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Covid-19: Support for Businesses

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 16 June 2020

The Government have introduced an unprecedented package of support. This includes grants for small businesses, a rates holiday for businesses operating in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, a range of loan schemes covering all sides of businesses, the furlough scheme, the self-employment scheme, and a range of tax deferral schemes, all designed to help businesses through this very challenging time.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Brian and Karen Tinniswood run the Provenance restaurant in Westhoughton, but they have a deep concern about social distancing, which makes it impossible to reopen their restaurant. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to reducing social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet, then getting rid of it altogether?

The issue that my hon. Friend raises is raised with me regularly by businesses, and I completely understand the economic rationale that his constituents have outlined to him. As he will know, a review is taking place, and we will wait to see its results.

The OECD predicts that the UK recession will be the worst in the developed world. The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has issued a similarly depressing assessment. In terms of supporting Scottish business, what have been the key asks of the Department from the Secretary of State for Scotland?

I have detailed discussions with all Cabinet and ministerial colleagues. I recognise the challenge ahead of us—there is no doubt about that—but we have provided a significant amount of support for the UK economy, and a range of independent commentators have made it clear that if that had not been put in place we would be in a far worse position.

The automotive sector is important to my constituency of Bridgend, as it is to the whole UK economy. Will my right hon. Friend outline what the Government are doing to help businesses in that sector recover from the impact of covid-19?

I have set out the full range of support available to all sectors across the economy, and the automotive sector can take full advantage of that. I would point out that the job retention scheme has been widely utilised by the automotive sector, with a recent survey by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showing that the scheme has been accessed for over 60% of full-time workers in the auto sector.

A number of businesses in my Glasgow Central constituency find themselves blocked from claiming under the job retention scheme as a result of the deficiencies of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs uploading real-time information before the outbreak. Will the Secretary of State take up that matter with HMRC and the Treasury, ask for discretion, and make sure that no business that would otherwise be eligible has to lay off valued staff or, worse, go bust, as businesses in my constituency cannot wait any longer?

We want to support businesses, and I have set out a range of measures that we have put in place. The hon. Lady referred to a matter that ultimately is for HMRC and Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I am happy to have a discussion with her after questions.

A few weeks ago, I was pleased to visit Arnold market in my constituency and it was great to see that it was operating very well under the new guidelines. As the wider high street is now beginning to reopen, can my right hon Friend tell me what support his Department will be giving to shops as they reopen?

I thank my hon. Friend for doing his bit to support businesses in his constituency. In coming up with the workplace guidance, which has allowed businesses to open safely, we have worked closely with businesses, business representative organisations and trade unions. I have already outlined the support that we have provided for the sector, but what we all need to do is to get out there to support businesses that are now opening. We owe that to them and to the economy to get it going again.

What is available for those fast-growing firms that rely on equity finance and for which loans and grants have not been a good fit?

What an intelligent question. On 20 April, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a package of support worth £1.25 billion for fast-growing innovative companies and that, of course, included £750 million in grants and loans delivered through Innovate UK, and a £500 million future fund, through which the Government will invest up to £5 million per company, matched by the private sector.

As my right hon. Friend adapts support for businesses, will he keep very much in mind those important sectors of the economy such as tourism and the creative industries that will need longer to recover and more notice of guidance changes? Will he recognise—that as I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), will have told him—in places such as Warwickshire those sectors are mutually reinforcing and very important not just to the local economy, but to the income of local authorities?

My right hon. Friend, I know, has been engaging with businesses through virtual networks across Warwickshire, and I thank him for the work that he is doing locally. What I would say to him is that, of course, we have ensured that loan schemes are available across the economy. Smaller businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail have been able to access a £25,000 grant. The key issue is to have a safe and phased reopening of the economy to get it going again, which is what we are currently undertaking.

I join you today, Mr Speaker, in both mourning and remembering Jo Cox.

I welcome much of the help that the Government have provided, but, according to Make UK, we could see the loss of 170,000 manufacturing jobs this year. In France, steel got loans within 10 days of applying for them, and aerospace is benefiting from billions of pounds of support, including for low-carbon engines. Here, three months after the crisis began, 60% of companies that have applied for large loans are still waiting and there has been no targeted help for our manufacturers. Will the Secretary of State tell us when specific help will actually materialise for sectors such as steel and aerospace?

I do welcome the constructive tone in which we have approached our exchanges over the past few weeks, but what I would just say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he looks at the sum total of what this Government are providing, he will find that it is significant and incredibly favourable when compared with international comparators. On loans, as he knows, we have increased the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme to allow up to £200 million to be made available, and we will continue to support businesses. He will also know that in certain cases we do have individual discussions going on with businesses.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to get a move on when it comes to those sectors, because they really need the help. I want to ask him additionally about sectors such as hospitality, tourism and the creative industries, which have just been raised. They will take longer to reopen and recover because of public health measures, and I want to ask him about the impact on them of the one-size-fits-all winding down of the furlough. Can he explain to thousands of pubs across the country how they are supposed to find an employer contribution for furloughed employees from August when they are struggling even to survive? Is not the risk of that approach, and we have seen the jobless figures this morning, that hundreds of thousands more workers will lose their jobs, and all of us will end up paying the costs in higher benefit bills and a weaker economy? Would it not be better to have a different approach for those at-risk sectors?

We have taken a whole-economy approach, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and I have set out the measures that we have put in place. With regard to the retail and hospitality sectors, we have provided specific support for them in the one-year rates holiday, as well as the additional support that is available, but the key issue here is the safe reopening of the economy, and that is what we want to continue with over the coming weeks.