Ross Clark

No. 10 is distorting the economy

How did the Vote Leave government become so economically profligate?

No. 10 is distorting the economy
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Job vacancies at a record high, a shortage of 90,000 lorry drivers, farmers complaining about a lack of seasonal workers, care homes complaining about difficulties in recruiting staff — and 1.9 million people still on furlough at the end of June. It shouldn’t be difficult to put these figures together and work out what is going on — even if Lord Adonis, with his usual tunnel vision, has been busily tweeting blaming everything on Brexit. When the furlough scheme was introduced it was intended as a short-term measure to tide over businesses that had been forced to close as a result of Covid restrictions. So why is it still in place when the economy has almost entirely reopened?

Instead of having a scheme designed to protect jobs we now have one which could not be better conceived to prevent people from taking up employment. It is trapping people in jobs that no longer really exist, while their skills degrade as they fall out of practice. Furlough has become an extremely expensive unemployment benefit, albeit one which is far more generous and which puts no requirement on recipients to look for work.

At the very least, why have furloughed staff not been allowed — or rather instructed — to take up seasonal work like fruit-picking; something which would help agricultural businesses through the pandemic while also saving taxpayers money? Nearly two years ago the country baulked at the prospect of a fiscally irresponsible Jeremy Corbyn government and elected a Conservative government with the biggest majority for a generation — only for us to discover that the government we elected is just as reckless with our cash.

Lord Adonis is wrong to try to make out that the shortage of lorry drivers is all down to Brexit. There is also the small matter of the pandemic, which has seen drivers trapped for days outside ports and generally made truckers’ lives a misery. Moreover, even before Brexit or the pandemic, the haulage industry was heading for a personnel crunch. The average age of a lorry driver is 53. We have an economy that depends ever-increasingly on just-in-time delivery goods by lorry — and yet ever-fewer people who want to do the job.

But the claim that 'Brexit is to blame' is going to become embedded in public opinion unless the government starts to behave like the wise-spending, lightly-regulating administration it told us we would be able to have if we voted for Brexit. I don’t see a government that is reining in the wasteful spending that the Leave campaign rightly laid at the door of the EU. On the contrary, it has merely reinvented the most wasteful form of EU spending — the Common Agricultural Policy — at a national level. Nor do I see a government committed in the least to deregulation — on the contrary, I see one that is loading up the statute book with ever-greater regulatory burdens such as on animal sentience, employment law and the like. Soon, even the most convinced Brexiteers are going to have to start asking: what was ‘taking back control’ all about if we have ended up with even greater waste and more petty laws than we started with?