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Shop, work, spend…but don’t learn

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Go forth and shop. Go forth and get back to work. Go forth and restart the economy. So says the Chancellor, knowing that things have to start to get back to whatever normal will look like. Except it’s not quite that easy.

When we get through this pandemic and its aftermath, will things go back to exactly how they were before? No. For one thing, a great many companies have discovered that there isn’t a pressing need for every employee to be sitting at their desk, having done a 60-minute commute to get there, day-in, day-out. They will have realised that, for some, the ability to write a report whilst wearing fluffy slippers, in the peace of your home office, unhindered by colleagues’ chit-chat and the ‘have you got a minute’ meetings that always last way longer than a minute, can make an employee far more productive. Alas, for others, there will come the realisation that the essential work can be done without the input of those colleagues on furlough. Monday’s announcement that by Travis Perkins of a restructuring which will see the likely loss of 2,500 jobs and 165 branches closed was a big enough story to have made the pages of every mainstream newspaper and the BBC and comes in the wake of similar announcements by Marshalls, Ibstock and Forterra.

There’s an element of housekeeping in all this of course and of bringing forward restructurings that had possibly been in the pipeline or long overdue. There will be other companies out there who use the opportunities afforded by the last couple of months to take a long hard look at what they have and what they are likely to need over the next few years, in terms of people and branches. The Chancellor’s billion-pound furlough scheme has helped a great many companies retain staff, but when it comes to an end, so will some of those jobs. It doesn’t make it any easier for those who have to go through it. I’ve known too many people go through this, both inside and out of the industry, not to understand that for some, it will be an opportunity to be grasped, but for others, it’s the worst possible news at one of the worst possible times.

The Chancellor has implored the public to go forth and shop in order to stop the economy from collapsing, although if you’re still on 80% of pay it’s going to be hard to justify. It’s also hard to go back to work when you are a parent of school-age children who have not set foot inside a classroom since the end of March. The worst thing about the way that this lockdown is being lifted is the way that it shows where the government’s priorities lie. With the short term, with the here and now. Why else would the country’s future workers be being sold down the line?  Why else would they be allowed to go to Boots but not their biology class, Marks and Spencer’s but not maths, Primark but not PE? Because, apart from Michael Gove, no senior Minister has children in state education perhaps? Remember Labour’s 1997 Manifesto? Tony Blair’s three most important things he said were: “Education, Education, Education”. Although I think the teaching unions also have to shoulder some of the blame with their scaremongering and intransigence, the fact that hairdressing is higher on the government’s list of priorities for re-opening than secondary schools is a disgrace.

Maybe I’m a cynic but I can’t help thinking that if Dominic Cummings’ son was 14 instead of 4, then the secondary schools would be re-opening.

 

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Editor-in-Chief across the BMJ portfolio.

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