TESTING TIMES

Following this week’s extension of the lockdown, business in the North is desperate for some indication of how long it might go on. The pressure on the government for an answer is only increased by the partial lifting of restrictions in Spain and Italy.

The main problem is the lack of testing. Few believe the Health Secretary will achieve 100,000 tests by the end of April. Until we identify where the infection dangers remain at their highest, how can the government ease the restrictions?

One wants to give Ministers some slack as they are faced with the enormity of Covid-19 but the response to the virus both medically and economically has been patchy. Capacity in the NHS seems to have been addressed with some of the Nightingale hospitals standing empty. But in the areas of testing and protective clothing, one gets the impression that there has been a lack of transparency and a surplus of wishful thinking. On the number of deaths, the figure we need to see prominently on our TV screens is the total number of deaths in hospitals and care homes, even if the latter takes longer to compile.

The revelation of the true position in our care homes over the last week has been truly shocking. The service needs to be treated as a twin of the NHS, both now and in a long-term solution that has so far just caused political point scoring.

ECONOMIC CAUTION

There is much speculation about the shape of the recovery when it comes. It is unlikely to be V shaped in my opinion. Although there will be pent up demand, millions of people will have had their income planning totally disrupted. There will be caution in the high street and in the property market. Without testing there will be fear about mass contact while the virus is still out there.

The Office for Budget Responsibility spelt out the stark figures this week. The OBR does not disguise the difficulties the government will face when it finally relents on the shutdown.

STARMER’S NORTH WEST STARLETS

The new Labour leader has now completed his team for when politics gets back to normal. I’ve been looking at the North West MPs that he has picked.

There are a couple of Corbyn supporters; Dan Carden (Walton) who is in the Treasury team and Cat Smith (Lancaster) dealing with young people.

St Helens MP Conor McGinn, born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, is Shadow Security Minister; while Ellesmere Port’s Justin Madders takes on the task of monitoring Public Health where so many questions will be asked when the virus has passed. His colleague in Chester, Chris Mathieson will be the new spokesman on media policy.

Manchester’s Lucy Powell is the new Shadow Business Minister while neighbour and Urmston MP Kate Green deals with child poverty. Mike Kane, representing Wythenshawe has the important job of Shadow Transport Minister.

Over on Merseyside, Wirral West’s Margaret Greenwood will shadow schools and Alison McGovern, sport, not the best use of her many talents in my opinion. Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) covers Overseas Development under Emily Thornberry who should have been sacked.

Kate Hollern will use her experience as leader of Blackburn Council to shadow local government while Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) has another important portfolio in housing.

They will all have an uphill task to make names for themselves in the current circumstances and following Labour’s massive defeat, but we will see who takes their chance.