“This Government stood between the people and the danger and we always will.” Sunak’s Conference speech – full text.

5 Oct

Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking today at Conservative Party Virtual Conference

“Being appointed Chancellor in February this year was an immense honour.

Even though my first conference speech as Chancellor isn’t quite how I expected it to be, it remains a privilege to talk to you today.

And I am here today because of so many different people. My family, whose love sustains me. My colleagues in Government and in Parliament, whose backing has never wavered. My association in Richmond, North Yorkshire, who placed their trust in me, and gave me their loyalty, support and this opportunity to serve. And my party, whose members, councillors and activists worked tirelessly to deliver a Conservative government in December last year.

Politics is a team sport, and there is always a multitude of hardworking people behind any effort. So, I want to thank my ministerial team; Steve, Jessie, John, Kemi, Theo, Claire and James. I also want to thank my predecessors: George, Phillip and Sajid.

It is only because of ten years of sound Conservative management of our economy that this government has been able to act with the pace and scale we have in responding to Coronavirus. And I want to thank the Prime Minister, for entrusting me with this job and whose friendship has been invaluable.

I’ve seen up close the burden the Prime Minister carries. We all know he has an ability to connect with people in a way few politicians manage. It is a special and rare quality. But what the commentators don’t see, the thing I see, is the concern and care he feels, every day, for the wellbeing of the people of our country.

Yes, it’s been difficult, challenges are part of the job, but on the big calls, in the big moments, Boris Johnson has got it right and we need that leadership. Because we are only part way through this crisis.

What began in March as a health emergency has grown and now reaches deep into our economy and society. Not only does it endanger lives, but jobs and education. It separates friends and family.

This government has never been blind to the difficult trade-offs and decisions coronavirus has forced upon on us. If we had, we never would have deployed one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of support in the world. But more than the measures themselves, it is the values behind them that I want to impress upon you.

Conservatives believe in the importance of community and belonging. We believe in personal responsibility and pragmatism. We believe in the nobility of work and free enterprise. And we believe in the unbreakable bond of union that unites the four nations of our United Kingdom.

Our values are old and true and have withstood tests of strife, of terror, and even war. They are timeless because they are a wisdom earned over generations. And they are universal, because they are rooted in the fundamental belief that individual freedom enables both the greatest achievement and the gentlest kindness.

People looked at us last December and saw this Conservative party. They saw a party whose values and priorities were aligned with those of the British people. They saw a party prepared to act at a scale commensurate with the challenges our country faces and they were not wrong.

The SELF-EMPLOYED SUPPORT SCHEME

EAT OUT TO HELP OUT

Our PLAN FOR JOBS

The JOB SUPPORT SCHEME

A VAT cut for the tourism and hospitality sectors

The PAY AS YOU GROW SCHEME

A STAMP DUTY holiday

A £2 billion GREEN HOMES GRANT programme

The £2 billion KICKSTART SCHEME

Nearly 1million BUSINESS GRANTS

A 12-month BUSINESS RATES HOLIDAY

£35bn of BOUNCE BACK LOANS to over 1million small businesses

Over 60,000 CORONAVIRUS BUSINESS INTERRUPTION LOANS

The FUTURE FUND TAX DEFERRALS

Support for our brilliant CHARITIES

Over £8 billion of extra funding to SUPPORT OUR MOST VULNERABLE

A SIX-MONTH MORTGAGE HOLIDAY

And yes, THE FURLOUGH SCHEME, a first of it’s kind intervention in UK political history, delivered at scale, devised in rapid time, that protected millions of British families at the most acute stage of this crisis.

I could go on… all these measures and more… delivered by a Conservative government as part of our plan to support jobs and livelihoods. And whilst we would not have wished for this burden, it has been for many, for the first time in their lives, a moment in which government ceased to be distant and abstract, but became real, and felt, and something of which people could be proud. Action met words.

This Conservative government stood between the people and the danger and we always will.

