‘Hardest hit will end up paying for Government’s Covid response’

A quiet Ipswich town centre during the second national lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A quiet Ipswich town centre during the second national lockdown Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

There have been ‘multiple failures’ in the Government’s coronavirus response, writes Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement set out in stark terms the huge damage that Covid-19 has wreaked on the national economy.

Government borrowing will hit £400billion – the largest ever peacetime level. The economy will shrink by 11% - the biggest fall in three centuries. Unemployment is set to double.

While damage to the UK economy was inevitable, the level of it was not.

Multiple failures from the Government in tackling the pandemic – locking down too late, leaving our borders open, botching Test and Trace, an ineffective tiering system – have led to more people dying and worse economic damage than was necessary.

Last week we passed the grim milestone of 60,000 coronavirus deaths – the first country in Europe to do so. Donald Trump’s America, generally regarded as having a disastrous response to the virus, has had fewer people die per 100,000 population than the UK.

The UK economy is now predicted to be the worst affected of all the world’s major economies except for Argentina.

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The scale of Government borrowing is far more than it should be because of poor spending decisions:

• £12.5billion spent panic-buying PPE which would have only cost £2.5billion if the Government had stockpiled it properly before the pandemic.

• £22billion spent on Test and Trace this year for “marginal effect”.

• £26billion losses forecast on Government “bounce-back” business loans due to minimal credit checks and fraudulent applications.

While this level of borrowing wasn’t inevitable, the people Conservative ministers plan on getting to pay for their incompetence pretty much was.

Instead of targeting those who have done well out of the virus such as the businesses who pocketed billions in Government grants while posting record profits, the Government is going after those already hardest hit.

Huge numbers of newly unemployed people will see their benefits cut in April.

Educating our children is supposed to be the Government’s top priority but teachers will see their pay cut in real terms.

Cuts in foreign aid could lead to 100,000 preventable deaths, a moral outrage at any time but also economically and diplomatically illiterate when Brexit means we need to look outwards and win new friends abroad.

So much for “levelling up”.

• David Ellesmere is the Labour leader of Ipswich Borough Council.