Labour demands ministers use 'Get Ready for Brexit' ad campaign money for coronavirus media blitz
The 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign ran until October last year.
The Government should use money set aside for its shelved 'Get Ready for Brexit' ad campaign to launch a media blitz aimed at stopping coronavirus panic-buying, according to Labour.
The opposition party pointed out that £46m of public money had been spent last year telling Brits to prepare for the UK leaving the European Union without a deal - with £2m already pledged to buying up ad space beyond the end of October 2019.
The campaign was canned after Boris Johnson extended the UK's Brexit deadline to January, and the National Audit Office spending watchdog said earlier this year: "The Cabinet Office has informed us that this media space can be used by it or other government departments by the end of 2020."
Labour said Britain was now facing "increasing confusion and panic-buying" as a result of the spread of the coronavirus, and blamed a "lack of clear communication by the government".
The party has demanded a "large scale public advertising campaign" from ministers to "amplify public health advice, provide clearer guidance on social distancing, tackle misinformation and provide assurances to people about vital issues like food security".
The are also urging the Government to set out guidance to all major supermarkets on opening hours, ration of key products and plans to redeploy workers to support the food supply chain if needed.
Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard said: "Everyone needs to be confident during a crisis like this that they can get enough food for themselves and their family. It’s much harder to make responsible decisions about food and other essential supplies when you don’t know what products your local shop might be running low on, or even rationing."
And he added: "Too often, the government seems on the back foot when it comes to responding to this crisis. Its communication is unclear and it is leaving it to others, such as supermarkets, football clubs and postal workers, to take the steps needed to protect public health themselves.
"Boris Johnson needs to show leadership on this issue and set out clearly, both to suppliers and the public, how action can be coordinated to ensure everybody has access to the food they need.
"We need plans that will be suitable for next week, not last week. We need the government to be one step ahead, not one step behind, in this crisis."
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who unveiled an unprecedented government wage guarantee on Friday in a bid to shore up economic confidence, said: "We are launching in the coming days a major national advertising campaign to communicate the available business support for businesses and people."
The call came as supermarket giant Sainsbury's announced that it was cutting its opening hours from next week in a bid to "focus our store colleagues' time on keeping shelves stocked and serving our customers well".
Sunday opening hours and the hours for smaller local stores will stay the same, while the retailer will also be setting aside reserved shopping hours for elderly and vulnerable customs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.