Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2020


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Bounce-back Loans: Sector-specific Access

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of providing sector-specific access to extended bounce-back loans as part of the Government’s covid-19 recovery strategy. (904349)

The bounce-back loan scheme is aimed at helping the smallest businesses across different sectors of the economy to access the finance they need, and we have seen 1 million loans worth almost £31 billion approved since the scheme was launched on 4 May. We are carefully monitoring the use of this scheme by businesses and will keep all policies under review.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Undoubtedly, bounce-back loans have been a success of this pandemic. However, I have a concern that normally viable small and medium-sized enterprises will face acute problems due to covid and may need to make redundancies. The payments associated with redundancies may, in turn, cause normally viable companies to become insolvent, thus losing all jobs and putting more pressure on the state. With that in mind, will he consider a fund or time-limited mechanism to ensure that SMEs can provide redundancy payments due to covid, thus allowing them to remain solvent, protecting them from further job losses and providing some short-term stability for them to bounce back in the future?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course we recognise the importance of SMEs—there are 5.6 million businesses across the country with fewer than 10 employees, and we need their dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit as the economy starts to recover. The Government have said from the start that they will do whatever it takes to support business. The Chancellor has introduced a significant package of measures, which will be under review, and there will be further announcements in due course.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax makes an important contribution to the Exchequer. The current threshold of up to £1 million for a qualifying married couple or civil partnership means that 96% of all estates in 2020-21 are forecast to be able to pass on their assets without any inheritance tax liability. Any reform or simplification of inheritance tax would be considered as part of the usual Budget process.

When are we going to fulfil numerous promises made as long ago as before the 2010 election, by George Osborne, to help middle-class people pass on more of their property to the young? After all, that is a priority for the young. While we are about it, can we hear from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister less about high-spending lefties like President Roosevelt and more about good Conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—less about subsidies and more about tax cuts and tax simplification?

I hesitate to give my right hon. Friend a history lesson, but he will recall that Ronald Reagan was a deep admirer of FDR and quite a heavy spender in his own right. Inheritance tax is paid on only one in 25 estates, and therefore it is not quite as large an issue in terms of the number of people affected as my right hon. Friend suggests. We take these issues very seriously and return to them recurrently at fiscal events.

Covid-19: Economic Support

The Government have taken unprecedented steps to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs, support viable businesses to stay afloat and protect the incomes of the most vulnerable. We are now carefully and safely reopening our economy.

I have previously raised the issue of the 3 million taxpayers being excluded from Government support with the Prime Minister, the First Secretary of State and the Leader of the House, all of whom have repeated details of the Government support provided to other groups. To be clear, it is understood that 2.6 million self-employed people were supported and 9 million people were furloughed. What remains an issue, though, is the 10% of the workforce who have received no meaningful support to help navigate covid. Specifically on the 3 million excluded, will the Chancellor provide an eleventh-hour lifeline such as that provided for the arts, or is he planning to cut 3 million workers adrift? It is one or the other, and it is now or never.

I have said previously that, although we have not been able to help everyone in exactly the way that they would have liked, I am confident that the breadth and scale of the interventions we have provided ensure that everyone is able to access some support. We have also strengthened our security net, with welfare through universal credit, among other things, and our self-employment scheme remains one of the most comprehensive and generous anywhere in the world.

The economic impact of coronavirus has not been distributed evenly across the UK economy, yet the Scottish Government have extremely limited borrowing powers to stimulate demand and aid recovery in key sectors. A one-size-fits-all approach should no longer be the norm. Will the Chancellor bring forward the review of the fiscal framework, lift the caps on borrowing and give the Scottish Government the tools that they need to invest in Scotland’s future?

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in constant dialogue with his counterpart, the Finance Minister in Scotland, on these issues, but the people of Scotland are able to benefit from the strong measures that we put in place for the entire United Kingdom. Whether it be our loan schemes or, indeed, our furlough scheme, everyone in every part of this country is able to benefit.

