We asked Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton for his view on the changing business landscape in Oldham following the coronavirus pandemic
“We are hugely grateful to the business in our borough who have stepped up when faced with the unprecedented challenges Covid has brought. It is no secret that the coronavirus lockdown has hit Oldham hard.
There are an extra 7,000 people seeking social security support and around 14,000 employees furloughed through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which equates to approximately 30% of all those employed in my constituency. Of course, not all of these will be based here in Oldham, some will be in and around the other towns in Greater Manchester and some will be further afield. But there are a significant number of businesses in Oldham that have rightfully taken advantage of this scheme to prevent further job losses in our town.
And there are many, many businesses that have been shining lights in what has been a challenging period and they deserve our gratitude, thanks and praise. One business has been doing particularly stellar work since the outbreak of the pandemic and I will come to them later on. My office has had plenty of emails from businesses in Oldham offering their help and highlighting their frustration at how difficult it was to get through to government to point out how they can help address the well-documented issues that the government has faced over the last few months.
From the shop in Royton seeking to donate their stock to local care homes, to the manufacturers in Chadderton who switched up their entire output in order to start creating plastic face visors for NHS and care staff, they have done us proud. They are a credit to our town, region and country. Debbie Abrahams MP and I hosted a webinar for Oldham businesses back in May, so we could consider the government and council support available to them. One of the most striking things that I took away from the meeting, was just how desperate so many companies were to give back as well.
One of the first Zoom meetings I had way back in March was with Ultimate Products. We discussed what they had already done and the plans they had as we continued into uncharted territory of Covid-19 and lockdown. They have been working with Action Together, the foodbank and with other local charities to co-ordinate their resources and how they can be used to help as many people in Oldham as possible. They were able to offer support through financial donations and with large-quantities of high-demand items that the foodbank was struggling to get hold of at the start of the lockdown.
Ultimate’s management team agreed to waive their salaries back in May in order to help local charities and the wider community. Moreover, Ultimate also announced that it would be repaying over £450,000 it had claimed through the furlough scheme, after their finances turned out to be in a much better position than they had expected. I don’t think it can be overstated just how much of a tremendous display of leadership this is and I really hope that others in a similar position follow their lead.
It is this type of community based business that will help us build back better; businesses that care about and invest in the communities that they operate in. There are numerous examples of this and indeed, many have been in touch with my office since March offering their help and the difference that they are willing to make, is moving.
But they cannot do it alone, our town will need help from central government and there is no escaping that. I and my Labour colleagues fully supported the furlough scheme that the government brought forward; it was the right thing to do. However, the decision to end the furlough scheme for all at the end of October lacks foresight and will prove to be a mistake which will hit our economy hard and could lead to record unemployment, as many sectors are still early into the recovery, and some, such as tour operators, coach companies, events businesses, all still very much still feeling lockdown.
There are some sectors that will not be in a position to come back yet through no fault of their own and the government must recognise that. Indeed, both Germany and France have extended their furlough schemes for twenty-four months, recognising the need to protect jobs and help business get back on its feet. The government must also take the lead in helping to re-train or re-skill those who now find themselves out of work. We must prepare the next generation for a job-market which is already vastly different to what it looked like at the start of this year.
We need to think smart and build back better. We also need to be aware that the situation that existed before wasn’t working for too many people in our town. My recent visit to Trailar, a company specialising in solar technology for vehicles, showed me that genuinely ground-breaking work can be done here in Oldham and furthered my belief that our town can be at the forefront of a green industrial revolution, just as it was at the centre of the original.”