Opinion with Cllr Karen Constantine – Seeing Red: Stepping up to the Covid economic challenge

Cllr Karen Constantine

It’s great news that some of our lockdown conditions have now been lifted. This latest Government advice coincides with a spell of glorious weather, for which Thanet rightly enjoys a great reputation. It lifts spirits and adds to our sense of increased well-being.

However, dark clouds gather on the horizon, giving pause for thought. I’m sure we all ask ourselves “are we, and our loved ones truly safe and what will the ‘new normal’ look like?”

No matter how bright the sun shines, the Covid challenges continues. More than 50,000 people have died in the U.K. to date – Europe’s highest death toll. Plus, a record 20% contraction in the economy is expected. The International Monetary Fund say the UK will need to borrow £400 billion in the next two years to fund the UK’s response to Covid19 and tax shortfalls. This is the new reality we have to grapple with.

As Ramsgate’s County Councillor, I contacted most of the care homes and schools in my division to offer support and help during the Covid crisis. I was able to raise concerns flagged up to me by organisations and individuals alike and achieved some positive results. Likewise, I’ve been able to use my members grant to support our community. I’ve seen our community rally together brilliantly in many supportive and innovative ways. Though having great community doesn’t protect us from the realities of the on-going Covid19 crisis.

Redundancies have now started to hit Thanet. I’m being contacted by those residents for whom employment has been terminated or is under threat. We’ve seen a rise in unemployment from 5% to 9% and our youth unemployment is the highest in the South East, at 13.4%. We can’t afford a lost generation.

Child poverty stands at 35% across Thanet and a disgraceful 50% in some wards. Because of these significant challenges, at our full KCC council I called for funds to keep Ramsgate and indeed Thanet ‘standing’. For instance, why commit millions of pounds on a Parkway station? I talk to hundreds of people and no one has ever said Thanet needs a new railway station. £40m is an enormous amount to spend to gain a single minute on journey times between Ramsgate and London. Not to mention the prospect of having to drive to a station and the additional cost of parking. Surely that money could now be better directed? Surely the Covid crisis and the economic downturn demand that the ‘business as usual approach’ is suspended in favour of economic planning that really meets our new reality?

Yet, after a decade of budget cuts, councils across England are facing a £10bn funding black hole as the government is breaking its pledge to fund the cost of the coronavirus. Councils now face having to make cuts of over 20% to local services and jobs. KCC says they will be ‘short’ by up to £130 million over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the Social Market Foundation are suggesting that a layer of local government could be removed. This would create, I suppose, large ‘unitary’ authorities. The upside of this move would be some initial cost savings and that is, no doubt, the key driver for this potential initiative. The downside would be that services would invariably also be cut, perhaps leaving only bare minimum statutory services. Councils would become even more faceless, less accessible, even more distant and less responsive to local needs.

We urgently need to establish a cross party, cross department, local, focused and agile economic recovery committee. We have to swiftly deal with the rising tide of unemployment and under employment, to retrain workers, to allow people to develop new businesses, to support existing firms and to support our young people as they start their working lives.

Immediate action is required to work out a ‘survival and revival’ strategy for our community. Labour is calling for a recovery that protects workers and wellbeing for the long-term. We want to see a new social settlement, one that values individuals and communities. There must be a huge state-driven investment programme to build a fair and sustainable economy. Just like we did after World War Two, when we rebuilt our country by building homes, bringing to life the NHS and by supporting our community.

Like 1945, now is the time for visionary thinking. Labour has proposals for a radical Green New Deal to meet the urgent demands of climate change. Here in Thanet for instance blessed with our coast line, we could potentially produce our own energy, whether wind or tidal, and invest the profit made, directly into our community, rather than the pockets of investors. Public ownership provides better value for the tax-payer and consumer alike. We’re seeing that with the NHS and railways. It’s possible to build eco and affordable homes and we know many need these decent secure homes. We can ‘retro fit’ existing properties, residential and business to bring them to a new standard and end carbon dependency. There is much that we need to do to stem climate change to meet our zero carbon targets. It’s now about the political will and taking bold steps to make it a reality.

Nothing should be set in stone. Covid19 should prompt us all to stop doing ‘business as usual’. We can build a green economy, we can look after and prioritise people, we can build a better society based on ending carbon dependency, social justice and fare shares for everyone.


  1. We are now in the most dangerous times Of catching the virus because of complacency. All those who put their lives and their families and friends at risked by protesting and attending street parties and ignoring the lock down rules are a disgrace. Its no surprise to me that BAME group have seen more of that group catching the virus than others because BAME in general do not seem to follow the rules. It’s like saying those who go out in the rain get more wet than those who stay indoors, it’s not rocket science, it’s common sense but even that is not as common as one thinks it is.

    • If your theory is correct Ann why do BAME hospital doctors and nurses appear to have an increased risk of dying from the virus than those who are white? Or are you saying they have not followed the rules either? Complete nonsense.