But we haven’t done it alone. You, the people, have been with us. Wherever I look, I see acts of decency and bravery.

Barbara and Richard Wilson in Cumbria who furloughed the staff from their butchers’ shop but topped up their wages, so they didn’t have any extra worries about bills.

Kevin Butler, who used the self-employed support scheme to help meet the cost of living whilst his partner worked so he could home school their daughter.

John, Norma and Richard King who run the Bull’s Head Inn in Shropshire, who did the right thing when we asked, made their pub Covid compliant, and re-opened using Eat Out to Help Out in August.

Thank you to all those business owners, large and small, who are making the right decisions for workers and customers.

We are now seeing our economy go through changes as a result of coronavirus that can’t be ignored.

I have always said I couldn’t protect every job or every business. No chancellor could. And even though I have said it, the pain of knowing it, only grows with each passing day.

So, I am committing myself to a single priority – to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can. Because even if this moment is more difficult than any you have ever faced, even if it feels like there is no hope, I am telling you that there is, and that the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service.

We will not let talent wither, or waste, we will help all who want it, find new opportunity and develop new skills.

Through more apprenticeships, more training and a lifetime skills guarantee.

Our Kickstart Scheme will help hundreds of thousands of young people into good quality work. And we will help small businesses adapt.

That’s why we have delivered Government backed loans, tax deferrals and tax cuts.

In a free market economy it is the entrepreneur, who is critical. And we will make it easier for those with the ambition and appetite to take risks and be bold, to do what they do best and create jobs and growth. And we will protect the public finances. Over the medium term getting our borrowing and debt back under control.

We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong, and through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books.

If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?

I have never pretended there is some easy cost-free answer.

Hard choices are everywhere.

I won’t stop trying to find ways to support people and businesses. I will always be pragmatic.

The Winter Economy Plan announced only two weeks ago is but the latest stage of our planned economic response.

I will keep listening, keep striving to be creative in response to the challenges our economy faces, and where I can, I will act. I will not give up, no matter how difficult it is.

The British people and British businesses won’t give up. I know this because of what I said at the beginning.

We share the same values. The Conservative party and the country. And these values are not devoid of meaning to people.

They are about protecting that which is meaningful to them. Their family, their home, their job, their ability to choose for themselves what is best for them and those they love.

To create second chances, to see potential met, and to extend the awesome power of opportunity to all who seek it. To answer questions of character with action not rhetoric. To put the people first, their hopes and their aspirations.

And above all, to be worthy of the great trust they have placed in us.”

With the 10pm curfew starting tomorrow, Sunak’s “imaginative” measures will need to come within days

23 Sep

With the latest new rules imposed by the Government – from 10pm curfews for bars and restaurants, to the stipulation that they can now only offer table service – it’s clear that the economic toll on the hospitality industry is going to be astronomical. And so, the question everyone’s asking is: what will Rishi Sunak do next?

For months Labour has put pressure on the Chancellor to extend his furlough scheme (which is due to end on October 31) – a proposal which he has repeatedly rejected. But the calls have become even louder since Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, called for him to have a “rethink”, despite previously supporting the scheme being brought to a close.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), too, has pleaded with Sunak to take action, warning that there could be millions of job losses coming from firms in city centres and in the hospitality sector. Carolyn Fairbairn, its director-general, said it was “desperately urgent” to have a successor to the furlough scheme”, and that whatever it was “need[ed] to be brought in within days or weeks.” CBI has suggested a subsidy scheme, and by all indications this is what Chancellor is contemplating. 

Indeed, The Guardian reports that Sunak is weighing-up a German-style wage scheme, having previously considered extending the availability of state-backed loans. As I have written for ConservativeHome before, there are several subsidised schemes which he could take inspiration from, another being France’s.

The German system – titled the Kurzabeit job subsidy – is different from the UK’s furlough scheme in that it encourages employees back to the workplace, albeit on reduced hours. Businesses then pay employees for the hours they’re needed, and the government subsidises any wages lost from (around 60 to 80 per cent) their typical hours.