Guidance has recently appeared on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs website that suggests that those who take covid-19 tests, as provided by their employer, will have to treat the cost of those tests as a taxable benefit in kind, which is very unfortunate, particularly in respect of those frontline workers who may be involved. Will the Chancellor look into this matter, please, as a matter of urgency?

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue with me, and of course we will look into it very quickly.

To follow up on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), the Excluded UK all-party parliamentary group was launched this morning with more than 150 Members of this House signing up as members, cheered on by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). Will the Chancellor tell me why he has decided that 3 million people are not worthy of support, and why will he not put something in place to protect their incomes?

Everyone in this country has benefited one way or another from what we have been able to do. Although people have not been able to be helped in exactly the way they would have liked, we have been able to put in place measures unprecedented in scale and speed, and that meant we did have to make some difficult decisions to implement those policies. None the less, I do believe that, because of the measures that we have taken to strengthen our safety net, for example, everyone, no matter where they are, has access to more support than they did before this crisis began.

If the Chancellor listened to the evidence from groups such as ExcludedUK, he would know that that is simply not the case. To turn to some of the rhetoric of the past few days, the Government seem to be trying to imitate the rhetoric of President Duterte of the Philippines and President Roosevelt on the new deal, but the measures do not meet the scale of either of those gentlemen’s ambitions. Does he agree with the SNP that we need a stimulus package of at least £80 billion, including a 2% cut in employers’ national insurance contributions and a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector, as demanded by the Scottish Government? If he does not believe that those steps should be taken, will he allow the Scottish Government to have the full suite of financial powers that they require to meet that challenge?

The hon. Lady talks about scale of ambition. I am proud of what this Government have put in place and the speed at which we have done so. The jobs of 9 million people have been protected through our furlough scheme; 2.7 million self-employed people have had their income supported; and millions of companies have received access to loans, grants and tax deferrals. In sum, this represents £130 billion of support—one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages available in any country anywhere in the world.

The Chancellor knows that different sectors of our economy face very different challenges in the months ahead, so will he listen to the businesses right across our country that have called again and again for the job retention scheme to have the flexibility to meet those different challenges?

On the job retention scheme, our policy is clear. We have extended the scheme all the way through to the autumn, at which point it winds down gradually and in a way that asks for very modest contributions from employers. None the less, I do recognise that different sectors have faced different circumstances during this crisis, particularly those in the hospitality, leisure and retail sector, which is why we cut business rates for the entire year for those sectors and, indeed, provided cash grants of £10,000 or £25,000 to almost 1 million businesses up and down the country.

Investment and Economic Growth: Northern Lincolnshire

What fiscal steps he is taking to (a) attract investment and (b) achieve economic growth in northern Lincolnshire. (904352)

We recognise every region and community is impacted by this crisis. That is why the Government have announced unprecedented support for businesses and workers around the country. That includes £95 million to fund shovel-ready projects across the east midlands to help to provide a boost to the local economy and create jobs, building on over £120 million of local growth funding for Greater Lincolnshire for local projects such as the Lincolnshire Lakes housing scheme.

I thank the Minister for that. The Treasury is giving considerable support to our area, such as through the Greater Grimsby town deal. We are hoping for favourable designation for freeport status, but the most pressing case at the moment is support for the Able marine energy park in northern Lincolnshire. Modest support from the Treasury could help to create 2,000 jobs. Will the Minister, or indeed the Chancellor, agree to meet me and my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) to deal with this?

My hon. Friend rightly champions the strength of his local area as we move to restart the economy and make progress to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our renewable energy ambitions will continue to create opportunities at manufacturing centres, such as the Able marine energy park proposal, but I encourage him first to engage with my colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as the lead Department on energy and industrial strategy.

Local Transport Infrastructure

Upgrading local transport links is a key part of this Government’s commitment to levelling up across the country. That is why we announced in the Budget £500 million for the potholes fund; £4.2 billion has been announced for discussion with the eight devolved Mayors; and there is a further £2 billion across this Parliament for boosting cycling and walking.