      • No your the buffoon, Richard! Thank God for BAME workers in the NHS, where they are over represented compared to non BAME, is that why so many suffer, and die from Covid-19 whilst treating us? This incompetent Tory government introduced “The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020” but made one vital omission! It does NOT allow Local Authorities to compel anyone, or agency, to STOP infecting someone, even if it is known they are doing it! How dumb is that?

        I have an email from TDC Public Protection that says “The Local Authority is here to enforce the Regulations”. But the Regulations neglected to include anything to compel people to stop doing something that may be infecting others, Duurh!

    • The greatest challenge over the next 6 months or so will be keeping CV in check.
      The mixed messages and lack of direction from the Government have led to far too many people thinking it’s all over.
      It’s not.
      The UK has the highest contagion and death rate in the western world. The R rate is teetering just below 1.
      There will be serious, deadly, repercussions.
      Take on board what Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer said a few days ago:
      “COVID-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation. If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again. Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”

    • By saying ‘BAME in general don’t follow the rules’,Ann, do you mean the guidelines set by the government about how to be sensible during the outbreak or are you implying something very different?

      It’s interesting how those who have come too close to me in a queue or walked towards me four abreast across the pavement forcing me into the road due to their sense of entitlement or the joggers who come up behind me overtaking me with inches to spare, the teenagers I politely asked to walk single file not taking up all the pavement at a first glance didn’t appear BAME. I didn’t inspect the thousands on our beaches because I prefer to avoid crowds anyway but photographs in the press didn’t indicate many were BAME.

      Perhaps you could explain what you meant?

  2. For once I have to agree with Councillor Constantine. Thanet Parkway is not needed and is a vanity project. I have yet to speak to any resident who thinks it is needed. Scrap it now and KCC and TDC can spend the money saved on other vital projects including the creation of sustainable jobs which do not threaten the environment in Thanet or elsewhere.

  3. Thanet know all. BAME groups are more prone to sickle-cell anaemia other conditions white people are more prone to there is also genetically a whole range of reasons, Ignoring the social distancing is just one of them.

    • I don’t think ignoring social distancing rules is a genetic predisposition.
      Why are white people dying of C19? Could it be because they’re ignoring the rules?

  4. Very difficult on here to make meaningful comments when others are either totally devoid of the subjects they are pretending to know about or their education must have very difficult through no fault of them.

  5. Even while we are still living with Covid-19, we must plan for the future – things won’t just happen. That’s Boris Johnson’s way of doing things and it’s failed, as we have read in Cllr Constantine’s article with its chilling figures for the UK’s Covid death rate. We can’t carry on like that. Now we have a chance for a Green New Deal, investing in green energy to provide sustainable jobs for Thanet and rebuild our local economy.

  6. To be honest this virus is “colour blind” whoever invented this so called infection of specific race take another look, and why has the government stopped the evening briefings when that should be part of the information giving to the British nation until scientists finally find a vaccine, too much work for the government and its ministers? This virus still with us, the only thing that has changed is the “weather” , I’m not happy with what is going on and councillors should be advising towns that we STILL need to continue taking precautions.

  7. England is one of the most densely populated areas in Europe. That has to be factored into any virus discussions surely. Take self responsibility to see to maintain a good immune system, healthy diet and weight, and positive attitude. Does wonders. That’s real ‘Green’ for you. And cross party political initiatives are the way to go when the challenges are faced by all honestly.

  8. Karen sees 1945 as an era of postwar visionary thinking. In fact Beveridge reported to Churchill about 1942 and Churchill created the white paper for creation of an NHS.

    The care home problems Karen now seeks to exploit, for political reasons, arose from Labour National Assistance Act 1948 which sustained the ethos of the workhouse by pouring public money via benefits into the profit making private care sector.

    Another immeasurably damaging thing postwar Labour did was encourage research in NHS with no regard for Nuremberg Code informed consent.

    In 1975 Panorama exposed Labour DHSS Minister Barbara Castle (Advisors were Jack Straw and Norman Warner) discharging mental patients from other counties homeless to Margate. Eventually these people were absorbed from homelessness to be absorbed by the areas burgeoning private care sector for which Thanet NHS never received commensurate increased investment for picking up the care load from other areas. Hence Labour not only provided the income to private care owners from public funds they provided the cash cow inmates.

    Hardly a proud or visionary record is it Karen who also now expects NHS to provide free goods inward to the private care sector.

  9. I recently noticed that all local councils are being banned from holding normal meetings. They are instructed to hold “Zoom ” meetings so they are not in the same room together. Very sensible ,and there is no sign that this protective policy will change soon.
    Yet the government expect children and school staff to start returning, pubs and restaurants to open, non-essential shops to restart trading, all while we are the most infected country in Europe.
    If we are really safe enough to start “getting back to normal” how come the councillors are being protected more than everybody else.(Don’t get me wrong! I think they SHOULD be protected. But so should the rest of us!)
    Are we just disposable work and consumer fodder?

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