The key advantage of the scheme is its flexibility, as it allows companies to adapt to increases, or decreases, in demand for their business; something that is greatly needed, given how difficult it is to predict the virus, and the subsequent actions the Government takes. It has also been suggested that the Treasury is considering a plan in which workers undertake education or training while they are away from their work – something that could tie in with Sunak’s investment in traineeships.

While the furlough scheme has no doubt been extremely expensive for the taxpayer, it’s clear that the latest set of measures could prove even more financially crippling in the long-term – wiping out large numbers of businesses. Moreover, hospitality closures are only going to exacerbate youth unemployment, which has already been one of the worst impacts of this crisis; a problem that will become even more troublesome given that many of these individuals will be required in the future to pay off the Covid-19 debt.

Whatever Sunak does, one thing is for certain: it will have to be in the next few days, as the CBI’s director-general points out. Not least because, along with the introduction of curfews tomorrow, next week many businesses are likely to announce job cuts in accordance with the furlough scheme (employers intending to make fewer than 100 redundancies need to run a 30-day consultation). In PMQs today, Johnson promised Britain would go “forward with further creative and imaginative schemes to keep [the] economy moving.” Let’s hope we see this imagination fast.

With the 10pm curfew starting tomorrow, Sunak’s “imaginative” measures will need to come within days

23 Sep

With the latest new rules imposed by the Government – from 10pm curfews for bars and restaurants, to the stipulation that they can now only offer table service – it’s clear that the economic toll on the hospitality industry is going to be astronomical. And so, the question everyone’s asking is: what will Rishi Sunak do next?

For months Labour has put pressure on the Chancellor to extend his furlough scheme (which is due to end on October 31) – a proposal which he has repeatedly rejected. But the calls have become even louder since Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, called for him to have a “rethink”, despite previously supporting the scheme being brought to a close.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), too, has pleaded with Sunak to take action, warning that there could be millions of job losses coming from firms in city centres and in the hospitality sector. Carolyn Fairbairn, its director-general, said it was “desperately urgent” to have a successor to the furlough scheme”, and that whatever it was “need[ed] to be brought in within days or weeks.” CBI has suggested a subsidy scheme, and by all indications this is what Chancellor is contemplating. 

Indeed, The Guardian reports that Sunak is weighing-up a German-style wage scheme, having previously considered extending the availability of state-backed loans. As I have written for ConservativeHome before, there are several subsidised schemes which he could take inspiration from, another being France’s.

The German system – titled the Kurzabeit job subsidy – is different from the UK’s furlough scheme in that it encourages employees back to the workplace, albeit on reduced hours. Businesses then pay employees for the hours they’re needed, and the government subsidises any wages lost from (around 60 to 80 per cent) their typical hours.

The key advantage of the scheme is its flexibility, as it allows companies to adapt to increases, or decreases, in demand for their business; something that is greatly needed, given how difficult it is to predict the virus, and the subsequent actions the Government takes. It has also been suggested that the Treasury is considering a plan in which workers undertake education or training while they are away from their work – something that could tie in with Sunak’s investment in traineeships.

While the furlough scheme has no doubt been extremely expensive for the taxpayer, it’s clear that the latest set of measures could prove even more financially crippling in the long-term – wiping out large numbers of businesses. Moreover, hospitality closures are only going to exacerbate youth unemployment, which has already been one of the worst impacts of this crisis; a problem that will become even more troublesome given that many of these individuals will be required in the future to pay off the Covid-19 debt.

Whatever Sunak does, one thing is for certain: it will have to be in the next few days, as the CBI’s director-general points out. Not least because, along with the introduction of curfews tomorrow, next week many businesses are likely to announce job cuts in accordance with the furlough scheme (employers intending to make fewer than 100 redundancies need to run a 30-day consultation). In PMQs today, Johnson promised Britain would go “forward with further creative and imaginative schemes to keep [the] economy moving.” Let’s hope we see this imagination fast.

