Sean Duffy says local and regional solutions are needed to help communities recover from Covid-19
“Don’t worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88mph the instant the lightning strikes the tower . . . everything will be fine.” The essence of the quote from Dr Emmett Brown in Back to the Future will be painfully familiar to the numerous economic groups considering measures to chart a path back to social and economic recovery.
A pre-pandemic jobless rate of 3.5% will very likely increase to more than 10%, resulting in more than 150,000 people joining the pre-Covid-19 figure of 113,000. Many of the latter were already experiencing severe difficulty and impediment: the disabled, ex-offenders, the care experienced, the homeless and those suffering substance abuse issues. For them insecurity has been amplified to acute despair; their support systems disrupted as they’re most likely “displaced” by the focus on the recently unemployed.
Scotland is a complex patchwork of communities, cultures and local economies. Every part will be affected differently and at different levels. It’s vital we steer clear of responding to the monolithic task we face with an often predictable monolithic response. Recognition and appreciation of individual labour market needs is crucial. The imperative must be on finding regional and local solutions that twin track rapid and inclusive recovery.
Take Inverclyde. In December last year the area, which subsequently suffered more than most during this Covid-19 crisis, had the third highest unemployment rate across all Scottish local authorities. In January, Greenock - its unofficial capital - recorded the highest levels of deprivation. This highlights the need for a truly inclusive “localised” recovery effort. One where we do not focus only on those who have recently joined the front of the “recovery” queue but also those who have stood in line for some time.
Displacement must be our “watch out”. We must not forget those who were already struggling. More broadly, as we try to put the right solutions in place to aid our recovery, the effort must be about all groups that make up the unemployment figures. No one should be left behind.
The need for rapid re-employment is not in question but we cannot allow the clamour to bias our thinking, narrowing our focus and plans. If we do, the result will be an unintended, catastrophic, social trade-off where the most challenged and economically fragile drift further from the reality or hope of any sort of sustainable future. But as George McFly says: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
Sean Duffy is chief executive of the Wise Group