JANET STREET-PORTER: Nice try, Rishi

JANET STREET-PORTER: Nice try, Rishi but if saving our economy relies on bribing us all to going back to buying throwaway fashion, half-price Nando’s and over-priced houses from each other, maybe we have the wrong kind of economy

Every time I go shopping, I leave with vouchers, a wad of extra paper promising cash and discounts off my next purchases. Loyalty in the hard-fought battle between supermarkets and discount stores, can only be bought with cash, not quality.

Spending £60 in Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall today, I was rewarded with a whopping £9 off my next visit. Retailing is in free fall if an iconic brand like M&S is forced to offer huge bribes to win over timid consumers or go to the wall.

Now, the British government – faced with an economy that’s slumped by 25%, the prospect of millions of job losses and a public who are too cowed to leave home for fear for infection – has decided to adopt the same market stall strategy. 

Put simply, they need to con us into spending big time in order to prop up our creaking economy so there aren’t even more job losses and closures.

Billed as ‘Eat out to Help out’ the ailing hospitality sector, there are conditions attached. Pictured: A Nando’s restaurant in Leicester

Rishi Sunak (pictured delivering his mini-budget in the House of Commons on July 8) unveiled his new plans today

Smooth talking Dishi Rishi is blessed with natural salesmanship, able to deliver a summer economic statement (in a country with no cash left in the bank and in debt up to it’s ears) and make it sound like he’s giving away thousands of cash prizes to lucky winners on the Lottery.

He’s blessed with the smooth delivery, the heartfelt good intentions and the 500-watt gleaming smile of a game show host.

It might seem churlish to point out that these exciting ‘offers’- discounts here and there for dinner dates, grants for trainees, incentives for employers to take on the unskilled young, and a new army of careers advisors, all fail to address the big question facing the government. What kind of economy will really benefit the UK in the long run?

Rishi has decided it’s business as usual – the public must get off their backsides and spend spend spend – buying stuff we don’t need, clothes that are made by slaves or at the very least, women on less than the minimum wage on zero hours contracts and no security of employment.

We must eat dinner out to save jobs in the hospitality sector because it’s our ‘national duty’.

And he’s even going to help pick up the tab.

Billed as ‘Eat out to Help out’ the ailing hospitality sector, there are conditions attached. 

Establishments that register will receive government funding to cover 50% off meals or hot takeaways up to a maximum discount of £10 – but only on Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays.

And this meal deal doesn’t apply to booze – so publicans will just have to start serving food if they want to cash in. (How this ‘eating to save Britain’ strategy fits with Boris Johnson’s new plan to get us all on a diet wasn’t explained.)

Rishi has decided it’s business as usual – the public must get off their backsides and spend spend spend. Pictured: A shopper wears a protective mask as she shops during the coronavirus pandemic

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaks with diners during a visit to a Wagamama restaurant in central London

Rishi Sunak’s budget had other bargains, with a cut in stamp duty on houses up to £500,000 as well as another in the rate of VAT- from 20% to 5% on eating out in pubs, cafes and restaurants, accommodation in hotels and B and B’s and caravan sites and attractions like the cinema, theme parks and zoos.

Because it’s also our patriotic duty to take staycations, and go out more. To spend the money we’ve been saving over the past few months trapped in lockdown to help re-float our ailing economy.

Sunak is not extending the furlough scheme beyond October, so what happens then? He’s offering £2.1 billion in a ‘kickstart scheme’ – paying for six month work placements for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit, as well as 30,000 traineeships in England, giving firms £1,000 for each work experience placement. 

And he’s offering employers £1,000 for every staff member kept on for at least three months after furlough ends.

According to Rishi, ‘no-one will be left without hope’ – in reality, all the vouchers the Treasury print won’t save the hospitality industry if the weather is poor, and there’s a second spike in covid-19 infections.

Mr Sunak helps staff serve food at a Wagamama restaurant in London after announcing that diners will be able to receive a 50 per cent discount on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the month of August

Any more local lockdowns, and there’s going to be a big hole in the side of this Good Ship Hope, with Rishi’s summer holiday handouts making little or no difference to our fast-sinking economy.

As it is, pubs and restaurants are closing every day and they won’t re-open. 

According to the CBI 70% of british companies are running out of cash, and three quarters say that there’s a lack of demand for their products right across all sectors, from retail to hospitality and health and beauty (which still remain closed).

As for these new non-jobs for the unqualified youth – the people who failed to get qualifications because school didn’t address their needs or inspire them – I doubt very much that work experience will make much difference.

Making young people head of paperclips and stationary supplies or toilet rolls changers and shelf stackers is all well and good but it’s not tapping into the kind of economy Britain should focus on post-pandemic – the business of being a unique place, a home for excellence in every field.

Our genius lies in creativity, inventiveness, an ability to hit well above our weight in all the arts. At their best, our restaurants are fantastic, our cuisine draws fans from all over the world.

Offering us a load of vouchers which can be spent in cheap chains like Nando’s (owned by faceless international corporations) is hardly going to solve the problem of how to support small businesses who are our lifeblood.

He has not addressed how to train thousands of young people to learn skills that support these creative industries from ironwork to carpentry to training as a chef.

The government itself is a lousy employer- clogged up with thousands of workers doing non-jobs, and so is the NHS. There are hundreds of Quangos, from Public Health England to Natural England, to god knows how many health and safety boards. 

For decades, Ministers have tried and failed to slim down the labyrinthine mechanisms that stop Britain being agile in business, quick to respond in health care and alert to local needs.

Offering a cut in the stamp duty rate will only produce an average saving of £4,400 on a house purchases, hardly enough to persuade you to take on a 20-year mortgage if you’re worried about being made redundant.

It’s estimated the cut will generate around 41,000 extra sales – mostly to the middle classes and certainly not the young or the first time buyers who still won’t be able to afford anywhere except their teenage room at mum and dad’s for the forseeable future.

By closing schools and denying the young a decent education for months on end, Boris Johnson’s inept government has made it even more difficult for them to do something worthwhile and rewarding with their lives. But at least now they can always get a cheap deal at Nando’s to cheer themselves up.

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