Reinstating a passing loop on the south Fylde rail line will help to double the number of trains travelling into Blackpool South every single day, bringing additional tourists into Blackpool and helping to create new jobs, investments and opportunities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that delivering these local transport infrastructure projects is vital for furthering economic growth, assisting our recovery from covid-19 and delivering much-needed investment into Blackpool, a part of the world that I know he is very familiar with?

It is a key part of this Government’s commitment to improve transport links such as that. I know that my hon. Friend has submitted a proposal, which the Department for Transport is considering. Having been able to hear the trains on that line from my kitchen when growing up, I take a particular interest in it, and I know that it is a very strong scheme.

House Building and Regeneration: Domestic Supply Chains

What assessment he has made of the economic effect on domestic supply chains of stimulating house building and regeneration. (904354)

House building is an important catalyst for the wider economy and we have put in place an unprecedented package of support in this sector. Last week, the Prime Minister announced measures to stimulate house building, including a £450 million boost to the short-term house building fund.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Horden, Easington and Blackhall in my constituency need investment in housing regeneration. The recovery plan is ready. However, we need investment to help us transform our communities with new, modern, clean and green housing. Will the Chancellor invest in housing regeneration in east Durham, because these schemes can deliver jobs, training, opportunities, green energy and sustainable domestic supply chains, and boost the local economy?

This is an area where I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why, in addition to the fund I mentioned a moment ago, the Prime Minister also confirmed £12.2 billion of funding for affordable homes, and there is the £400 million brownfield land fund to get schemes working immediately with Mayors for exactly the reason he sets out.

The Conservative manifesto promised £9 billion for energy efficiency schemes, but the Committee on Climate Change described even that as

“welcome but not enough to match the size of the challenge”.

Given that the Chancellor is about to announce a £2 billion scheme, why are the Government scaling back their ambition when they should be scaling up to bring down people’s bills, tackle climate change and create the jobs we need to get Britain back to work?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave a moment ago, he would have seen that we are learning from the lessons of the 2008 crash. One of the measures that were put in place then saw a fall of a third in the number of small house builders, so part of the £450 million fund is providing the finance to enable small house builders to build the schemes that Members on both sides of the House agree on. It is about learning the lessons of the schemes that Labour put in place in 2008, which led to a fall in construction work.

Coronavirus: Employment

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on levels of unemployment of withdrawing the (a) coronavirus job retention scheme and (b) self-employment income support schemes. (904355)

If he will develop a scheme based on the future jobs fund to support young unemployed people into work. (904362)

What support the Government are providing to self-employed workers affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904363)

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on levels of unemployment of withdrawing the (a) coronavirus job retention scheme and (b) self-employment income support schemes. (904365)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support people unable to return to work as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904378)

Through the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, the Government have protected 9.4 million jobs and supported the incomes of 2.7 million self-employed. I remain committed to helping the unemployed return to work and supporting those who are most vulnerable to job loss. We will continue to monitor economic conditions to ensure our labour market policy response is both appropriate and effective.

In his announcement of the self-employment income support scheme, the Chancellor told self-employed people that they have not been forgotten and no one will be left behind, but the Treasury Committee has found that more than a million people have been unable to benefit from either that scheme or the job retention scheme. That is certainly what I am finding in Rotherham. Will he commit himself to acting to ensure, true to his word, that no one is left to face this crisis alone?

Some 95% of those who are majority self-employed are able to benefit from the self-employment scheme. In its design, its duration, the breadth of its coverage and the generosity of its support, the scheme remains the most generous and comprehensive self-employment support scheme in the world.

We are facing the worst economic recession in history and a climate crisis. Despite the warm words yesterday, the green finance announcement does not go far enough. Germany is investing between £40 billion and £50 billion, France £13.5 billion and South Korea £11.5 billion, so £3 billion just does not cut it. Given that half a million 16 to 24-year-olds are currently unemployed, will the Chancellor commit himself to properly financing a green jobs guarantee to give our young people a future?

The hon. Lady mentioned plans from other countries. It is worth bearing in mind that those plans relate to spending commitments over many years and are actually better compared with what we outlined in the Budget, where we set out a £600 billion investment programme over the remainder of this Parliament, including many initiatives such as carbon capture and storage, the nature for climate fund and improvements in air quality. Conservative Members wholeheartedly believe in a green revolution, and we will provide the capital to make that happen.

