3. Introduce the Future Jobs Fund Mk II
Short term policies like the JRS aim to support businesses through short term cashflow problems, but they must not keep businesses with more fundamental profitability problems on life support. So when these policies come to an end, support should switch from helping the business to helping the worker. Trailed announcements suggest that firms will be paid to take on young workers, and £2 billion of grants will be made available for home insulation. Both of these measures are welcome but the scale and immediacy of employment problem is likely to mean that a much larger response is required.
The Future Jobs Fund, introduced during the last recession, was found to have been ‘substantial, significant and positive’. This should be used as the basis for creating a new employment and training scheme, aiming to both give those on it the base skills needed to work in a number of industries (e.g. Maths and English) while also creating job placements to learn in the workplace. To meet the Government’s environmental goals, a national retrofitting scheme of houses – that would create jobs in every part of the country – would be a good candidate for this.
4. Create a £5 billion City Centre Productivity Fund
Attention must also be given to longer term growth challenges. A big one is the underperformance of many of our city centre economies. Our most successful city centres are home to large clusters of high paid, high skilled, high productivity jobs. This is because of the benefits that a city centre location brings, which will persist well beyond the pandemic. But that many aren’t undermines their longer-term efforts to attract in higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs to their economies. And this means the high streets of these centres struggle as a result.
Given this, the chancellor should create a £5 billion City Centre Productivity Fund for cities to bid into. Money should be allocated based on the strength of the applications and how it will help meet its levelling-up agenda.
The nature of the interventions will vary from place to place, but are likely to be some combination of the demolition or conversion of dated commercial space, the creation of new office space, public realm and public transport. An essential criterion in assessing bids should be that all of these interventions are integrated, rather than a series of freestanding interventions that don’t pull together as a single strategy.
5. Announce substantial investment in the transport systems of our largest cities
The transport systems of our biggest cities are a pale shadow of those of similar sized cities on the continent. The Chancellor should take this moment to announce funding for tram and/or underground schemes (depending on what is appropriate) for cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester. Specifically, he should commit to the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation of spending £31 billion on transport infrastructure outside of London, with the focus of this being the largest cities.
This would do two things. First, it would improve the long term growth prospects of these places. And second it would provide a fiscal stimulus for these cities and surrounding areas, which are home to many millions of people.