More testing woes for the Government – as laboratories are stretched to capacity

16 Sep

Over the last few days the Government has been attacked yet again over its Coronavirus testing regime. There have been repeated reports of doctors, nurses and others unable to access tests in parts of the UK.

Indeed,The Times found that 85 per cent of the population couldn’t get one at some point yesterday; BirminghamLive discovered  “hundreds” being sent to a mobile site for testing in Edgbaston, only to find an abandoned carpark, and The Sunday Times uncovered a backlog of 185,000 swabs – some of which had been sent to Germany and Italy for processing.

Given that Boris Johnson has previously called the country’s programme “world beating”, the Government is under huge pressure to explain what’s gone wrong.

The main problem seems to be that laboratory testing can’t keep up with current demand, thus testing centres have cut back on appointments to catch up. In the meantime, members of the public have been baffled by messages saying that the “service is currently very busy” when they try to use the online booking system.

From Labour’s perspective, the latest development is yet more evidence of testing being a “shambles”. Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, has suggested that the system has struggled because of an over-reliance on post-graduate science students to analyse lab results – who were only there over the summer. He said that this showed a failure of the Government to expand NHS capacity.

John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and a senior government adviser, was equally scathing. He said that tests had run out because ministers had not been prepared enough for a second wave of infections, and “underestimated” how quickly cases would rise.

Matt Hancock, on the other hand, has blamed some of the shortages on a “sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible”. A Government source says that some of the groups that have asked for one include people with no symptoms who want a test before going on holiday, as well as schools who have a student with symptoms wanting tests for everyone else.

The Government is doing all it can to fix the issue. First of all, Hancock promised to not “shirk from decisions about prioritisation”, with NHS patients and staff given tests first, followed by care homes. The Government has also pleaded with people who don’t have symptoms not to use up the current tests. This is important not only so that those who need them can get them, but also because it could distort epidemiological figures – if scientists cannot detect real Covid-19 cases.

On Sky News, too, Robert Buckland said that the Government was seeking to open 100 more test centres, and there is also said to be a “mega lab” on the way to enhance capacity.

Although the testing has had difficulties, should be pointed out that the UK is still performing more tests than most countries.

Our World in Data, a research team based at the University of Oxford, estimates that the UK carries out 2.8 tests per 1,000 people (a seven-day average until 10 September), putting it above France (2.1), and Spain and Germany (1.8 both).

Of course, over the next few weeks the Government will have even more challenges in regards to testing, with NHS Test and Trace’s (England) increasingly expected to deliver its contact tracing app, which is critical to avoiding nationwide lockdowns.

Much of the focus has been on technical faults in the system, but the Government will also have to tackle the issue of compliance rates. How easy will it be to get the British public to download the thing? And that’s before we get to the roll out of vaccines, and what compliance looks like for them.

All in all, this latest testing setback is a sign of several other big ones down the road.

Simon Thomas: Curfews would be economically disastrous for casinos; the Government must have a rethink

16 Sep

Simon Thomas is chief executive of The Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square. This is a sponsored post by The Hippodrome Casino.

Boris Johnson opened the Hippodrome Casino in 2012, when he was still Mayor of London. It was therefore pretty ironic that he should be the one to effectively close our doors when, as Prime Minister, he announced the nationwide Covid lockdown in March.

We were glad to play our part at a time of national crisis, but were obviously delighted to finally be given the go-ahead to reopen again last month, along with casinos across England. It was recognition of all the hard work that had gone into making sure we were Covid-secure for the safe return of our staff and customers.

The measures we have put in place – from hand sanitisation stations and strict social distancing rules to Perspex screens sophisticated track and trace procedures – are the best in class among the whole entertainment, hospitality and leisure sector.

Opening our doors again meant that we have been able to make a contribution to the UK’s economic recovery, at a time when it has never been more vital. As Johnson showed when he cut the ribbon for us eight years ago, the Conservative Party understands that without businesses like ours providing good jobs and paying tax, there would simply be no economic recovery.

