Hitchin and Harpenden MP hopes to ‘unlock Britain’ with new post-COVID report
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
A new report offering solutions to economic recovery after the shock caused by COVID-19 has been unveiled by Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami.
The report, entitled “Unlocking Britain: Recovery and renewal after Covid 19”, provides a swathe of recommendations to help businesses recover from the coronavirus shutdown and tackle areas of historic weakness to build a more resilient economy in the long run.
These include creating a recovery fund to provide capital to small and medium enterprises, removing a tier of local government and introducing a ranking system for local authorities, streamlining planning for infrastructure to make it faster, cheaper and easier to build, establishing manufacturing opportunity hubs, writing off student debt on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees, and ordering private schools and universities to provide their digital courses free of charge to state schools.
The recovery programme is based on three principles: the economic divide is not between state or private sector; it is between the institutions with purpose which support people, and the institutions which leave people behind; power needs to be returned to the people, away from the distant and unaccountable; and freedom is hollow without giving people the means to benefit from it.
Bim explained his reasons for compiling the report at this time: “After the COVID-19 pandemic, Britain’s economy will need to recover and rebuild. As we move out of the initial phase of the public health crisis and begin reopening our economy, it is important that we drive not only recovery but also transformative growth and address some of our areas of historic weakness.
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“There is appetite in government for fresh thinking on how we do this and I hope that my report, compiled in consultation with leading business people and economists, can play a part in those discussions.”
He stressed that the strategy would not result in the expansion of Luton Airport or massive housing developments across the Green Belt.
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“The proposals made around large infrastructure are designed to streamline the existing Development Consent Order process and enable a wider range of necessary infrastructure to be approved quickly. While a shorter timeframe for consultation is proposed, this doesn’t mean that inappropriate developments like Luton Airport expansion would be any more likely to be approved than they are under the present system.
“As for massive housing developments, the Development Consent Order regime to which they would now be able to apply still takes into account the National Planning Policy Framework and protections for the Green Belt. Those rules have not changed.
“To be abundantly clear: what is proposed is not giving developers carte blanche to do as they please, but is simply a way of simplifying the process so that it is more rules based, less capricious, so that appropriate and necessary infrastructure and affordable housing is more likely to be delivered in a reasonable timeframe.”
He explained why the report is only offering support to selected students: “One of the barriers to growth in the pre-COVID economy was a lack of high quality STEM graduates and apprentices willing to work in STEM after graduation.
“By providing powerful incentives for high quality STEM students to go into relevant professions after graduation we will enable these growth industries to have the right people to power Britain’s recovery and rebuild Britain’s economy as a dynamic and innovative one.”
He is hopeful that his policies will be adopted by the government: “I have had positive conversations regarding my report with ministers and special advisers from across relevant government departments and No 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister confirmed to me that he and the Chancellor are considering my ideas in their current thinking.
“There is a real appetite from this government for new and innovative thinking to help tackle what will be our biggest economic challenge in a century and I look forward to continuing to work with business leaders, economists and ministers to make this a reality.”
The report was compiled after consultation with the Unlock Britain Commission, a group of influential thinkers and practitioners from across the UK economy led by Mr Afolami. It can be found online at www.unlockbritain.com.