Mark Jepp hasn’t pulled any punches in his assessment of the government’s handling of the pandemic – the paradox, he says, is the vaccine has led to a longer lockdown not an earlier reopening. The bingo champion calls for more flexibility in order to explore all options, and the chancellor needs to keep businesses free from the burdens of debt for much longer.
Does the government’s roadmap provide you with a clear path for a return to business?
It’s a map (of sorts) and it includes dates – but that’s as far as it goes I’m afraid. It’s a painfully slow journey and one which doesn’t really have any reference to the maths and the success of the immunisation programme. If the prime minster is following the data then the milestone dates should be brought forward at the very least in order to open up the economy by the time everyone over 50-years has been vaccinated – this demographic accounts for 99 percent of Covid deaths. Paradoxically the vaccine has enabled the government to impose a longer lockdown: if we didn’t have the vaccines there’s absolutely no way that the economy would be shut down for this length of time without there being an implosion and/or widespread social unrest.
Boris Johnson is being ultra-cautious because the vaccine allows him to be and he is learning the lessons of over promising but at our cost and the cost and misery that’s associated with thousands and thousands of job losses, social problems and the legacy of long-term mental health problems. I think the roadmap is another shameful indictment of a very shabby administration.
What’s missing from the roadmap for your business?
This is a roadmap that doesn’t take into account any change in circumstances. We are travelling in a car with a restrictor plate – we can’t go any faster despite movements in the data. The dates are the earliest possible and according to all of the commentary and briefings are set in tablets of stone. There has to be more flexibility to explore every opportunity to arrive at our destination faster and earlier.
We have the budget this week, what does the chancellor need to do to make the roadmap work for you?
We need more support, an extension of furlough, continued lower VAT rate, business rates and extended interest free periods for loan repayments. I also think it’s about what the chancellor shouldn’t do in his budget and that’s to avoid increasing business taxes such as Corporation Tax. He must ensure that the business community is not burdened by debt when it needs to be leading the recovery.