A fortnight ago I set out the case for a plan to Save Live and Save Livelihoods. Since then, the case for this plan has only grown stronger and stronger. Covid has now claimed the lives of over 40,000 of our citizens including 5,000 in our region - and over 100 of our key workers.
Every single one a tragedy; a mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son, a grandparent, aunt and uncle lost. Many died alone. Many had no chance to say goodbye. Many could not be there to bury those they lost. Every single one never forgotten.
Most of us do not think this government has not handled the crisis well. We were late into lockdown. We discharged patients without tests into care homes. The prime minister’s chief of staff played fast and loose with the rules - the rules that bound all others.
But regardless of how we see the past, we have to start planning now for the future.
A big earthquake has thousands of aftershocks. Often more lethal than the quake itself. This is the risk we run today.
As we head out of lockdown, we risk running into economic meltdown. Unless we act.
Two weeks ago I warned that we face a jobs catastrophe this year and next - since then the forecasts have only got worse. The new Bank of England figures are, frankly, jaw dropping. The Bank is now forecasting a surge of unemployment up to 7% next year.
The implications for us are shock and awful. We could see unemployment in our region more than double, soaring by 190,000 to over 320,000.
Right now, it looks about 3/4 million workers across our region are on furlough. If just 1/5 are laid off then unemployment is going to rise to this bad case scenario
The highest rate of unemployment we've seen since the recession of the late 1980s.
The impact would be terrible.
For many, the cut to furlough pay was bad enough.On average, workers lose almost one pound in every ten they used to earn. That’s £35 million a week in lost wages.
The cut to Universal Credit is far, far worse. That means an average cut to income of 50% - with a hit to young people, of two-thirds of income.
Last week, the Chancellor wisely extended the furlough scheme til October.
That's a good start. With luck it'll get us through the earthquake.
But it's not going to prepare us for the aftershocks
And 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 stood up in the House of Commons to present the famous 1944 White Paper on full employment, he changed forever the obligations for good government. He said, ‘the main purpose of the white paper, and the motion, is to declare war on unemployment, and to indicate how our resources should be harnessed for that purpose’.
That is what we need today.
Bevin was very clear that was a moral crusade.
Remembering the soldiers he bid farewell as they sailed for the D-Day landings, he told the Commons of one man of the 50th Division who had asked him this:
‘Ernie, when we have done this job for you, are we going back to the dole?”
Both the Prime Minister and I answered, "No, you are not."
“Unemployment”, said Bevin, “was and is a social disease, which must be eradicated from our social life”.
Bevin was right.
And after the incredible sacrifice of these short months, that is exactly the moral imagination we need again today.
Tonight I want to set out the steps we need to take to return to full employment as fast we can. Not by returning to the old economy. But by building back better. Rebuilding our region as the Green Heart of Britain, with a Green New Deal that creates new careers that that pay well - and do good.
Five Steps to A Green New Deal for the Green Heart of Britain
This plan has to start with ambition not modesty. This is no time to be lacklustre.
Our Tory Mayor has set a target for our region to go zero carbon of 2041. I think that is much, much too slow.
We should be aiming to be the first city region to go ‘net zero’ - not one of the last.
And we can do this with a bold, Green New Deal for the Green Heart of Britain.
So, step 1, is a capital kickstart to get our region 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 we’ll need a capital kickstart of £3.5 billion next year alone.
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 and make warm, over 100,000 homes
- And deliver solar energy to over 200,000 homes.
Not only would we make a seismic impact on our carbon footprint, we could cut fuel and energy costs for hundreds of thousands of people, slash fuel poverty and create good work.
This is no more than delivering on the plan the government has promised to ‘level up’ every part of the country.
So this is a test.
If ministers are serious, they should put the plans in place.
The chancellor says he wants to raise capital spending to 3% of GDP - the highest level since the 1970’s.
So, let’s start now. And let’s start here.
