Last week saw the start of the re-opening of our town centres.
When I visited Ipswich town centre it was clearly a lot busier than it had been for many weeks. Many stores had queues of people waiting to get in.
Footfall counters show a visitor increase of nearly 50% compared to the week before. 527 people took advantage of free parking in Crown Car Park on the first day.
In these difficult times, local retailers need our support wherever we’re able to give it. I hope we can all play our part by doing more of our shopping locally. Together we can help our town centre recover.
But, as encouraging as moves back to “normality” are, there are increasing signs of the severe and ongoing damage to our economy caused by the virus.
The latest unemployment figures for Ipswich show an 85% increase in people claiming out-of-work benefits over the last two months. More than 6,000 Ipswich people claimed unemployment benefits in May – the highest number since current records began in 1992.
If Ipswich follows predicted national trends this could peak at well over 9,000 people.
To stop this nightmare scenario the Government needs to take urgent action and bring forward a package of measures with a clear focus: jobs, jobs, jobs.
Other countries, like Germany, have already announced comprehensive packages to support their economy, but here we are still faced with the abrupt withdrawal of furloughing and support for self-employed people across all sectors of the economy at the same time.
That can’t be right when businesses like pubs, cafes and restaurants will have to operate at significantly below capacity when they reopen due to social distancing requirements.
Services the council provides too, such as sports centres and swimming pools, will face difficult decisions about how they can operate under these restrictions.
The withdrawal of job support schemes has to be tailored to the needs of specific sectors and areas, rather than be blanket.
The Government was too slow to lockdown and we are now paying the economic price. They should not compound this by being too slow to take the action needed now to save jobs.