The Telegraph: Boris Johnson urged to cut taxes to help get the economy moving after lockdown

Original article by Edward Malnick of The Telegraph. Available here:

Report by the Conservative Policy Forum suggests a re-think of HS2 and a revival of food and drugs manufacturing in the UK

TORY PARTY members want Boris Johnson to cut business rates and introduce a stamp duty holiday to help revive the economy as lockdown measures lift.

A report by the Conservative official grassroots think tank sets out radical proposals to “get the economy moving again”, including a rethink of HS2, and reviving food and drugs manufacturing in the UK. It comes as ministers draw up plans to stimulate the economy amid warnings that unemployment could rise to 10 per cent.

The report by the Conservative Policy Forum is being considered by No10 and the Treasury, having been compiled from discussions via video conferences involving 1,000 members.

The proposals have also been sent to Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, who is quoted on the CPF website referring to the think tank’s “part in coming up with the solutions we need to level up and unleash this country’s potential”.

The majority of members consulted on the Government’s approach to the pandemic highlighted “the damaging impact that the current restrictions are having on many areas of our national life”, including physical and mental health, and the education of children and students, the report warned.

A comment by one CPF group, said to be representative of the responses, stated: “There is a growing risk that more lives will be lost as a result of the lockdown.”

John Penrose, a former minister and chairman of the CPF, said: “The report contains some really practical, sensible ideas to consider, like letting schools open over August to help students make up the gaps in learning which the lockdown has caused.”

About 74 CPF groups in 100 constituencies were asked to come up with proposals in five broad areas relating to the coronavirus response, including how the Government could boost the economy once lockdown has eased.

Many suggestions were volunteered by multiple groups. The report stated: “It is worth noting that trends identified were of unprompted concerns and therefore do not reflect the greater level of concern that would presumably be found if we were specifically to ask to what extent members shared each particular concern or idea.”

Around one group in six (15 per cent) suggested reducing business rates to boost the economy when restrictions were lifted, with a similar proportion calling for an extension of the Government’s VAT deferral scheme, which allows firms to defer payments due between March 20 and June 30. One group in 12 (8 per cent) said the Government should introduce a stamp duty holiday, while one in three (37 per cent) wanted to “encourage repatriation of manufacturing in sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals and engineering”.

One in five (17 per cent) said that HS2, the rail line due to stretch from London to the North, and “all large projects, must be seriously re-evaluated”.

A summary of the report stated: “The vast majority of groups (94 per cent) recognised the damaging impact that the current restrictions are having on many areas of our national life – from individuals’ physical and mental health to the education of schoolchildren and university students.”

In a letter to CPF members, Mr Penrose said: “We have sent weekly updates of the emerging recommendations to 10 Downing Street, and to individual Cabinet ministers. We wouldn’t normally do this but, because the Covid-19 crisis is so fast-paced, we thought our proposals would be more useful if they gave ministers a real-time perspective. Getting feedback has been harder than usual as everyone is working flat out, but it’s been positive whenever we’ve been able to grab some.”

He added: “The strongest and most widely held conclusion in the entire report, by far, is that Conservative Policy Forum members want the Prime Minister to lift the lockdown as soon as it’s safe. It isn’t just the damage which lockdown is inflicting on jobs, the economy and government borrowing, although they’re bad enough; it’s the effects on mental health, loneliness and domestic abuse.

“There’s a medium-term thread of concern about the damage to future life chances of pupils and students who have fallen behind in their studies while learning from home.

“Conservative Policy Forum members see education as a key route out of poverty, particularly for pupils and students who are vulnerable or who start with less, and want to get schools reopened and learning restarted safely as soon as possible.”