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Covid-19: Economic Support

Volume 674: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2020

7. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on co-ordinating support for people affected economically by covid-19. (901675)

The UK Government are working in lockstep with the devolved Administrations, the World Health Organisation and our international partners to keep the whole UK safe. The UK Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations as the situation develops to ensure they have the funding needed to tackle the impacts of covid- 19.

I add my thanks to the people of Scotland for the effort they are making, particularly those who are already volunteering and providing vital services to those in their communities who are vulnerable.

In the past 24 hours, I have been contacted by several different local businesses in the self-catered accommodation industry. They thought they would be eligible for covid-19 grants for small and medium-sized businesses in retail, leisure and hospitality, but yesterday they discovered that they had explicitly been listed by the Scottish Government as not being eligible. Anyone who operates a chalet, a caravan or a B&B is eligible, but self-catering accommodation is specifically excluded, alongside ATM sites, jetties and pigeon lofts, among others.

If my constituents operated elsewhere in the UK, they would be supported. The message from them is clear: without these grants, the self-catering accommodation industry in Scotland is in peril. We cannot let this happen. I appreciate that this is a really difficult and challenging time for Governments, but will the Secretary of State make representations to the Scottish Government to reconsider their exclusions, in order to ensure consistency of support and the future of this industry?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that really important point. The self-catering industry, including self-catering cottages, is a massive issue for rural Scotland, and not just in her beautiful constituency but in my more beautiful constituency. An emergency package of measures will be announced next week. Our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are discussing that today. The Scotland Office has already raised the issue and we are very keen to see a support package for those rural businesses, particularly self-catering businesses and others, including caravan parks. If they only have residential caravan stayers, we want them all to be supported in whatever way necessary. As the Chancellor has said, we will do whatever it takes.

May I press the Secretary of State further on support for freelancers, the self-employed and sole traders? Will he, the Chancellor and First Minister speak urgently, this week, to ensure that a package of measures is put in place for those groups that need support? I understand what the Secretary of State is saying about these things taking time, but people are deeply worried about their futures, including paying their mortgages and feeding their families.

It was remiss of me not to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his role, albeit maybe a temporary one—a reshuffle is coming, so it may be a brief role. If he is invited back, that would be excellent news, obviously.

The answer is yes, absolutely: we have been discussing in ministerial meetings support for the self-employed and freelancers. We recognise that it is a very serious issue and the Government are giving it their full attention.

I thank the Secretary of State. There are 330,000 workers in Scotland who are categorised as self-employed. They need reassurance, quickly, from the UK Government. The Irish Government have announced a new flat-rate extra payment of €350 a week to those who are self-employed. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that that would be a start while a full support package is put in place. The reality is that while the self-employed in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK have no guarantees to protect their income, they will continue to work, putting themselves and others at risk. I urge the Secretary of State, most sincerely, to press the Chancellor to ensure that a package is delivered, and quickly.

As I said before, the Chancellor has been looking at many schemes across the European Union and around the world. It is absolutely about timing and I would hope that the Treasury will be making an announcement very soon.

May I associate myself with the remarks of my right hon. Friend and others recognising the health and emergency services and public services in general? I also note the volunteer and community groups that are active in Banff and Buchan and elsewhere in Scotland and around the United Kingdom.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s confirmation that the Scottish Government will receive at least £2.7 billion in new funding, following announcements made by the Chancellor during and after the Budget statement, to support people and businesses through the current crisis. What discussion has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had with the Scottish Government to use that funding to support the rural and coastal economy in Scotland, particularly businesses in the food supply chain?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the rural economy in Scotland is in desperate need of support. The money will flow from the strength of the British economy—from the huge £350 billion of guaranteed loans for businesses and the £2.7 billion of extra funding that comes through the Barnett consequentials. Also, now that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in his place, I will mention that, on agriculture, the first tranche of the £160 million convergence funding, which he rectified in discussions with me when he first came into office, was paid to farmers in Scotland only last week. We are right behind the rural economy in Scotland. This Government will do what it takes to support the economy and get us through this.

Will my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister and the whole House join me in paying tribute to the former MP for Watford, Tristan Garel-Jones, who passed away yesterday?

The Secretary of State will be aware that some companies are operating at the moment that should not be—they are defying the advice from the Prime Minister. Will the Secretary of State therefore raise this issue with colleagues in the UK Government to ensure that these companies still trading at the moment will have closure orders put on them and will face heavy fines if they continue trading from today onwards?

As the Prime Minister and the First Minister of Scotland have said, it is essential businesses that must carry on trading. The Prime Minister is here and he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.