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Topical Questions

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2020

Four months on from the onset of coronavirus, we have slowly and carefully reopened much of our economy, and we can now begin our national recovery. Throughout this crisis, I have repeatedly made it clear that, while we cannot protect every single job, we will do all we can to make sure our businesses and people have the tools they need to get through this and emerge stronger on the other side.

To help the aviation and travel sectors recover from the negative impact of covid-19, will my right hon. Friend consider suspending air passenger duty until at least the end of summer 2021?

My hon. Friend, as always, is a champion for the industry, and he knows how important it is to the UK economy. I can tell him that, at the Budget, we committed to a consultation on aviation tax reform. We remain committed to that, and will bring forward the timing in due course.

The Chancellor stated earlier that the job retention scheme is being wound down from the autumn. It is actually being wound down from the start of next month across all sectors at the same time, and we are already seeing the impact of that in very substantial redundancies. The Resolution Foundation called this week for a targeted continuation of the scheme for the hardest hit industries and those areas affected by additional lockdowns. The Chancellor has said he does not want to pick winners, but this health crisis has involved Governments designating losers, quite rightly, for public health reasons, so why is he persisting with the one-size-fits-all removal of the job retention scheme, when this will inevitably lead to additional redundancies?

This is not about picking winners or losers. This is about protecting people’s health, and where it is incumbent on the Government to step in and make sure that we can protect people’s health through targeted intervention, that will remain the right thing to do. With regard to economic support, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has made it clear that support has been provided to the local council when this has been the place to do so. With regard to the furlough scheme, we are of the belief, rightly, that this is a universal scheme, it is generous, it has been extended to October and it is winding down in a gradual and temperate manner.

I have to say that it is disappointing to hear that the Chancellor is not budging from this position. As mentioned, it is already leading to additional waves of redundancies—avoidable redundancies in many cases. Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to match the ambitions of Labour’s previous future jobs fund in developing support for unemployed young people, so may I ask the Chancellor why, put together, the traineeship fund and green jobs challenge fund—just announced—amount to less than a quarter of the size of the future jobs fund? That hardly reflects a focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.

I am not quite sure that is right. In reality, the future jobs fund was around £1 billion. We announced yesterday the £2 billion green home grant to provide home efficiency upgrades for hundreds of thousands of homes and create tens of thousands of jobs up and down the country. Not only will households save money on their electricity bills and save carbon, but we will create good local jobs in the process.

From a health perspective covid-19 disproportionately affected the old, but from an economic perspective the risks are greatest for the young, in terms of both lost employment opportunities and potentially a future higher tax burden. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that the economic prospects of young people will be his priority in the future recovery? (904412)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: young people are more likely than not to work in affected sectors and more likely than others to be furloughed, and we know from all the evidence that the impact of scarring on young people is very significant, which is why they remain uppermost in my mind. I give my hon. Friend the reassurance that they will be prioritised as we think about our recovery and our labour-market interventions.

The Tea Bay in Cambuslang in my constituency responsibly took out business-interruption insurance, including cover for notifiable diseases. The one time it has had to claim is during the coronavirus pandemic, but that claim has been refused because covid-19 is not on the list of notifiable diseases.Many other businesses have found themselves in the same position and understandably feel frustrated that insurers have not helped them in their time of need. What discussions is the Treasury having with the Financial Conduct Authority to remedy this situation? (904410)

As the hon. Lady will know, the Treasury is in constant communication with the FCA on these and other issues. If she would like to bring the specific details to my attention, I will make sure that they are examined by Ministers.

Our coach industry will be vital as the country opens up and we begin our recovery from covid-19. Local Moray firm Maynes of Buckie, and its owner Kevin Mayne, have been leading calls for a bespoke deal to support the coach industry. Will the Treasury look at that idea and consider it? (904413)

I am sure my hon. Friend understands that the desire for bespoke deals across every sector is extremely great. Our view has been that what is required is to lift all boats by a general support for the economy, and that is the approach we have taken, which is why the interventions we have made so far include almost £300 billion of guarantees—worth roughly 15% of UK gross domestic product.

On Saturday, we proudly and safely reopened hospitality and tourism in Cumbria. Tourism is our largest employer, but 69% of hospitality industry businesses will not be able to reopen fully. Having lost most of the season, the industry will see hundreds of successful businesses fail and tens of thousands of jobs lost—unless the Chancellor agrees to a package of grant and wage support in the Budget statement tomorrow. Will he do that? (904411)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, an enormous amount of support is already in the system. I am delighted that shops and other organisations are opening up in his constituency; we look to see more of that over time as the support feeds through into the system.

