Last month, the shocking impact of COVID19 on our economy was laid bare, with statistics showing the UK’s GDP fell 20.4% in April – the largest monthly fall on record. This unsurprisingly coincided with a significant rise in people in South Shropshire claiming benefits to get by.
Every job lost is a tragedy, which is why it has been so critical for the government to put in place one of the most comprehensive packages of economic support anywhere in the world. In South Shropshire, figures up to the end of May show 9,500 jobs have been secured through the furlough scheme, and a further 4,400 people claimed for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. This equates to over £12m of support for jobs here in South Shropshire alone.
On top of this, across the county, over £71m has been paid out to local businesses through the grant funding schemes, with further discretionary funding being allocated to some of those businesses that have fallen through the cracks.
So there has been significant intervention from the government so far, which has been crucial to sustaining jobs here in Shropshire. But the Chancellor will soon be outlining what further measures he will take to help the economy to bounce back from the effects of this wretched pandemic.
In anticipation, last month I joined colleagues from the Conservative Environment Network parliamentary caucus to write to the Prime Minister in support of a green economic recovery from COVID19, ahead of a further announcement expected from the Chancellor of the Exchequer this month. Our letter urged the Government to back the British green industries of the future and low-carbon infrastructure projects, such as electric vehicle manufacturing, renewable energy projects, and home energy efficiency retrofits, to bring jobs to all corners of the country while also putting the UK on track to meeting its world-leading net zero emissions target.
This in part reflects the work being undertaken by the Environmental Audit Committee, which I continue to Chair virtually while shielding. The Committee has recently taken evidence on the ability for the UK to raise its ambition for offshore wind even further - we already have the largest offshore wind sector in the world, and our geography and technical know-how puts us in a prime position to bring prosperity and jobs to areas across the country. We have also been pressing the government to make good its manifesto commitment to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes, which will be critical in meeting net zero by 2050, and could deliver many jobs at the same time.
The UK has had the fastest per capita falls in greenhouse gas emissions and the fastest per capita economic growth rate in the G7 since 1990, so we know that we do not have to choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment. The evidence from the last economic crisis shows green investments returned the most economic benefits. As we rebuild from this crisis, we should build back better, in a way that boosts our economy whilst delivering our commitment to leave our environment in a better state for future generations.