This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald editions and Petersfield Post:
"We all know the cost of the pandemic has been enormous. First, the huge cost in human life and the effect on lives. But also a huge financial cost. Some sectors – like hospitality, travel and events – have had a truly terrible time. The effect on the public finances has been without precedent.
But there is also now some good news. Much of the extra public borrowing was to fund support for businesses and jobs. Combined with those businesses’ determination and adaptability, that has greatly softened what could have been economically far, far worse.
Clearly, while health risks remain, economic risks remain. And while there are still many people on furlough, that does obscure the full underlying picture. But there are good reasons for some cautious optimism.
Peak unemployment is now forecast to be two million people fewer than was expected at the height of the first lockdown. The rate here is also now lower than other major economies, including the US, Canada, France, Italy, Spain and Australia.
Here in East Hampshire, the claimant rate is 3.1 per cent, significantly below the UK rate of 5.6 per cent, and has seen a fall since May.
Overall, vacancies are up. That is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it means more opportunities. On the other hand, especially in areas like ours, it can also signify that firms are finding it hard to find the skilled workers they need.
People are coming off furlough, declining from a peak of 11 million last year, to around two million at the end of June, but helping people back into work, with the right skills, is key, with programmes like Restart for the longer-term unemployed, alongside the work of Work Coaches in Job Centres.
A group that have been especially hard hit in the pandemic are young people, as career-starts have been badly disrupted. The £2 billion Kickstart Scheme is funding the creation of up to 250,000 jobs for 16 to 24 year olds. More than 40,000 have already started a Kickstart job, and I know a number of local employers are getting involved.
The expanded Apprenticeship scheme offers businesses £3,000 when they take on an apprentice of any age, with significant additional funding support for training costs. So far, more than 70,000 apprentices have been newly hired under the scheme.
The number of Traineeships for 16 to 24 year olds has been tripled, offering up to 50,000 young people work experience placements, training and work preparation over a 20 week period.
For those a little older, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee enables adults without a ‘Level 3’ (that’s A Level or equivalent) qualification to access free courses. ‘Skills bootcamps’ offer short, flexible training to upskill and retrain in digital, construction and technical skills.
We cannot take things for granted, and it’s important to maintain the momentum behind these programmes. There do remain risks in the recovery and the wider world economy. And what we have borrowed will need to be repaid.
But there is more reason now to look to the future with confidence. We have great businesses and lead in key sectors like pharmaceuticals and the creative industries. Already, the jobs market has been more resilient than many feared. Economically, things are looking better than they did."