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Covid-19: High Street Businesses:

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 16 June 2020

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on businesses trading on the high street. (903261)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on businesses trading on the high street. (903298)

My Department has regular discussions with Housing, Communities and Local Government colleagues on the impact of covid-19 on high street businesses. We have provided unprecedented support to high street businesses. Pubs, shops, and hotels will pay no business rates for 12 months; eligible retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have received cash grants of up to £25,000; and businesses that cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction.

Businesses across my constituency continue to report the major challenges that have been present since the start of lockdown, particularly a loss of income, mounting debts, enforced closure, insurance policies not paying out, the need to make redundancies, and an inability to plan for the future given the uncertainty of the current situation. Although many non-essential businesses have reopened this week, it will still be a long road to recovery, so will the Secretary of State review the grant scheme to ensure support for our high street businesses that are doing the right thing but could be decimated by covid-19?

One of the reasons we launched the £617 million discretionary fund was so that we could reach more businesses, but clearly we need to reopen safely non-essential retail, as started yesterday. We need to monitor that. We need to make sure that opening up our economy is the best way, along with the flexible support that we are giving, to make sure that it can start to bounce back, including in Jarrow.

Economically, my constituency has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, with almost 19,000 employees having been furloughed. But while some businesses have been able to gain access to Government grants and schemes, numerous independent and family-run businesses have not been able to do so and have fallen between the cracks of Government support. Will the Minister urgently review the Government grant and loan schemes, particularly for our high street businesses, so that they too can benefit from them and our towns do not become ghost towns, or mere carbon copies, because we would then lose our much loved independent businesses?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the plight of independent businesses. That is why I was pleased to go to Northcote Road in Clapham to see what they were doing there and the community spirit that brings them together. We always look at the flexibility of support, but we will also make sure, with the safe opening of shops now, that the new normal is coupled with a future view of the high street—the new reality, with changing behaviour of consumers—so that in the years to come independent shopkeepers can sustain and indeed thrive as local businesses on the high street.

May I, too, put on the record my remembrance of my good friend Jo Cox?

Pubs, cafés, hairdressers and restaurants are the lifeblood of our high streets. Business-critical guidance about their reopening in just two and a half weeks’ time was due yesterday but is nowhere to be seen. Instead, they got another review, making a bad situation much worse. When will they get that guidance? With either 1 metre or 2 metre distancing, most of those businesses still will not be viable, so will the Government finally recognise that vital business support schemes need to follow the public health measures before we see large-scale job losses and the decimation of our high streets?

As you will see from my hairstyle, Mr Speaker, I am desperately awaiting the opening of hairdressers and barbers too. It is key that we get this right, though. The economic impetus from the hospitality sector in particular is made apparent to me every single day that I speak to its representatives; indeed, I will be speaking to a lot of them later this afternoon. We have to make sure we get that right, with the confidence of customers coming back. The Government’s first priority is to save lives and to work with the scientific guidance. At the moment, when people go out to shop at the businesses that are open today, 2 metres is still the rule, but we will get further guidance as soon as we practicably can.