Three years ago, when he was a fast-rising backbench MP, Rishi Sunak wrote a poignant article for the newspaper serving his constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire. It lamented the closure of his local pub.
Like many rural hostelries, The Haynes Arms, where he often dropped in for lunch when staying at his Georgian manor house in the village of Kirby Sigston, had shut down because there was insufficient trade.
‘We’ll miss it,’ said the future Chancellor, describing the centuries-old inn as an important community hub.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak complained about the loss of a traditional pub at the centre of his constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire, file photograph
This week, the former bustling town is quiet as people heed the government's call to stay at home because of Covid-19
Rishi Sunak, pictured, is the MP for RIchmond. A new economic report warned that 35 per cent of his constituents could be on the dole at the end of this pandemic
On a more upbeat note, he mentioned he was researching ‘the state of Britain’s ... pub industry to investigate what might be done to help this major sector of our economy’ overcome a troubling decline.
Well-intended as they were, how outdated and quixotic those words sound today.
For in Mr Sunak’s constituency, the coronavirus crisis isn’t only threatening to call time on a few quaint country pubs.
According to a devastating report earlier this month, Richmond is at the epicentre of the economic tsunami laying waste to towns and cities across the nation.
By the time this cruel pandemic is over, a staggering 35 per cent of its entire workforce could be on the dole, says the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).
Ironically, that means a greater proportion of jobs are under threat on the Chancellor’s own patch than anywhere else in Britain.
Now the peak of the pandemic has passed, Boris Johnson is preparing, with great caution, to ease lockdown and has promised to produce a ‘comprehensive plan’ for restarting the economy while suppressing the virus.
After the despairing economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, Office for Budget Responsibility, and now the Bank of England, it is vital he implements this strategy — and fast.
Meanwhile, based on analysis of furloughing data from the Office for National Statistics, the RSA study claims to offer ‘robust and localised insight into which areas of Britain are set to be most and least affected’ by the shutdown.
Its findings hit you like a bucket of ice-cold water and spell out in the starkest terms the urgency of finding a means to unfreeze the economy as soon as possible.
The report names 20 areas of the country where the highest number of jobs are at risk of disappearing — perhaps permanently — because of the outbreak.
According to a devastating report earlier this month, Richmond is at the epicentre of the economic tsunami laying waste to towns and cities across the nation
Virtually every shop and cafe in Richmond itself is closed and the chimes of the marketplace clock echo off the empty cobbles
As we might expect, the list includes Cornwall (where 66,878 jobs are said to be in jeopardy); the Derbyshire Dales (10,350); the Isle of Wight (15,423); and South Lakeland (17,424).
In all these prime holiday destinations, as well as others such as the Cotswolds, North Norfolk, Pembrokeshire, Scarborough and Torbay, the report says unemployment could hit 30 per cent — surpassing the levels Britain saw during the 1930s’ Great Depression.
Even in places with ‘knowledge-based’ economies, such as Oxford and Cambridge, and affluent areas in London’s commuter belt, one in five people face losing their jobs.
‘We are already two months into this, and if it weren’t for the furlough scheme, for which the Chancellor deserves a lot of credit, it would be the worst employment situation the country has ever faced,’ says Alan Lockey, head of the RSA’s future work centre.
‘But while the furlough system may have bought time for some businesses, you can see by what has happened at British Airways (where 12,000 staff are to be made redundant) and Ryanair (3,000 staff redundant) that we seem to be moving into a new phase.
‘Huge swathes of our core industries ultimately may not be viable. There is simply no income coming in, and if you don’t have an income, you don’t have a business.’
It was a point that didn’t need emphasising when the Mail visited Mr Sunak’s constituency this week and spoke to its desperate traders: boarding house-keepers, cycle-shop owners, coffee-bar proprietors, pub landlords.
Ordinarily, they would now be entering their peak earning months. Early May is a particularly glorious time of year in these parts. New-born lambs gambol in the meadows, wildflowers dapple the limestone slabs, the waterfalls run fast and fresh, and the air is filled with birdsong.
This week, however, the only people there to enjoy this pastoral idyll were a few irresponsible lockdown-breakers. Otherwise the Dales were almost apocalyptically deserted.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Virtually every shop and cafe in Richmond itself is closed and the chimes of the marketplace clock echo off the empty cobbles.
The gates to the 11th-century castle which usually draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year are padlocked. The Georgian Theatre Royal — said to be the oldest still working in Britain — and the old railway station,