Below is the text of the speech made by Andrea Leadsom, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.
Our country is divided between those who are deeply fearful of covid-19 and those who are deeply fearful of the continued lockdown. Of course, the right priority is to save lives, but there is no doubt that my constituents are sending many contrasting messages. Some have lost family to the virus; others are exhausted from working on the frontline. Some are so lonely that they would rather take their chances and break the lockdown. Some entrepreneurs are seeing years of hard work and effort disappearing before their very eyes. So the task is huge, and I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on their efforts to respond to the coronavirus. They face a precarious balancing act: safeguarding people’s lives versus protecting their livelihoods.
In the short time available today, I want to raise our eyes above the current crisis for a moment and to think about what the lockdown experience can teach us about the way forward in rebuilding our lives and our economy. There are two potential big wins. The first is to make flexible work the gold standard for the future. The second is to lead the world in building a green economy. Coronavirus has required us to adapt almost overnight to new ways of working, particularly working from home. For some, it is difficult to juggle young children, poor broadband or just loneliness, but for others it has been truly liberating, and the question is whether employers can make these new freedoms permanent. Likewise, many have been working part time or flexible hours to accommodate social distancing. Has this worked for them, and it is a better way forward for all of us?
Even before coronavirus hit, the employment rights Bill, which was in the Queen’s Speech, promised to enshrine the UK’s status as the best place in the world to work by encouraging flexible working as standard. In my view, working from home through flexible hours or job-sharing arrangements will not only increase quality of life but boost productivity and increase the diversity of our workforce. The past few weeks have been tough for UK businesses. Many of them will need to adapt or die, but amid the stress of the time we are living in, lockdown also points to a great new opportunity.
Staying home has cleaned the air, reduced the smog and enabled our planet to breathe. Today, there are 450,000 green collar jobs in the UK, and, if we play our cards right, this could be 2 million or more by 2013, with the prospect of new skills and the levelling up of prosperity right across the country. That is what we will need to get Britain back to work and to provide employment for those whose jobs are lost. There is huge potential for British innovators to create a green tech sector to rival the size and capacity of today’s UK financial services. Our challenge will be to ramp up the success that we have already seen in this new industrial revolution, offering new opportunities for growth and jobs, exports and global leadership.
In conclusion, the challenge right now is to balance the need to save lives with the need to protect livelihoods, but a brighter future can emerge from this time of trouble—one that properly values a good work-life balance and one that leads the world in clean growth and green technology for the benefit of us all.