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Tue, 11 August 2020

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After coronavirus, we need a Green New Deal to deliver full employment fast

After coronavirus, we need a Green New Deal to deliver full employment fast

If we invested in retrofitting cold homes, building new homes, and rolling out solar energy, we could create nearly 100,000 new jobs and build over 10,000 new homes and retrofit over 100,000 homes and deliver solar energy to over 200,000 homes, says Liam Byrne MP | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Instead of restoring the economy of old, we need to replace it with something better. Here are five big steps for a just, clean, green future.

As seismologists know, earthquakes have aftershocks, often more dangerous than the quake itself.

The aftershocks of Covid-19 might destroy family livelihoods for a generation, unless we rapidly table a big, bold, green plan to deliver full employment fast.   

Three weeks ago the Bank of England dropped a bombshell with a forecast storm-surge in unemployment. The dismal prophesy would entail in the West Midlands, unemployment more than doubling to levels we last saw in the late 80’s. 

The Chancellor’s furlough plan, with luck, might get us through the seism. But it won't prepare us for the aftershocks.

Here the lesson of history is to be bold.

We didn't wait until the end of World War II before we started planning to win the peace. We started planning long before the war had ended, and we planned for full employment.

When Ernie Bevin tendered the famous 1944 White Paper on full employment to the Commons, he declared a moral crusade. ‘The main purpose of the white paper’ he said ‘is to declare war on unemployment’.

The Chancellor’s furlough plan, with luck, might get us through the seism. But it won't prepare us for the aftershocks.

After the sacrifice of these long months, this is the moral imagination we need again today. A clear plan to return to full employment as fast we can. Not by restoring to the old economy. But by building back better with five big steps for a just, clean, green future.  

Step 1, is a capital kickstart to get people back to work. The Chancellor may cut National Insurance to encourage employers to create new jobs. That’s a good idea.

But we have to ask: are they the jobs we need?  If unemployment rises to 320,000 in our region, we’ll need a capital kickstart of at least £3.5 billion next year alone.

But, if we spent that investment on retrofitting cold homes, building new homes, and rolling out solar energy, we could create nearly 100,000 new jobs and build over 10,000 new homes and retrofit over 100,000 homes and deliver solar energy to over 200,000 homes. That would cut a lot of carbon. 

Step two, is to buttress this with a new right to work. Here's the task is stark; to save the good jobs we have and fund the new jobs we need. In large parts of the economy - like hospitality, tourism, leisure, and culture - holding up the social distancing means holding back the business.

So we should offer furlough payments in return for employers upskilling workers. And co-fund new jobs for 12 months in green sectors - as long as firms deliver significant training. 

It is now clear that this contagion hits low paid, insecure jobs the hardest. In fact, half of all jobs currently at risk pay less than £10 per hour. So Step Three is to deliver a new right to train - and retrain. That might include an apprenticeship guarantee plus training guarantees for part-time workers and the long-term unemployed.   

Delivering these ideas is possible. But JobCentres, slashed to the smallest size our public employment service has ever been, will struggle.

So, Step Four is to create new Careers Centres to bring together the DWP, the Dept for Education, councils, our colleges and the NHS to create one stop shops that offer proper assessments of what people want and need to follow their dreams. 

These ideas aren’t free. But there’s already a lot of the money in the system. It's just scattered across five different funds and three different departments.

So, Step Five is to bring these funds together into a new Just Jobs Fund which Westminster hands over to city-regions to deliver.  In it should go the new ‘shared prosperity fund’, the National Retraining Scheme, the National Skills Fund, the massive underspend on the apprenticeship funds - and the Adult Education Budget.  

Our region has always been a region of revolutionaries. We made history by inventing the future. We were the place where the carbon revolution started.

Now, we want to the heart of the zero-carbon revolution.

But that will take a Green New Deal to rebuild the green heart of Britain. And now’s the time to put it on the table. 

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and shadow mayor of the West Midlands.

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