Government’s short-term thinking on Covid at expense of other issues will let Yorkshire down - Andrew Vine

A YORKSHIRE care home owner I know took a cynical view of the Government’s regard for the army of people who look after our frail and elderly when we talked last week.

not planning ahead: Andrew Vine is concerned about Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s long-term strategy. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA wire

“They’re thinking about us now,” he said. “But it won’t last. Once this is all over, we’ll be forgotten about again.”

He’s not the only one who thinks that. A fellow owner I’ve spoken to recently agrees – that when the pandemic is finally under control, perhaps when a vaccine is available, the crisis in care will slip back down the political agenda.

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Both are shrewd people, and aren’t convinced by repeated promises by the Prime Minister to fix social care.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves No 11 Downing Street for the House of Commons to give MPs details of his Winter Economy Plan. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

It’s been impossible to ignore while care homes and their staff have been on the front line of trying to keep some of society’s most vulnerable people safe.

Ministers joining the clapping for carers was a welcome gesture, but it doesn’t do a thing to address the costs strangling councils, or the low wages in homes and problems recruiting staff.

There is still no sign of the long-promised green paper on overhauling the system, and the entire issue has been kicked down the road into next year by the Government. Little wonder the owners I know take a jaded view of promises to sort the problems out. They’ve heard it all before.

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But it isn’t only social care that is being left in limbo. A whole range of issues of vital importance to our region are effectively on hold because of the pandemic, when in fact they should be treated as matters of urgency as part of a national effort of economic recovery.

Devolution, new investment in education and training, the transformation of creaking road and rail links and work to prevent flooding have all been shoved aside.

The plight of town and city centres, already struggling in the face of an online onslaught before Covid emptied shops will also have to be addressed.

There will be no Budget this year, nor a spending review that Yorkshire and the rest of the North hoped and expected would start the process of ending the injustice in funding that has held the region back for so long.

Yes, there’s a national emergency under way and nobody can argue with the pressing need to prioritise keeping companies in business and people in jobs.

But it surely shouldn’t be beyond the ability of the Government to maintain a focus on long-term issues as well, especially when the benefits they deliver give businesses a better chance of riding out whatever problems lie ahead.

Allowing Covid to blot out every other issue lets our region down and potentially deepens the injustices we continue to suffer. Short-term measures to support jobs could prove futile unless there are plans in place to create an environment where employment grows in the years ahead.

There’s no knowing how long the emergency will continue, or how many more shocks the economy will suffer if further lockdowns are imposed.

Boris Johnson speaks of six months of restrictions, but there is no certainty of them being lifted in spring next year.

That makes it imperative the Government has a renewed focus on giving the North the powers and investment it needs to not only recover, but build greater strength for the future.

Only by doing so and ensuring the region’s economy is firing on all cylinders can the massive borrowing to provide emergency help be paid off.

Yorkshire’s ability to chart its own course is central to that. We know best how to grow the economy, and that’s going to be vital not just for this region but for the sake of the whole country.

The same applies to education. Academic success, skills and training are central to recovering from the pandemic. So are railways and roads that serve those who use them, rather than causing delays and frustration.

Nor must Yorkshire suffer constant setbacks – and heartbreak – as a result of flooding.

A year on from the devastating floods in South Yorkshire, there is still no sign of the summit that the Prime Minister promised and a lack of a comprehensive strategy to prevent future devastation.

Along with finally getting to grips with the costs of providing social care, these aren’t matters that can be shunted aside whilst the country deals with a crisis.

Nor can they be put on hold indefinitely because so much has been spent on coping with Covid that the Government decides to pause strategic investment.

On the contrary, they are issues that will be key elements of Yorkshire’s recovery.

It would be tragic if jobs are saved by emergency measures only then to be lost because the plug was pulled on long-term investment.

Failing to invest in the North’s future will make the economic damage wrought by coronavirus even worse. That can’t be allowed to happen.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson