As residents will have seen this past week, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our economy and jobs. This initial shock has hit us hard, particularly because we are predominately a service and hospitality-based economy.

However, there are reasons to be optimistic. Last month’s OECD Composite Leading Indicator index showed the UK economy recovering at a faster rate than our neighbours on the continent, including France and Germany. Moreover, UK retail sales have almost returned to pre-lockdown levels, and restaurant and pub trade is at around 70 per cent of pre-Covid levels. There’s still a long way to go, but green shoots are appearing.

Jobs have, of course, taken a huge hit due to the pandemic. We entered lockdown at a point of record employment: before the pandemic unemployment was at its lowest since 1974. The Government, and I, will do everything we can to get us back into that position. Thankfully, our furlough scheme has played an important role in limiting the impact of the pandemic on jobs - the scheme has been used by over 1.1 million employers, protecting around 9.4 million jobs at a value of £27.4 billion.

In addition, the Government has invested billions of pounds into a number of short, medium, and long-term schemes to get people back to work, support their social mobility and increase their life chances. These schemes include a new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme to provide high-quality jobs to young people, paying businesses to take on new trainees or apprentices, expanding the National Careers Service to help more young people find work or training, doubling the number of work coaches in Jobcentres, and much, much more besides.

On the issue of employment, residents may have seen a new, very moving, Channel 4 documentary series following a Jobcentre in Leeds. The show gives you a first-hand look at the individual challenges that claimants have to navigate, highlights the importance of personalised support from our excellent work coaches, and shows life-changing moments where people who have been in long-term unemployment are given a second chance to succeed. This show encapsulates why it is so important to give people the opportunity to succeed in life and, as a government minister, I will do everything I can to support these efforts.

I would also like to congratulate those who received their A-Level results this week. These are unprecedented times and there are no perfect replacements for exams. Our students want to know, quite rightly, that they are being treated fairly and are not at a disadvantage due to the impact of Covid-19. I was therefore pleased that ministers introduced a “triple lock” safety net for students – giving them the opportunity to accept their calculated grade, make an appeal on the basis of a valid mock result, or sit an exam in the autumn.

I would also like to make clear that your A-Level results or whether or not you go to university doesn’t define who you are or what you can go on to achieve. My results were not as good as predicted, yet that didn’t stop me pursuing what I wanted to go on to do. There are a number of fantastic new schemes and opportunities specifically for young people and I wish them all the very best for the beginning of their careers.