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Covid-19: Support for Businesses

Volume 675: debated on Monday 4 May 2020

My Department is supporting businesses through the coronavirus business interruption loan schemes. In addition to those programmes, we are providing grants for small businesses linked to their business rate status, and we are scrapping business rates this year for those in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. We have also set up a package of support that will offer £1.25 billion for high-growth firms, and today we are launching a scheme providing bounce-back loans of up to £50,000 to small businesses.

I represent a number of businesses in Newbury that specialise in renewable energy. A secondary effect of the pandemic has been a collapse in demand for fossil fuel. When the economy begins its recovery, what support will my right hon. Friend be able to give to clean energy suppliers, to ensure a greener and more resilient energy infrastructure?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We are absolutely committed to net zero and will continue to support the development of clean energy. The fourth round of allocations for contracts for difference will take place next year, bringing forward new renewable electricity projects and creating further demand for the many businesses across the UK that supply them. The unprecedented package of support for businesses, which was mentioned earlier, will help ensure that businesses in the clean energy sector can contribute to driving economic recovery after this pandemic.

Will the Government please give local authorities and local enterprise partnerships real-time access to sector-level information about the furloughs and redundancies, and back ambitious enterprise and incentive schemes for them to help businesses to recover and transform after the virus?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point: the flow of information is key to dealing with the crisis. I am happy to meet him to discuss the specifics of his constituency businesses, and I will raise access to specific data with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Several businesses in Carshalton and Wallington that were not eligible for the first round of grants have got in touch with me, such as those in shared offices and our lovely park cafés. Does the Minister agree that councils should make use of the discretionary fund announced over the weekend to help those businesses through the pandemic?

We have recognised that there are businesses, particularly in shared workspaces, with relatively high fixed costs related to rent payments, for example, and that they have not been able to benefit directly from the grants. I know that my hon. Friend has raised the issue with my Department; as a result of his lobbying, on Friday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced additional funding to local authorities administering the two grant funds, which will help to support businesses that are currently out of scope. I strongly commend my hon. Friend’s input. Local authorities can now provide grants to small businesses in a variety of shared workspaces.

Local businesses in Gillingham and Rainham have asked me to ask the Minister to clarify what help is being given to those self-employed business owners and partners who earn over the £50,000 threshold. Some of those businesses cannot furlough any or some of their staff, and business interruption loans still need to be paid at a later date. Will the Minister clarify what support is available to those who fall into that category?

First, I would like to clarify our current position: we have prioritised helping the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, and in order to target that support at those most in need, the Government have chosen to cap the self-employment income support scheme. Those who are not able to access the scheme may be able to access other wide-ranging measures that the Government are providing, which are designed to support businesses across all sectors during these difficult times. I am very happy for my hon. Friend to engage with the Department and me on the issue.