But while we are able to provide a top-class service for our customers again, things are definitely not back to normal. Across the casino sector, attendances since we re-opened varies between five and sixty per cent of pre-Covid levels. This is partly because of the 14-day quarantine rules, which have drastically reduced the number of tourists who come to these shores, and who make up a significant chunk of our traditional clientele. So clearly, our recovery is fragile.

That’s why talk of nationwide 10pm curfews for hospitality and leisure businesses as the number of Covid cases rises again has caused such alarm among our sector. Put simply, such a move would put our very existence – and the jobs of our 14,000 employees – at risk.

To understand why, you need to appreciate the unique nature of our business model. Unlike other sectors, we are hugely reliant on night-time trade. Casinos generate 50 to 70 per cent of their income after 10pm. If we were ordered to close our doors at that time, there would be no point in opening them at all. Such a curfew would be economically disastrous for casinos like mine, placing a huge question mark over our continued viability.

Given the high quality of our Covid security measures and the make-up of our customer base, such a move would be – in my opinion – utterly pointless. The average age of a casino visitor is 48, so if the purpose of a curfew is to halt the spread of the virus among the young, restrictions in our venues would seem illogical. In addition, most of our players are either on their own or in couples, well within the “Rule of 6” announced last week by the Prime Minister.

If ministers are still determined to go down the curfew path, night-time restrictions should only be imposed in parts of the country where Covid cases are high, rather than use the blunt instrument of a nationwide shutdown. Another possible approach could be to prevent us selling alcohol post-10pm. This would obviously be far from ideal, but certainly preferable to making us close our doors entirely.

However, if the Government did choose the nuclear option of a nationwide curfew, they would have to rethink their decision to end the furlough scheme next month, otherwise we would have no option but to authorise a wave of redundancies. Throughout lockdown, the furlough scheme was a vital lifeline, allowing us to continue employing thousands of men and women we would otherwise have had to let go.

Any further government-imposed restrictions on our ability to trade would need to be accompanied by some form of government support for the businesses affected. I fully appreciate that the taxpayer cannot continue to subsidise the wages of employees indefinitely, but the Chancellor should give consideration to sector-specific support to prevent the recession developing into something far, far worse.

The Hippodrome Casino is an iconic venue which has been around since 1900 and survived two world wars, the three-day week and other national crises. We now need the Government to respond in a positive way to ensure we are still trading after this one. If Johnson really is concerned about the health of our city centres, he simply cannot ignore our pleas for help.

Conservatives have always understood the importance of a healthy business sector creating the jobs and providing the tax revenue upon which the whole country relies. In these extraordinary times, we need the party to once again recognise our contribution to the economic – and physical – health of the nation, and do all it can to ensure our continued survival.

As youth unemployment grows, can Sunak come to the rescue (again)?

15 Sep

Another day, another onslaught of depressing news for the UK – this time around the unemployment rate. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the rate has grown to 4.1 per cent in the three months to July compared to 3.9 per cent before

While some analysts have pointed out that this is low by historic and international standards, Rishi Sunak will no doubt be having sleepless nights wondering what happens when the Government’s furlough scheme comes to a close; how much worse will the current figures get?

Moreover, Conservatives as a whole need to think critically about how to help young people, who have been worst affected by the economic turmoil. The ONS data showed that people aged 16 to 24 suffered the biggest drop in employment, a trend that has been consistent throughout this crisis, and others; in 2008, it was today’s millennials taking the brunt – hence why the “youth vote” has been so low (and will become more of an election stumbling block for the Tories as this demographic heads towards the 40s and 50s age bracket without home ownership, and the rest).

So what does Sunak do about all this? (Incidentally, he has not stipulated his next budget date, with rumours it could be in January). The first thing to say is that he has already released some enormous measures to support young people. These include a £2 billion “Kickstart Scheme”, whereby the government will pay for employers “to create new 6-month job placements for young people who are currently on Universal Credit” – in the hope that this can create hundreds thousands of new jobs.

