Borrowing rises to frightening levels – and another u-turn from Boris

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, having to manage record borrowing caused by the coronavirus

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 64 (Friday, May 22 2020)

ANYONE who thinks that life is going to return to normal when coronavirus is finally beaten needs to think again.

Our green and pleasant land may be disease free in a few months, but as a nation we are going to be paying for this for many years to come.

I sat down to write this diary this lunchtime when it was announced on television that the government has borrowed £62 billion in April, the highest figure ever.

It was only a few years ago, in 2006 I think, when we repaid the final instalment of the money we borrowed from the United States during the war, about £145 million was paid. It took 61 years to wipe the slate clean.

Few can complain about how generous the government has been in trying to support business and their workers but it comes at a price. There’s not a city, town or village in the country which will not suffer a lower standard of living as we hurtle towards the biggest recession for 300 years.

I’ve managed through two recessions in my career and both were pretty challenging. This one going far worse and I fear here will be many casualties.

The government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has predicted that borrowing for the whole year could reach £298 billion, more than five times the estimate at the time of the March Budget.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the Office for Nationla Statistics, described April’s figure as “pretty much unprecedented”. It said the cost of furlough schemes alone was £14 billion in April.

Mr Athow told the BBC: “Borrowing now is about six times what it was (in April) last year, so we are talking about some really significant changes in the government finance.”

He added that it was impossible to forecast the current year’s public finances because of the “high amounts of uncertainty”.

Tax receipts had fallen heavily, as the Treasury has allowed companies to defer some payments. The amount received from VAT in April was negative, with the government collecting less than was handed back in repayments.

It all sounds very depressing and the month of May could well bring more even bad news.

The country’s borrowing now totals £1.9 trillion – about £28,000 for every person in the UK.

One thing I know, I wouldn’t want to be in Rishi Sunak’s shoes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is facing a very tough time in steering the country through such stormy financial waters.

No government would want to find itself in this position and politicians have to stop playing the blame game and work together to get the country through such tough times.

Community spirit will help return town to better times

Locally, as the current crisis has demonstrated, Lyme comes together when things get tough. And this community spirit, so evident over the past few weeks, will play a huge part in seeing the town return to better times.

We need to put past differences to one side and look to the future by replacing aggravation with kindness. Facebook devotees please note.

During these past few weeks many people have got used to working at home and engaging in video conferencing to such a level that this could become part of the “new norm” in future.

A number of companies can see the benefits in this, not least the possibility of reducing costs. It could be a big life changer for many, especially those who face long journeys to and from work.

I’m not that keen on meetings via Zoom or FaceTime, mainly because my hearing is so poor that I struggle to participate. The three local organisations for which I’m president are meeting in this manner but I have not taken part in many of them. As president I’m not involved in the day-to-day running of the groups so it’s not really necessary for me to be tuning in (if that’s what you do).

Lyme Regis Town Council, which has administration staff working from home, has started holding virtual meetings and when it has a full meeting, sometime in July I think, I understand it will be possible for the public to join in.

In the meantime if you have a question for the council, email it to LymeOnline for our regular ‘Ask The Mayor’ feature in our digital edition.

Whilst mentioning the council, a word of praise for the gardening staff who were not furloughed. A number of readers have commented on how lovely the gardens are looking despite the reduced manpower.

Boris makes a u-turn

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was made to do a complete u-turn yesterday as he scrapped fees charged to overseas health workers to use the NHS. Previously he had said the fees had to stand as they brought in considerable revenue for the NHS.

The about-turn was described as a “the right thing to do” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who added: “We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.”

I find myself agreeing with Starmer more and more.

There was some encouraging news for Boris after a few days under the cosh. Two testing breakthroughs were unveiled last night which will boost hopes of getting the country back to work again.

Ministers are trialling an on-the-spot test which tells patients if they have the virus in just 20 minutes.

Health Minister Matt Hancock, the bookies’ favourite for the fall-guy, if matters get any worse for the government, also announced the launch of 10 million antibody tests from next week. These finger-prick tests will confirm whether patients have already had the virus and the results will come back the same day.

If Boris is overly stressing about his volte-face over the NHS fees, he might well take on board this quotation by author David M. Burns: “Aim for success, not for perfection. Never give up on your right to be wrong because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward for your life.”

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