Knight’s Days – The Reporting back from Westminster column with Sir Greg Knight: Britain is leading the way on Covid and the economy

Before Christmas, the Government was under much pressure to increase Covid restrictions again, as a result of the surge in the Omicron variant.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 12:39 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th January 2022, 1:19 pm
East Yorkshire MP Sir Greg Knight.
East Yorkshire MP Sir Greg Knight.

The Welsh and Scottish Governments did put severe new restraints in place but we resisted the call to do the same across England.

This was a difficult judgement under immense pressure, but as Omicron cases begin to level off across the country, it is clear that the right call was made.

Had we imposed harder and longer restrictions then that would have resulted in more business failures, extra job losses, greater Government short-term expenditure, and a higher long term government debt burden due to Covid.

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The Government has commissioned a ‘white paper’ on levelling-up, overseen by Michael Gove.

However, the Government’s more balanced approach to restrictions, which have now been relaxed, as well as its excellent roll-out of the vaccine programme now makes us the European nation best-placed to lead recovery from the Covid pandemic.

Looking ahead, it is time for the government to re-focus on its levelling up programme for the North and consider a re-assessment of what is a realistic approach to ‘Net Zero’ plans.

No-one expected a global pandemic when they signed up to the Net Zero 2050 commitment – and the current energy crisis should also be taken into consideration.

We must not place too much reliance too soon on technologies and options not yet invented, or likely to be extremely costly.

We should, however, retain the direction we have set, which is already paying off in terms of the technological innovation we are seeing but sticking to an over-ambitious fixed date should not come at the cost of our economic well-being, with an unfair burden placed on poorer households and communities, and making the aspiration to level up harder to achieve.

The Government has commissioned a ‘white paper’ on levelling-up, overseen by Michael Gove.

Delayed by the pandemic, it is due to be published very soon, possibly in February.

I hope to see measures that make the most of deregulation opportunities arising from our exit from the European Union and I anticipate a strong focus on the new infrastructure investment that is needed in the North.

One question is, can we afford it?

Well, recent official figures show that the UK economy surpassed its pre-pandemic level for the first time in November 2021.

GDP grew by 0.9% in the penultimate month of 2021, making the UK economy 0.7% larger than it was before the first lockdown.

The news comes as other countries that lost ground during the pandemic, like Germany, Italy and Spain have still to pass their pre-pandemic milestone.

With our economy getting back on track, we now need to see not only that the North properly shares in the benefits of this new growth but that this is fairly distributed, not just to our northern cities, but to our towns and rural areas too.