he upheaval and distress of the past eighteen months has been deeper and longer than any could have imagined at the start of the pandemic. Some consequences were immediate: the death toll, the boarded-up shops and restaurants, and the spikes in domestic abuse. Others will become clearer in the months to come: the impact of education disruption on young people, job losses and pressures on mental health. Everyone has been affected, but the pandemic has shone a light on the significant inequalities experienced across the country, and it has deepened this divide.

The UK Government have launched their plan for recovery. ‘Build Back Better’ sets out their plans to support growth through ‘significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation, and to pursue growth that levels up every part of the UK, enables the transition to net zero and supports our vision for Global Britain.’

The scale of the challenge is undeniable. The Government’s vision is to ensure no region is left behind ‘as we achieve greater economic prosperity’. I am struck by the similarities with the vision central to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – 17 Global Goals designed to eradicate inequalities, halt climate change, and leave no one behind. And yet despite UK leadership in the agreement of the Goals in 2015, the current government vision doesn’t seem to make the link.

With integrated social, environmental and economic targets, the Global Goals provide a ready-made framework for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. An ‘oven ready’ roadmap to Build Back Better. And, crucially, one that shares responsibility throughout society. National and local governments, businesses and civil society all must play their part.

So let’s see targets based on the Goals for every department. A cross government commitment to strategic change, and the SDG’s at the heart of Global Britain’s work overseas. Let’s have the UK government working with the devolved governments and local authorities, joined up in the public interest; and government leadership supporting business to adapt, change and grow in a new partnership for the future.

Globally and locally, the aftermath of the pandemic has to be a turning point. We must not go back to the way we were before. People are looking to the government for support, security and innovation. For policies that achieve greener, fairer outcomes; for investment that improves what is outside their front door, not just the finance hub of a city hundreds of miles away; and for skills development that tackles the root causes of unequal access to opportunities.

As the vaccine rollouts show us: we are all in this together. So we need shared ambitions and goals between countries and across our country. Investment that will educate, empower and employ. A shift to net zero that supports development opportunities. Growth and good governance that is shared by all. A society that works for the many, and leaves no-one behind.

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