Labour’s Tees Valley mayoral candidate Jessie Joe Jacobs has set out a raft of ideas for a local business and civic society response to dealing with the Coronavirus crisis.
Although the planned mayoral election has been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jessie Joe is continuing to play an active role in local politics – and has written to Tory mayor Ben Houchen and Tees Valley Combined Authority’s cabinet to take urgent action to help those struggling to cope with ensuing crisis.
“It is clear that the impact of Coronavirus is going to hurt the Tees Valley in ways that up until a month ago were thought unimaginable,” she said. “The job losses and business closures will be unprecedented and the human cost and loss of life will be devastating.
“Local, regional and national government must pull together, alongside our communities and civic society, to ensure the survival of our local businesses and the protection of those most vulnerable. Last week I wrote to (chancellor) Rushi Sunack on behalf of business and workers asking for updates to the budget…many suggestions were implemented.
“I have since been working tirelessly with business leaders and communities…to pull together ideas that could be implemented locally, which I have set out in a letter to the Mayor Ben Houchen and the cabinet at the Combined Authority. (https://jessiejacobs.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/mayor-ben-houchen-covid-19-response.pdf)
“Ultimately, we need government action but that mustn’t stop us being responsive on the ground to need.
“The Coronavirus is already having catastrophic impacts on the retail, leisure and service industry with jobs and businesses being lost by the minute. We must call on national government to address this urgently with financial measures, particularly in the form of a non-repayable, easy-access capital and grants stimulus for business. Loans are not sufficient and capital is needed immediately, not in a month or so time when it could already be too late.”
The mayoral candidate added that there were some measures that could be taken locally to support the retail and leisure industry, adding that “Ultimately business, workers and those that represent them need to be at the forefront of decision making.”
Jacobs called for the following to take place immediately:
• Set up an emergency Tees Valley Task Force made up of sector leaders, trade unions and industry representatives to advise local government and the combined authority during this time.
• Set up a business support team and crisis phone number for the service industry to offer immediate advice and support around for instance, applying for grants and loans.
• Invest in localised not-for-profit online platforms to facilitate trade, along the lines of the Just Eat or Etsy model which could create trade for retailers, cafes and restaurants and help to secure the supply of food and consumer goods during the outbreak.
• Easy access investment and support to local businesses for adapting and introducing digital technologies that enable the provision of services at a distance, online trading etc.
She added: that a general business strategy could include redirecting, where possible, business support schemes into business continuity support – which, she said, could include the setting up a local emergency business helpline and offering dedicated support and advice around:
• Creating business continuity and survival plans.
• Crisis loans, grants and tax payments.
• Looking after the workforce and advising on best practice.
• Managing a business during periods of disruption.
• Policies and business processes that can be adopted to enable teams to work remotely from home during periods of isolation.
“We should also be redirecting business development and employment support into strategic areas that will need to increase capacity at this time such as logistics and delivery,” said Jacobs.
“A civic society strategy must also be implemented, based on coordinating and redeploying as many resources and services as possible to deal with the crisis and providing a link between business, institutions and communities.
“My team and I have now set up Teesside Community Action https://m.facebook.com/groups/509703963254051/?fref=nf – a civic society response to the Coronavirus, offering advice, support and guidance around a range of issues, matching business and communities with need or support.
“We have begun a crisis fund for those most vulnerable. I have also been in conversation with businesses and charities to develop efficient and safe ways that the public can support each other during this time such as the idea of a crisis helpline for the elderly who are not online.
“There are many people wanting to look after people and play their role in protecting those most vulnerable. We must do this in a coordinated way and provide leadership and support to those people, organisations and groups.
“We are no longer in a business-as-usual phase – this is unprecedented times needing unprecedented action.”