The Government cannot “patch and mend” every issue with Britain’s supply chains, the Prime Minister has said as he insisted recent disruption was caused by the strength of the economic recovery.
Boris Johnson denied that the UK was in the grip of a crisis, insisting he was “not worried” about rising prices and labour shortages.
He likened the recent turmoil in the economy, which has seen shortages at petrol pumps due to low levels of HGV drivers able to deliver fuel and some shortages on supermarket shelves, to a “giant waking up” and “creaking” after the pandemic shutdown.
The chaos at petrol stations has been “overwhelmingly” an issue of demand rather than supply, sparked by panic buying, he signalled.
“Supply has more than matched average daily demand”, he told the BBC.
In a series of broadcast interviews on Tuesday ahead of his keynote speech closing the Tory Party annual conference on Wednesday, Mr Johnson invoked Margaret Thatcher’s well-known remark that there is “no alternative” to capitalism.
“The UK has got to, and we can do much, much better by becoming a higher wage, higher productivity economy,” the Prime Minister told ITV.
Stressing his refusal to return to an era of unconstrained immigration to provide businesses with cheap labour, he said: “I do not want to go back to what I think is a tired or failed approach, which people voted against twice in 2016 and in 2019”.
Instead firms should invest in their employees by raising salaries and in upgrading equipment, he said, as he urged businesses to automate more jobs where possible.
Underlining his reluctance for the state to intervene, he said: “It’s not the job of government to come in and try and fix every problem in business and industry”.
He suggested the nation’s “fantastic logistics” expertise meant supply chain issues would fix themselves.
Return to the office
Young people should return to the office to avoid being “gossiped about” in their absence, Mr Johnson said.
The Government scrapped guidance for people to work from home at the end of the PM’s roadmap out of coronavirus lockdown in July.
Employers were advised to manage a gradual return of their workforce over the summer.
Urging staff to take up the opportunity to get back to the workplace, Mr Johnson said: “I think that for young people in particular, it is really essential… if you’re going to learn on the job, you can’t just do it on Zoom.
“You’ve got to be able to come in… you’ve got to know what everyone else is talking about. Otherwise, you’re going to be gossiped about and you’re going to lose out.”
He added: “You need to be there, and you have the stimulus of exchange and competition.”
The Prime Minister also disclosed that Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, has “written a pretty good letter some weeks ago to everybody, telling them to get back to their desks” in Whitehall.
However, he conceded that not all staff at Downing Street had returned to the office yet.
Mr Johnson insisted he did not want to raise any other taxes after hiking National Insurance contributions, but did not rule out a fuel duty rise.
Asked whether he thought the levy facing motorists, which has been frozen for 11 years, should be hiked to raise government revenue, he told Times Radio: “I’m not going to comment on fiscal measures which are for the Treasury.”
He said: “We don’t want to raise tax of any kind, that’s not what we want to do.”
However, he went on: “What I do think we need to do is recognise that the era of relying on hydrocarbons – on oil and gas – is coming to an end.”
Challenged that it sounded as though he was leaving open the door to a fuel duty hike in the Budget, he said: “No I’m just saying we’ve got to get ready for an exciting new era in which we rely on clean, green sources of energy.
“Already every day… we get more than 50 per cent of our ‘juice’ from clean, green sources.”
The nation can “wean” itself off hydrocarbons, he insisted.
Cost of living
The proportion of income most families are spending on housing costs is too high, the Prime Minister conceded, amid a growing row over the cost of living.
He told the BBC: “For most people in Britain now, housing as a share of your weekly outgoings is far too big.
“You’ve got to fix that – bring down the costs. Bring down the cost of energy by investing in clean, green power in the way that we are. That’s the way to deal with the cost of living.”
He defended the Government’s decision to end the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit payments that was introduced during the pandemic, arguing that taxpayers should not top up low wages through benefits.
“What we won’t do is take more money in tax to subsidise low pay through the welfare system,” he said.
The Prime Minister repeatedly dismissed fears about rising inflation, describing such concerns as “unfounded” on Sky News.
People have been “worried about inflation for a long time; it hasn’t materialised”, he said.
The Prime Minister branded Insulate Britain protesters who have blocked key motorways “irresponsible crusties”.
Hitting out at the eco-demonstrators for causing “considerable damage to the economy” in recent weeks, he added: “There are some people who call those individuals legitimate protesters. They are not.”
He accused the protest group, a breakaway faction of Extinction Rebellion, of “basically trying to stop people going about their day’s work”.
Priti Patel is “doing the right thing” in changing the law so that eco-protesters can be jailed for up to six months or face an unlimited fine, he said.
Safer streets for women
The Government has “got to make the streets safer” and “address the underlying frustration of millions of women” at the “slowness of the criminal justice system and the inadequacy of the cruel justice system” in dealing rape and domestic violence, Mr Johnson said.
Asked by Sky News whether he could look a rape victim in the eye and tell them there is a high chance of justice being done, he admitted “the answer to that is no”.
The Prime Minister said he was “not happy with the way things have been going”, but highlighted the Government’s plans to recruit more police officers and increase the number of prosecutors working on such cases.