Let’s clap for business and help UK workers win Covid war – Sir Andrew Cook
This time, the enemy is invisible and potentially fatal. We have few weapons to defeat it, and little money.
In 1939, Britain was put on a war footing.
Frivolous activities, such as horse racing, were curtailed. Hospitals were made ready for the many expected civilian casualties from the bombing of cities.
The fire brigade was reinforced. Volunteer forces were recruited. Men of military age were conscripted into the Armed Forces; that is men who were not in ‘‘reserved occupations’’ making the myriad machines, weapons and equipment required to fight the war, or growing the crops to feed the nation and mining the coal to fuel it.
Without these ‘‘reserved occupations’’, it would not have been possible to fight the war, let alone win it.
In this war of 2020 – this ‘‘Covid war’’, I shall call it – there is one big difference. We do not need military equipment, but there is one big thing we do need, and it’s called wealth.
Governments do not create wealth. The Chancellor’s promise of £350bn has to come from somewhere.
Yes, he can borrow it, if he can find someone to lend it to him. Yes, he can print it, but printing money is a fast track to economic catastrophe.
The only safe way for a government to create sound money is by encouraging private businesses to work profitably, and to tax them.
Neither the media, nor the public sector, nor indeed it seems the government itself, seem to understand this properly.
They should all be encouraging people to safely go to work, not hindering them.
There is a perception that most people can ‘‘work from home’’. Maybe true, if you are a clerk, media type or software geek.
I am bound to question whether the lack of discipline, peer interaction and personal dialogue which working from home necessitates cannot but damage the efficiency of any business, but we’ll leave that for the time being.
However, many people can’t work from home. Those who work in factories making things to sell, in the process paying the taxes that fund the government, the NHS, and the police, have to travel to work.
In this essential function, they should be helped by the authorities. Instead, they are being hindered.
There are disturbing reports of the South Yorkshire Police stopping car-sharing workers travelling to their factories because ‘‘they are not two metres apart’’.
Public bus services are being cut back to discourage people from leaving their homes. Similarly, from London come announcements that the Tube service is being reduced, just at the time when extra trains should be put on, especially at rush-hour times, to ease overcrowding.
I quite agree that the NHS should be protected from avoidable pressures. But for the public services to hinder the very people who create the tax revenues to keep the NHS going is not only stupid, it is unlawful and also contrary to government guidance.
Think also beyond Covid. For more than 20 years, British manufacturing has been ravaged by the great stampede to buy from China.
This has brought the consumer an abundance of cheap goods. But it has also brought about a great imbalance in the British economy, with an over-dependence on financial services.
Now it has brought us Covid. Is it not time for the tide to turn and a ‘‘Made in Britain’’ recovery to begin?
So yes, let’s have a clap for the NHS, but let’s have another for those heroes of the private sector who are still working in our factories, creating the wealth that keeps the country going.
Instead of treating them as social pariahs, cheer them as they drive along the deserted roads late at night and in the small hours.
Give them extra commuter buses and trains. Help them do their jobs, because without them, there will be another crisis to follow: an economic crisis, and this one could be irreversible.
Sir Andrew Cook is chairman of William Cook Holdings.
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