Rishi Sunak must seize chance to fund skills as furlough ends – Tom Richmond

NO expense was spared by Rishi Sunak and the Treasury on a promotional video marking the end of the £70bn furlough job retention scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak instigated the furlough job retention scheme at the start of the Covid pandemic, but what happens now that the scheme has been wound up?

This Hollywood epic, the latest instalment in Brand Rishi, charted the stories of those HM Treasury staff who thought the unthinkable – and provided support to 11.6 million workers – when the Covid pandemic shut the economy.

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And it should be stressed that the Treasury’s ingenuity and innovation provided a lifeline to millions of families when they were losing their livelihoods through no fault of their own. For that, we should always be grateful.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak instigated the furlough job retention scheme at the start of the Covid pandemic, but what happens now that the scheme has been wound up?

Now the challenge is supporting all those now out of work after furlough was wound up on Thursday – an above-average number of such workers are in the North – and this pledge by Sunak at the end of the video: “Our plan for jobs will continue. By giving people the skills and opportunities they need.”

Fine words, they did, however, 
coincide with fresh reports that education will be hardest hit in this month’s spending review and Budget just weeks after Sunak rejected a proposed £15bn catch-up plan drawn up by Sir Kevan Collins, the then education recovery commissioner.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak instigated the furlough job retention scheme at the start of the Covid pandemic, but what happens now that the scheme has been wound up?

There appear to be three plausible reasons for this after senior sources suggested that Gavin Williamson – the, thankfully, former Education Secretary – did not submit a bid in time.

First, Williamson was negligent. Second, Williamson is a convenient ‘fall guy’ given his record of incompetence. Finally, Sunak is playing down expectations ahead of any announcement. I also wouldn’t put that past the Richmond MP.

But the Chancellor should also remember that improving education was his primary motivation when he entered politics – he told me as much in the summer of last year – and that the UK’s future prosperity depends on having a world-class skills policy in place.

Now, therefore, is the time to fully fund schools catch-up plans to prevent regional inequalities becoming more pronounced, begin the national skills audit advocated by The Yorkshire Post to assess the country’s future employment needs and transform training provision.

Football pundit Gary Neville says he'd like to tackle Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.

No doubt Sunak will question whether Britain can afford such a strategy. I’d respond by venturing that the country can ill-afford not to if education is to embody levelling up.

DON’T let Ministers fool you into thinking that the food and fuel shortages have caught them by surprise.

They were warned by Sir Dave Lewis, the then Tesco chief executive, in August 2018 when Theresa May’s government was reeling from the Brexit resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.

This is one of the main nuggets in the compelling book, Chief of Staff, written by May’s key lieutenant Gavin Barwell.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner delivered a foul-mouthed rant against Tories at her party's annual conference in Brighton.

He recounts that Lewis told him that “between 40 and 50 per cent of our food is imported; trading with the EU on WTO terms would add, on average, six per cent to prices due to tariffs”. The supermarket boss went on: “Friction at the border from customs declarations and regulatory checks would add further costs, plus there would be increased wastage due to the inevitable delays.”

Now there’s food for thought.

THE Barwell book is full of interesting asides about Brexit that continue to have credence.

The number of occasions when Liz Truss sided with that dangerous duo Chris Grayling and Gavin Williamson in Cabinet discussions and votes. Yet she’s now Foreign Secretary.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor and man who wants to lead Labour, telling Greg Clark, the then Business Secretary, that he’d come out in favour of Theresa May’s Brexit deal “when the time is right”. He never did.

And an unlikely meeting between Theresa May and hard-line union leader Len McCluskey over workers’ rights and customs arrangement in a bid to break the Brexit impasse. Barwell noted: “I think of all the meetings the Prime Minister had on Brexit, this was my favourite. Len was the one person who showed some understanding of where the Prime Minister was coming from and was honest about what he was looking for.” Interesting.

GARY Neville, the football pundit and proud Northerner, says he’d relish the chance to tackle Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions.

“I’m not talking about behaviour in Johnson’s personal life. I just want honesty and compassion. I feel we’re in depressing times when it comes to the quality of leadership in the country.”

I agree – but Neville, now a successful entrepreneur, plays down his chances of a political career. “I don’t think I’d even get voted in my own borough, let alone by the Labour Party to be leader. Mayor? I’d be a nightmare.”

Why? Unless you give it a go, Gary, you’ll never know.

UNLIKE Gary Neville who relies on his passion when setting out his clarion call for the North, Angela Rayner – Labour’s deputy leader – makes a foul-mouthed rant against ‘scum’ Tories to attempt to get her points across.

She says she takes after John Prescott, but that does a disservice to the former Deputy Prime Minister who had a certain way with words. And fists.

And the reaction of senior Labour figures to Rayner’s rant spoke volumes. Sir Keir Starmer dithered, Rachel Reeves was embarrassed and Emily Thornberry suggested that drink had been partaken.

This matters because the use of such extreme language filters down to those members of the public who will think it is acceptable to follow Rayner’s provocative example. It isn’t.

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