Does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor agree that beauty salons, tanning salons and nail bars—such as Salon 112 and Shwe Tan based in my constituency of Harlow—are important small businesses and often the lifeblood of our local economy? They should be supported, allowed to open and not denigrated. Will he ensure that when he cuts taxes, businesses such as these will be a top priority, given the struggles they have had to face? (904416)

No one who knows my beautiful right hon. Friend would be surprised that he knows these beauty salons as well as he does, and I salute him for it. On the serious point, he is absolutely right about the importance of these businesses to all our constituencies. He did not mention this, but we should also mention that many of these businesses are run and staffed by women, and it is important that we should pay attention to the equalities impact in that respect. The key thing is that we get these businesses, including beauty salons, open. That is what the Treasury has focused on.

We all know that there are huge problems in culture and theatre. The Hackney Empire has served residents in Hackney for 120 years and the Graeae theatre company in my constituency works with disabled artists. It is great that there has been an announcement about support, but if we do the maths, we see that quite a lot of organisations need that money. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has talked about supporting the main gems; when will local theatre companies know how much money they are going to get, and when will they get the cash? (904415)

I am glad that the announcement we made yesterday was warmly welcomed across the cultural sector, by institutions large and small. I can assure the hon. Lady that the support package is not just for large institutions; it will find its way to all our local cultural institutions that play such an important part in our local communities. The Culture Secretary and his team will be here just after Question Time to answer further questions.

I thank the Chancellor for yesterday’s welcome announcement, but will he bear in mind the freelancers and those in other forms of employment in the sector who continue to struggle as he plans for tomorrow’s statement and beyond? We also need to move ahead with a green recovery, so will he consider providing additional incentives to develop hydrogen infrastructure in this country? I do not believe that we can achieve our emissions objectives with battery technology alone; we will need hydrogen vehicles as well. The Government really need to do a lot to encourage the development of such infrastructure (904418)

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend that we should put reaching our net zero commitments at the heart of our recovery. He will have heard our recent announcement about green homes grants, which shows our commitment in this area. I know that he has a lot of experience in hydrogen transportation, and I look forward to hearing his thoughts on that so that they can be incorporated into our future plan.

More young people need a college place. More young people need help with catching up. More adults need retraining. City of Bristol College and colleges such as St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Bristol are perfectly placed and ready to help, but the Chancellor needs to help them. Will he commit to extending the covid £1 billion to post-16 catch-up, and will he commit to ensuring that every 16 to 19-year-old has a funded place at a college from September? (904419)

I agree with the hon. Member about the importance of post-16 education and further education, which is why I was delighted to announce at the Budget a £400 million increase in post-16 education funding, a record increase in per-pupil funding compared to the last several years, and indeed the Prime Minister has talked about our commitment to upgrading the entire FE college estate across the United Kingdom.

May I, on behalf of all my constituents who have contacted me about this, thank my right hon. Friend for listening to organisations such as the Lyceum Theatre in Crewe and coming up with this vital £1.57 billion package for arts and culture? What might the timetable be for making these crucial funds available? (904420)

I know that my hon. Friend is a proud champion of his local theatre, the Lyceum in Crewe, and that he has warmly welcomed our announcement. The Culture Secretary and his team will be here just after Question Time. We share his ambition to ensure that the support reaches all relevant institutions as quickly as is prudently possible.

Credit unions are known for offering those on low incomes alternative access to credit. However, due to covid-19, during April and May North London Credit Union in Enfield was hard hit and has seen an 87.5% fall in the number of loans issued. Will the Chancellor use his summer statement to announce financial support for credit unions, which are challenged with branch closures and possible bankruptcy? (904421)

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of credit unions. I am a member of Money Box Credit Union in Hereford and can vouch for their importance, especially for people on low incomes. She makes a very valid point, and it is one that we will continue to consider as we move forward.

For too long, Ashfield has been left behind. My constituents are waiting with anticipation for the Chancellor’s financial statement tomorrow. They care about infrastructure, roads, rail transport, town centre funding and the future high streets fund. Can my right hon. Friend please assure me that Ashfield will be prioritised as we begin the process of levelling up across the country? (904422)

As the Prime Minister said last week, we are doubling down on levelling up, and he committed last week to £95 million for shovel-ready projects in the east midlands, in addition to the £10.25 million of accelerated funding from the towns fund for Kirkby-in-Ashfield. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in his commitment to levelling up his constituency.

It has been a pleasure to meet the young entrepreneurs in Hull. Many of these young people faced great adversity before setting up their own businesses, but they have had no income, no support and no grants from the Government. Have these young people been forgotten? (904430)

These young people have absolutely not been forgotten, and we remain indebted to them for their dynamism in helping to power our recovery. I am delighted that our start-up loans scheme has recently been expanded and is able to provide cash loans to those budding entrepreneurs in her constituency and others. I urge them to have a look at it to see whether it will help fund their plans.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for five minutes.

Sitting suspended.