Step two, is to then deliver a new right to work.
Here's the task is stark.
We have 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.
In these sectors, we need to maintain furlough support at 60% with no employer contribution for as long as big social distancing needs to last.
But, in return there should be some conditions.
Employers should offer a training or upskilling entitlement linked to the job requirement on return to full-time work.
But we also need to co-fund new jobs in those sectors that will help us accelerate a zero carbon city-region.
Here, we should extend the planned furlough subsidy of 60% for 6 months to any employer (private or public sector) creating a new job, in the green economy.
Employers should make good the difference
Again, there needs to be strings.
Employers would have to
Offer a contract of employment with no zero hours arrangements permitted
Offer a minimum of 12-month guaranteed employment
And commit to a training/upskilling entitlement for the employee on an approved training programme with at least 20% off-the job-training weekly
Step Three is to deliver a new right to train - and retrain.
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 we need a new right to train to help workers upskill to lift themselves out of harm’s way.
There’s a few ways to do this.
We need to create an apprenticeship guarantee - because right now, over 40% of employers are not confident about the future of their apprentice programmes.
Even Tories like Robert Halfon are calling for a guaranteed apprenticeship for everyone aged 16 to 25, as long as they have the entry qualifications
So we should include a 6-month wage subsidy paid to employers for all new apprentices in taking an accredited/approved apprenticeship programme with a minimum of 12-month guarantee of employment
We need to give Part Time Workers a right to retrain, waiving the employer contribution to the current furlough scheme for the upskilling of part-time eligible employees - as long as the employee joined an accredited/approved retraining programme in the non-working periods.
And crucially, the unemployed need a right to retrain too - so that we are never scarred again by the scandal of long term unemployment.
That should mean funding participation in an approved retraining programme leading to a recognised standard and for maximum of 30 weeks
Crucially, we need to relax the Jobcentre Plus/JSA restrictions like the16-hour rule, so unemployed people can upskill for a new future.
Now delivering these ideas is possible. But we can’t rely on JobCentres that have been slashed so hard, we now have the smallest our public employment service has ever been.
So, step four is to create new Careers Centres to bring together the DWP, the Dept for Education, the councils, our colleges and the NHS to create proper one stop shops that undertake proper assessments of what people want and need to follow their dreams.
And this needs to be overseen by a regional recovery boards to help drive this through.
Our Tory Mayor has a committee - but he’s forgotten to ask the Department for Work and Pensions to join. That's a schoolboy error. I ask you: how are we going to get people back into jobs if the job centres aren't on your team?
Now these five ideas aren’t free.
But a lot of the money is in the system. The problem is that it's scattered across five different funds and three different government departments.
So, Step five is to bring these funds together into a new Just Jobs Fund and hand it to the region to deliver.
In it should go, the ‘shared prosperity fund’ which ministers have promised should replace the European Union structural funding worth about £2.1 billion per year.
Then, we have the National Retraining Scheme - backed by £100 million of Government investment and held by the Department for Education.
Then we have the National Skills Fund - supposed to top £3 billion - or £600 million a year, it was supposed to deliver the ‘first step’ towards a ‘right to retraining’.
Then we have the apprenticeship starts have dropped by half - so this budget needs to be re-cycled.
And finally, we have the Adult Education Budget - over £100 million - which is already held by the Mayor.
What we now need to do is to end the chaos, put these funds together, and hand over our share here in the West Midlands to us, so we can do the business.
We have to stand up to London and insist the funds come to our region in a new Just Jobs Fund so we can put the money to work.
Our region has been a region of revolutionaries.
We made history by inventing the future.
We were the place where the carbon revolution started. We should now be the place where we lead the zero-carbon revolution.
And we can do it, if we get in place a plan to build back better.
So: if we want to both save lives - and save livelihoods - there are clear steps we can take.
And I hope our Mayor will join me, in making the case to minister, for what we need - NOW.