- April 17, 2020
- Posted by: Mike Hedges AM
- Category: Latest News, Pamphlet
Prior to the corona virus (covid 19) pandemic there was discussion about the foundation economy, the growth sectors of the economy and the key local industries.
What we have discovered since the pandemic and lock down is what is the essential economy, the parts of the economy that are continuing during the pandemic when most businesses are closed down.
We now know the essential economy includes health and social care, utilities (Gas, Electricity and Water/Sewerage), local authority services such as refuse collection and Environmental Health, education at both school and university (using distance learning), government services, policing, fire service and defence, essential maintenance, undertakers, ICT , Food and drink including their production, sale and transportation, life sciences, the media (TV, radio and newspapers), postal service, finance and insurance and certain manufacturing.
We have also got economic sectors such as public transport still working but at a vastly reduced capacity. We have seen the voluntary/third sector provide much needed services showing that many are essential rather than nice to have provision.
Whilst the above is not an exhaustive list it identifies the parts of the economy that are essential. Interestingly it covers industries in the foundation economy, growth economy and key local industries.
We have just also seen how easy it is for many people to work from home. As air pollution has reduced and those who regularly suffer from it are discovering what improved air quality is like, will we see at least a partial continuation of home working.
This crisis is also a reminder of just how essential British manufacturing really is. The stepping up, scaling up and wholesale switching of production to ventilators and medical devices via projects Oyster and Penguin and the consortium Ventilator Challenge UK have illustrated the crucial role of manufacturing these essential products. Those with 3D printers and other equipment have engaged in the home manufacturing of face masks and other protective equipment are reminding us of the innovation skills we have but also reminds us of the much-reduced capacity of a sector that has at times felt overlooked and undervalued, despite its ability to provide skilled employment and benefit the balance of payments. That we import far too many items that we have the ability to make in the UK in a cost effective manner is something , that when the pandemic is over we have to address urgently as a country.
The current crisis has highlighted how food industry works , from agriculture to supermarket. Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London City University, published Feeding Britain . He says that although Britain is not actually at war, we are nevertheless, in practice, facing a food challenge on a wartime scale.
When there was no panic-buying, as we have at the moment, supermarket shelves were usually full. But that hid a highly fragile just-in-time supply chain, with British agriculture only producing about half of what we consume.
In the current coronavirus epidemic, scare-mongering has played a major part in emptying the shelves in supermarkets, and to the shortages of certain foods from pasta and baked beans in week 1 to eggs and flour in week 2. There has also been panic-buying of surface cleaners, soap and toilet rolls.
Even without coronavirus the underlying problem is the small number of big firms that dominate the food retail sector we know that eight firms control 90% of food supply, and that Tesco has about 30% of the market. Price has been the dominant form of competition, so that farmers get only a small portion of the price of the food we buy. A tiny 2.8% of cultivable land in Britain is used for fruit and vegetables. We import food we could grow, and some of what we do grow feeds animals or is used to make processed foods.
If anything is to be learnt from this pandemic it has to be an understanding of what areas of the economy are essential and the need for a growth policy for agriculture and manufacturing.