An influential group of MPs has urged the government to spell out the impact its lockdown-easing measures would have on economic growth and the number of coronavirus infections.
Calling for evidence to be published alongside the government’s reopening road map to be announced on 22 February, the Treasury select committee said it would help the public to better understand the implications of restrictions and the costs and benefits of making changes.
The UK has given more than 15m people their first doses of Covid-19 vaccines, raising hopes that movement restrictions will be eased within weeks as the number of new infections and hospital admissions gradually fall.
Ministers have so far declined, however, to give details about the criteria for reopening the economy, to the alarm of business leaders. Some company bosses have said more transparency would help them to plan ahead, as firms run short of cash after months of restrictions on trade.
In an intervention as Boris Johnson prepares to announce which restrictions will be relaxed first, the committee said the lack of any official government economic analysis on the controls had been disappointing, especially as parliament needed to scrutinise the decision.
“The House should not be asked to take a view on proposals which have far-reaching consequences for the general population, such as those involving restrictions on social interaction, education, movement and work, without the support of appropriate and comprehensive economic analysis,” the report said.
Mel Stride, the Conservative chair of the committee, said publishing criteria on lifting lockdowns would help give “confidence that the government has a clear route of out the crisis”. “This should be supported by combined economic and epidemiological modelling undertaken by the Treasury, showing how it would best optimise health and economic outcomes,” he said.
The government has previously faced pressure from MPs to publish the economic grounds for Covid restrictions, including from backbench Tories pushing for looser controls last autumn when the tier system was introduced. At that time, the government issued a 48-page document that concluded it was “not possible to forecast the precise economic impact of a specific change to a specific restriction with confidence”.
The Treasury committee said the economic fallout from Covid-19 was having a substantial impact on self-employed workers, and criticised the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, for failing to provide further support to those struggling during the crisis.
It said there was “scant justification” for not closing gaps in the government’s emergency Covid-19 wage subsidy schemes, and that some people had missed out on almost a year of help. Newly self-employed workers have not been covered, and directors of limited companies have also been excluded. Stride said: “Those who have been excluded must not be forgotten.”
The committee said the lack of help for these people risked “sending out the message that it does not support entrepreneurs and employers who have suffered significantly from a lack of support”.
A Treasury spokesman said: “The PM has said that we’ll set out a clear road map out of the current restrictions with dates later in February. We acknowledge that it has not been possible to support everyone in the way they might want, but we continue to keep our schemes under review and will set out the next stage of economic support at budget.”