in our region are desperate to play their part in this. We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but hopefully we can kick it off with a great summer.