Dan Jarvis – 2020 Speech on Covid-19

Below is the text of the speech made by Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2020.

In South Yorkshire, where I am also the Mayor, the coronavirus has infected more than 4,500 people and, tragically, killed 576 people. My thoughts are with all of those who have suffered and lost, and those who are doing so much to keep our people safe and our society functioning. I will always seek to work constructively with the Government, but we do have a duty to test their policies and to hold them to account. One of their most crucial tasks is to keep the confidence of the British people, and without clarity, we will fail. So I have four immediate concerns.

The first is that “Stay alert” is vague compared with “Stay at home”. I am glad that the Prime Minister provided more detail today, but many people will still be confused, and confusion risks contagion. Secondly, we cannot ask people to go back to work if they cannot get there safely. Social distancing means much lower capacity on our public transport systems, and a switch to cars would mean instant gridlock. That means that getting people to walk and cycle is central to easing the lockdown. To be fair, the Government seem to understand that, but we urgently need to translate that into action together.

Thirdly, we cannot force people back to an unsafe workplace. The Government must monitor and support businesses to implement rigorous protective measures, in close collaboration with employees and unions. Until that is done, those workers should remain furloughed. Fourthly, the Government must be careful not to create suspicion, justified or not, that they are motivated by any concern other than fighting the disease. Things such as testing targets that are met just on the one day needed to avoid negative headlines inevitably undermine that vital public trust; this is no time for politics as ​usual. So the Government must be utterly transparent about the data, the advice they are getting and the compromises they are choosing. There must be a clear line between the science and the political decisions based on it. That applies right across the UK, and the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority has led in supporting and informing local communities and businesses, in getting them the help they need and in championing their concerns at Westminster. We have kept our businesses and our light rail system running. We have lined up our local industries to supply PPE to the NHS, and we are developing a recovery plan that truly reflects local needs, but the Government must bring us in to the heart of their response, and fund and empower us accordingly.

Finally, that response must also serve a wider purpose, We clearly need massive—[Inaudible.] This is the moment for a green new deal, for fixing our crumbling infrastructure and for addressing the unacceptable inequality between our regions and nations. History will not forgive us if, as after 2008, we make such sacrifices only to see inequality grow and the planet burn ever warmer. For all our sakes, the legacy we aim for now must not be a return to the status quo; it must be a national renewal.