The Government is also giving businesses £2,000 for each new apprentice hired under the age of 25, a £111 million investment to triple traineeships in 2020-21 and £17 million funding for sector-based work academy placements, among other measures. 

These are all steps in the right direction; for years it has been said that the UK is too focused on university degrees, while the economy demands more technical/ practical skills. The tech sector, particularly, is growing and needs young people to fill the gap. Perhaps it is the case that Sunak will expand these sorts of training schemes even further.

What many want to know is whether the Chancellor will extend furloughing, but he has repeatedly ruled this out, saying: “Indefinitely keeping people out of work is not the answer.” Given that the scheme has already cost the taxpayer an estimated £60 billion, one suspects many quietly want it to come to an end. Besides, it’ll be young people picking up the eventual bill – however much of a support it appears right now.

While ruling out further furloughing, Sunak did promise, however, that “we will be creative in order to find ways of effectively helping people.” He has certainly proven himself to be imaginative, winning hearts and stomachs with the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, so the question is what this next phase of creativity could look like.

One suggestion that has been made for the UK is that it adopts a model similar to that in Germany, to stave off huge job losses. Germany uses something called the Kurzarbeit job subsidy, which the country has had since the early 20th century, and is estimated to have saved around half a million jobs in the financial crisis. 

Whereas the UK’s furloughing scheme meant businesses asked their employees to stay home for months on end, Kurzarbeit invited them back to work – albeit on reduced hours. Using the scheme, German businesses can take employees on for the time they need, and the government then pays workers a percentage (around 60 to 80 per cent) of any lost hours.

The key advantage of the scheme is its flexibility – as it allows companies to respond to fluctuations in their business; they can reduce workers’ hours if they have a loss of trade, for instance, and up again for vice versa. It is also far less expensive than furlough, costing around 33.5 billion so far – with plans for it to be extended until the end of 2021.

France, too, has something similar to the German system, called “partial unemployment” or “partial activity”. Using this scheme, businesses can cut their employees’ hours by up to 40 per cent for up to three years, but they will still receive nearly all of their standard salary – which the government pays a percentage of.

While Sunak has offered a “jobs retention bonus” to get employers to bring staff back from furlough – whereby they received £1,000 for every staff member retained – it may be the case that the flexibility afforded by the German and French systems is what can help businesses feel more confident about hiring again.

There will be other radical proposals put forward as to how to tackle the issue, focussing on how to further incentivise employers to take on the young, whether that’s targetted changes to their National Insurance contributions, or something more inventive.

Another thing to add is that non-employment related measures can greatly help young people feel more secure in their lives. Things as basic as reducing council tax or travel would certainly improve matters for a generation of renters.

And lastly I would write that much of helping young people cannot be done with a budget. It ultimately relies on the Government – and society – realising that repeatedly opening and closing the economy means that this demographic will take the brunt; it requires us to have more difficult conversations about what price we will pay for knee-jerk responses to rising cases. As today’s data shows, the economic consequences are harsh indeed.

Michael Dugher: Covid-19 is a lesson in the three Rs for the government

7 Aug

Michael Dugher is CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). This is a sponsored post by the BGC.

Regular readers of ConservativeHome may be surprised, even aghast, to see a former Labour MP, Shadow Secretary of State and adviser to Gordon Brown, writing in this forum. Corbynites, or the dregs of what is left of that calamitous project, will be less surprised, but certainly some of my former comrades on the Labour benches might raise an eyebrow too. But these are not normal times.

The Covid pandemic represents an unprecedented challenge for governments across the world. The human cost has been staggering, tragic and truly heartbreaking, with more than 18 million infected and 700,000 deaths worldwide.

The financial cost is still being calculated, but will likely have a bearing on the world’s economies for years to come.

