Darren discusses gaps in Treasury economic support.

This morning, Darren took part the Telegraph’s Live Q&A about life in lockdown, hybrid parliament, the gaps in the Treasury’s new economic measures and what’s next for the Labour party.

You can read the Q&A in full below, or as it appears on the Telegraph’s blog today, here.

The interview in full:

1) How are you finding lockdown personally – are you getting to spend quality time with family or are you sick of them all? What are you doing to keep sane?

I’m very fortunate in that my family have been well during the lockdown. It’s been great to spend so much time with my girls – Ophelia who’s now two and a half, and Edie who turned one in April. It made me realise how little I get to see them normally during the week and how much you miss when they’re growing up so quickly. I’ll miss that when we get back to normal. It’s obviously been nice to spend so much time with my wife, Lucy, too!

2) How is your constituency faring under lockdown? (Can you name a particularly challenging moment and/or one where you felt something brought people together)

Everyone in my constituency has pulled together during this crisis, and every day I’ve seen examples that back-up why Bristol is such a special place to live. At the start of this pandemic when things were most uncertain, community groups sprang up across my constituency to help, which was great to see. And the NHS staff at our local Southmead Hospital, as well as all of our health and social care staff, reminds us why we have such affection for our frontline workers.

It’s now starting to get tough, though. We’re getting close to 2000 announced redundancies in and around my constituency already, and that’s just the reported ones. I was hoping we’d see some specific support for the manufacturing sector from the Chancellor this week and was disappointed when we didn’t. Each redundancy is heart-breaking and can cause such stress for families – I know the Government can’t protect every job but I know they can do more in the manufacturing sector, especially aerospace, and I just don’t understand why they refuse to do so.

3) What has it been like to participate in the hybrid parliament? What has it done for scrutiny? Is it right that MPs should vote in person? 

Every business and household in the UK has adapted to be safe during this pandemic, and it’s right that Parliament does this too. The decisions being made now will have long-run effects on everyone in the UK and it’s vital that they are scrutinised properly. That’s what we’ve been doing on the BEIS committee, which has been meeting virtually throughout the lockdown.

It’s been a bit strange but it’s better than all of us huddling up in the House of Commons. It’s true that our capacity has been restricted compared to normal, and the style of our democracy has had to change (for the worse, in my view), but the approach we’re taking is the right one. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal!

4) Leaving the lockdown aside, do you think Number 10 is allowing sufficient scrutiny? Do you have concerns about the delay in convening the Intelligence and Security Committee? How optimistic are you that the PM will return to the Liaison Committee this year? 

I have concerns that all Government decision making is being centralised into Downing Street, with Government departments not being trusted to get on with their work. If No10 can’t let its own Government departments get on with it, then I’m sure Parliament is an afterthought to some of them.

It shouldn’t need saying but Parliament’s role in holding the Government to account is vital in normal times, and it’s especially important now. The Government’s handling of the public health crisis requires it and the enormous amount of borrowing and spending on the economic crisis requires it too.

5) How would you rate the Government response during the outbreak? Can you name the main failing and the main area of success?

Government has had real delivery problems. Ministers have learnt that you can’t just pull a lever in Whitehall and deliver outcomes across the country. This institutional weakness comes from a decade of austerity: public health teams too small, councils doing the best they can on a shoestring, the investment in preparing for these issues far from what it should have been.

I get it’s not easy but I hope the Government has re-learnt the importance of properly funding our public services and realised you can’t just call on the private sector to do the job of Government: evidenced by its failure to distribute laptops to kids without online access, or free school meals, or PPE supplies.

This has all meant the Government was too slow on testing and tracing which has had public and economic health consequences. How we now spend the money we’re borrowing is really important – it has to be spent wisely – and I’m not convinced the Government really understands how to do that.

6) What do you think about the new Labour leader’s performance so far? Is he just enjoying a honeymoon or does he present a genuine challenge to the PM? And do you think the change in leader marks an opportunity to improve cross-party dialogue?

Keir’s leadership is right for the moment, right for the Labour Party and right for the country. I’m confident his positive polling with the public comes from voters wanting credible, confident, coherent leadership in our country and not a soundbite driven sense of chaos. You can’t just say ‘build, build, build’ like it’s a magic spell: Government needs to deliver.

7) Will the crisis speed up the demise of the high street, or do you think people will rediscover them as they return to some semblance of normality? What do you think the winter months hold in store for retail?

The High Street was changing before the crisis and it will now change more quickly than before. We have to re-imagine our high streets and Government policy needs to equip that. Business rates need to be reformed. We need to find new purposes for our high street – perhaps new co-working spaces with good broadband on all of our high streets for workers who don’t have to commute into the cities anymore but don’t want to work with the kids and the cat around their ankles. This is just one example of the opportunity the country now has to accelerate its modernisation with a helping hand from government to help manage the turbulence that comes with that.

8) Some people heralded lockdown as an opportunity for the country to move away from consumerism – but if we buy less, this has obvious knock-on effects on our economy. Is there a happy middle ground – and should people be encouraged to spend their way out of the recession?

I want there to be a strong economy that creates well-paid jobs providing workers with the security and incomes to be able to pay for a consumer-led economy. This pandemic has seen a massive pay down in consumer debt, which is welcome. We have to keep doing that and move towards a more pro-saving culture but, again, that requires a re-think of our tax and incentives policy. The best way out of this recession is to invest in digitisating the economy, growing exports and GDP, creating well paid secure jobs and through improvements in productivity sharing that inclusively across the whole country. Net-zero transitions should be central to all of those policy prescriptions.

9) Online sales have surged but there are big questions being asked about work practices of some larger outlets including Boohoo and Amazon. How can workers’ rights be protected under lockdown conditions – and should consumers accept this might mean higher prices? Would you advocate boycotting certain firms, and if so on what basis?

Ultimately, retailers like Boohoo have no excuse to allow these exploitative practices in their supply chain. Their boards know the standards expected of them and have will have signed off their anti-modern slavery statement. They should be held to account, and the Government needs to get better at monitoring and enforcing labour laws. Yes, I think that it’s good for us, as customers, to educate ourselves on the reality of modern slavery and exploitation but we have policies in place already to stop this and the Government needs to enforce them.

 Boycotting firms is one approach, and I hope consumers consider that in the right circumstances, but we do need to see strong trade union engagement, stronger health and safety and minimum wage enforcement and a much better enforced regulatory framework especially on supply chain transparency.

10)  Looking longer-term, should the lockdown and change in work patterns prompt a wider discussion about UBI? How would you persuade a Conservative government to consider such a proposal?

I’m not yet convinced on UBI but I’m open to being persuaded…