We need a strong economy - let us get back to work

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Theresa Villiers MP calls for the Government to go further and faster in lifting the lockdown to help businesses in her Chipping Barnet constituency like the Mitre Inn in High Barnet....

"The Mitre Inn has been serving customers in Barnet since 1633. It was there when Samuel Pepys visited the nearby physick well and when Charles Dickens sipped ale across the road. It stayed open through the Blitz. But if the lockdown continues for much longer, its prospects of survival look bleak.

Like so many businesses, the Mitre has been kept afloat by the furlough scheme, now supporting over 7 million workers. But with a cost exceeding the NHS budget, furloughing cannot go on forever. Over half the population is now dependent on the state for some or all of their income.

The Government’s huge package of support has been essential in mitigating economic harm, and should continue for as long as possible, but the only long term solution is to ease the lockdown and wake the economy from its medically induced coma. The Bank of England predicts the deepest recession for 300 years and every day that the lockdown remains largely intact does further damage. Borrowing levels are set to hit levels not seen outside wartime.

Recent changes to lockdown rules are welcome but the Government should feel emboldened to go further and faster. Compliance with the lockdown has been much higher than expected. In fact, we ended up shutting down more of the economy than was intended. The emergency rules have always permitted people to go out to work if their job could not be done from home, for example in construction or factories, but many such businesses closed their doors anyway.

There is now a continuing fall in new infections. Public Health England figures published in this newspaper yesterday show that reduction is especially large in London. There is also increasingly clear evidence that the greatest danger from the virus is in hospitals and care homes. We need the strongest possible focus on pressing down on the virus in those settings. Better support for care homes with rigorous infection control, the best PPE, and, most important of all, regular routine regular testing of staff, patients and residents, is essential.

If we continue successfully to bear down on the virus in hospital and care settings, we not only protect front line workers and the frail and vulnerable, but we also create the conditions for more economic activity to resume safely. Testing has been massively expanded but when it is stepped up further, regular testing can and should be expanded to a wider range of workers, giving greater confidence.

There is now a clear case for lifting London’s lockdown more quickly. We faced the brunt of the attack from this cruel disease earlier than the rest of the country, with tragic consequences for thousands of families. I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to all of them.

Just as we went into the crisis first in London, so we are emerging from it before the rest of the country. Devolution has already given us regional variations in lockdown rules. The vast majority of the public have responded responsibly and intelligently to the public health guidance they have been given throughout this crisis. We can trust them to tackle more complex messages and regional variations.

If we are to succeed in the goals we all share for strengthening our NHS, putting more police on the street, making sure every child has the best education, protecting our environment, and levelling up opportunity around the country we need a strong economy. London is the cornerstone of the UK economy. Let us get back to work."