To give the Government credit, its initial response to the economic challenges posed by Covid-19 was sure footed. The rescue package – from the furlough scheme to business rates support – was commensurate to the scale of the challenge. Not since the creation of the welfare state have we seen such an interventionist government – and a Conservative one at that. As I say, these are not normal times.

More recently, though, the Government has made a series of missteps that have begun to raise concerns in business circles like the one I represent now.

The latest example was the decision last week, announced at the last minute by the Prime Minister, to delay the piloting of certain live sport with attendances, plus reopening of some indoor entertainment venues such as casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks that were due to open on August 1.

As someone who has worked at the heart of government, I know all too well that governing is a delicate balancing act, not least during a global pandemic that none of us have ever experienced. But there are certain core principles that should always inform government action – clarity and consistency. Both are in short supply.

Messages like “go on holiday”, “get back to work” and “eat out” have tangoed clumsily with parallel appeals to “avoid unnecessary travel”, “stay at home” and even “lose weight”.

The u-turn on casinos reopening is the latest example. The decision was all the more perplexing given that they had gone to extraordinary lengths and invested millions of pounds to ensure their venues were Covid-secure, with strict social distancing measures, hygiene protocols and sophisticated track and trace systems in place at venues across England.

The Government’s most senior health officials gave just over 100 casinos the green light, long after bingo halls and amusement arcades, never mind restaurants and 47,000 pubs, after their visit to a casino in London. The decision to reopen was announced by the Prime Minister on July 17.

The sense of relief was palpable across the industry. Staff, fearful of redundancy, were looking forward to returning to work for the first time in over four months and managers readied to give their businesses a go, even in the toughest of circumstances. Then, less than 12 hours before they were due to open their doors, England’s casinos were told they must remain shuttered in order to keep the virus under control.

We fully understand the Government’s determination to control the “R” infection rate, which is rising in parts of England. But public health officials and the Government’s scientific advisers have already confirmed that casinos pose what they described as a “negligible” risk to health, given their substantial investment in Covid safety protocols, and their relatively small number. What happened to “following the scientific advice?”

And a reminder again: there are 110 casinos in England, compared to 47,600 pubs. There are nearly nine times as many Wetherspoons alone as there are casinos.

In recent weeks, we have seen localised Covid spikes in parts of the North West of England and before that in Leicester. The right response was a localised lockdown, not a national shutdown. If there is a spike in Greater Manchester, why is it ok for pubs and restaurants to remain open in Greater Manchester but a casino in Bristol, where levels of Covid are low, must close?

In his July 17 statement, the Prime Minister ruled out the need for such a blanket national lockdown. Instead, the Government would control outbreaks of the virus through “targeted, local action.” By denying casinos the right to reopen, not for the first time, the Government is at odds with its own policy.

This illogical and inconsistent ruling will have a damaging – perhaps permanent – impact on casinos and the thousands of staff they employ. It couldn’t come at a worse time for an industry that is grappling with mounting and unsustainable costs.

A sector that contributes £140 million to the tourist economy and £300 million in taxes now stands on a cliff edge because of the Government’s decision to taper furlough payments and force employers to pay National Insurance and pension contributions, even though they remain closed. Some businesses may not survive. Around 6,000 workers – half of all casino industry jobs in England – are facing the dole.

While ministers are rightly focused on the health of the nation, no government can lose sight of the health economy. Remember when David Cameron and George Osborne used to say “a strong NHS depends on a strong economy?” The R infection rate has to be balanced against the two other Rs – recovery versus recession.

The consequences of getting this wrong are being felt in businesses across the country – stuck in a Covid no man’s land, forced to remain shuttered while bearing the everyday costs of business. What’s worse, it’s costing the Treasury around £5 million a week to keep casinos closed and their workers at home, when they could be raking in £5 million in much needed tax revenues.

Earlier this week, the decision to keep casinos closed was criticised by both Ed Miliband in the Guardian and Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. I know these are not normal times, but seemingly uniting Miliband and Littlejohn in one common purpose is taking things too far.