Sunday 26 April 2020

Lockdown Day 34-Road to Recovery-Part 1

Recently I responded to a Tweet by James Cattell, who works in the Cabinet Office, UK Government and I link it here . In this Tweet, asking for views on the recovery from Coronavirus, he asks the following questions:

Who should we be listening to? What questions should we be asking? Where has this approach (not) worked well before?

In the first of these blog posts, I will cover (and indeed expand upon) various elements of the response I have sent to him.

My opening paragraph first sets a framework using a response to the second question above.

For every policy proposal for this recovery the following questions should be asked:

- Does this policy reduce social inequality and poverty?
- Does this policy help us meet our internationally agreed decarbonisation and emission goals? Should larger emitters (sector/company/individual) bear more costs/have higher expectations of them?
- Does this policy ensure fairness across all social groups and income groups? Should those with the broadest shoulders bear the largest costs?
- Does this policy increase democratic accountability? Is the policy designed such that oversight and sensible regulation are built in? Are these regulators/oversight independent and transparent?
- Is each element of the policy 'SMART' - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reproducable, Targeted?
- Does this policy protect nature or if not, provide appropriate mitigation or offset measures?

Any recovery from COVID-19 needs to ensure that we meet our climate commitments, protect our human rights, reduce inequality and poverty and meet our international obligations. We should also, through those obligations, trade, diplomacy and international development help other countries to do the same. We are, truly, all in this together as regards our risk from the virus and our recovery from it. We have seen how ideology meant we did not engage with EU purchasing agreements on PPE. We have seen how certain individuals have sought to make financial capital from this crisis. We have seen how those from overseas that have come to this country to work and who were demonised and told they were not welcome are now the front line in many undervalued parts of the public and private sectors. We have seen how the lowest paid are now often the most vital parts of our public services and economy. Many in Government now seem intent on deregulation and evading scrutiny and trying to reduce oversight and legal challenge of decisions made. 

Firstly, banks and investment organisations should be focused on creating real value - there is so much short term-ism, focused more on the near term bonuses or keeping one's job (and this applies just as much in politics as in big business) whereas the recovery from COVID-19, in line with our climate and environmental and social fairness goals, is a multi year, multi term project transcending one term of parliament, one tenure of a company director, multiple financial years and long term investments. Political figures such as Caroline Lucas in the UK, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and Jacinda Ardern overseas have been prominent proponents of this strategy. I am though, pleasantly surprised at elements of the De-Carbonising Transportreport by Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport and indeed in some of the "Public Funds for Public Good" elements in the future farm subsidy for post Brexit. Recent decisions have effectively ruled out fracking and I think there's been change on onshore wind policy too. Community renewables should be encouraged and projects such as the trial of carbon capture at Drax Power Station (and there are other companies engaged in tech to remove carbon from the atmosphere) should also be accelerated.

In order to kick start our economy and get people back to work after this crisis, some major rollouts and indeed re-training and re-employment will be needed. Whilst I do not agree with all the proposals in it, the Green Party Manifesto is a good summary of different proposals to start a Green New Deal and worth using as a discussion paper. Projects such as home insulation rollout - particularly in social housing (even renewables for social housing and also new build standards), forestry, railway electrification, home heating electrification, high speed fibre rollout (see below), branch line and station re-opening and more integrated transport, reinstatement of bus funding (important for many social inclusion and mobility issues), cycle networks, the circular and sharing economies and many other projects which give economic, social and environmental benefit are all going to be useful in the same way that Roosevelt used infrastructure projects to help kick start the US economy in the 1930s. Ursula von Leyen in the EU is also proposing a European Green Deal. Al Gore, Naomi Klein and the many speakers on the "We Don't Have the Time" online conference are worth spending a lot of time listening to and there's so many companies already getting ahead in green technology and innovative solutions too.

Many people are discovering local suppliers of fruit, vegetables and meat, maybe for the first time, as a result of having to find alternatives to supermarkets when there have been shortages of foodstuffs due to panic buying early in the pandemic here in the UK. My hope is that many will continue to use these farms, butchers, greengrocers and other outlets even when the pandemic is over. Having a local connection to your food is so valuable on many levels, whether it is to do with food miles or putting money into the local economy and indeed we have much higher food standards (at least at the moment) compared to many parts of the world. There have though - and this was highlighted on the Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 26th April - been local producers that stand to lose a lot as a result of the lockdown as they mostly supplied the restaurant and catering trade. A particular sector affected is cheese production though many suppliers are trying to sell online direct to the public and in their local areas directly to consumers. The programme today highlighted that although this might stand them in good stead in the short term and avoid a lot of food wastage, the longer the shutdown goes on, the more pressure on their businesses, especially if they are normally producing bulk orders.

On the consumer side, many people (and I could myself among them) are lucky enough to be able to pay a little bit more for food and make ethical and local choices. There are many however that struggle in poverty and the investigation conducted by Professor Alston on behalf of the UN in November 2018 highlighted (though there have been numerous reports, notably by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Shelter and others) the scale of poverty here in the UK.

If you are reliant on a food bank in order to have enough to eat, how do you make an ethical choice about your food as you simply have to eat what is given to you, or what you can in fact afford from a supermarket? That being said, traditional town markets often have very good value produce and meat for sale (Farmers markets tend to cater for those with a little bit more disposable income in my experience) and indeed my Grandparents - who lived ten floors up in a council tower block in Leeds, always went to Leeds Market for their meat, fruit and vegetables. In fact, my Grandma often used to talk about the stalls "at back o't'market" - the ones right down at the bus station end of the outdoor market - for getting a good deal on vegetables and fruit. Dried beans are nutritious and cheap, and low emissions and such as Jack Monroe "Bootstrap Cook" has through her own experiences been able to show how you can eat well on a tight budget. There are also a number of organisations that have cafes using food that would have been thrown out by supermarkets such as this one in Pudsey near Leeds. My Grandparents also grew tomatoes and cucumbers in their flat and gathered blackberries along the railway embankment and waste ground nearby. Of course, that isn't going to feed them all year, but it does show that whoever you are and whatever your circumstances you can at least make a few choices which are beneficial for the environment.

In part two I look at how availability of public transport and the provision of good quality public services and such as broadband and electric car charging infrastructure will help move our country to a low carbon, but also fairer society. 

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