I pay tribute to all the small business owners in Ashfield and Eastwood who have worked really hard to get ready for the reopening of their businesses last weekend in a covid-secure manner—places such as the world-famous Diamond Club, the Dog and Parrot, the Bus Stop Café, St Joseph’s Social Club and the outstanding Teversal Camping and Caravanning Club site. Although I am grateful to the Chancellor for all the financial support he has provided, does he agree that the only way to protect jobs and businesses in the long term is to safely reopen the economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No support scheme can substitute for safely reopening our economy. I enjoyed seeing his Facebook page with his tour of Sutton, Eastwood and Huthwaite, and all the establishments that he mentioned—including a candle shop, I believe—and I pay tribute to all his local businesses for following the guidance and implementing safe measures so that they can welcome their local communities back with open arms.

The Government’s intervention to provide financial support to the arts is welcome, but freelance creative workers have received little or no support from the furlough scheme or the self-employment scheme for over 100 days. What specifically will the Chancellor do to correct this in the rescue package announced for the creative industries?

Those in the creative arts, like others, can benefit from the self-employment scheme and other interventions that we have put in place, but it is important to know what happened yesterday: a £1.5 billion support package for our cultural institutions up and down the country, from our crown jewels—our globally recognised assets—to our local community theatres. They will all be able to benefit from the support we have put in place and preserve what is so special about our cultural heritage.

I thank the Chancellor for all he has done so far, and I look forward to his statement tomorrow. He mentioned unemployment, and we are aware that it is rising, so one of the most important things we can do is to get people back into work as quickly as possible. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we are benefiting from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire local enterprise partnership redundancy and recruitment triage service. Will he welcome that? There are areas where employment is growing, and if we can get people who have been made redundant into those jobs as quickly as possible, we will minimise the devastating effects of this coronavirus.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of job matching is critical and the evidence shows us that it works. I know from my time as a local government Minister the innovative approach that Councillor Atkins and his team on the county council and the LEP have taken to various economic initiatives. I pay tribute to them for putting this in place with such speed.

The aerospace sector has already said that 9,000 jobs will go in the UK. The north-west is going to be specifically badly affected if the Government just sit back and allow this export-strong, high-skilled, high-wage sector to be decimated. Germany has put a big package in place. America has put a big package in place. France has put a big package in place. So what is the Chancellor going to put in place to protect and guarantee the future of the aerospace sector in the long term?

The interventions in France and Germany related to specific companies, so it obviously would not be appropriate for me to comment on those in this place at this time. The support put in place in the US was primarily to support domestic connectivity. This Government have done that by subsidising considerably our bus network and our rail network to make sure that intra-Union connectivity remains through this crisis.

Will the Government abandon their one-size-fits-all wind-down of the furlough and self-employed schemes and adopt a targeted strategy that acknowledges that hotel workers, chefs and self-employed lighting technicians cannot and should not be treated in the same way as workers in sectors that are already back at full capacity?

The most important thing for all these sectors is for them to be safely reopened. That is why I am delighted that last weekend we were able to meet the target set out in our reopening plan. The Prime Minister has spoken about reopening our remaining closed sectors in the coming weeks, which is welcome news. The hon. Lady is right that these sectors have faced hardship. That is why, as I said, they have received considerable extra support from the Government in the form of business rates holidays and cash grants.

Thousands of job losses have been announced in recent days, and many more are expected if the furlough scheme is withdrawn from all sectors at the same time. With young people facing the most difficult labour market conditions for a generation, and many otherwise viable businesses in trouble because of social distancing rules, does the Chancellor accept the case for employment support being aimed directly at the sectors most likely to be hit by job losses in the coming months?

Those who call for a sector-specific approach are not always able to articulate exactly how they would define those sectors and also the supply chains that they serve. The most important thing is to have provided broad, generous and swift coverage to protect 9 million jobs, as this Government have done, and now to reopen these sectors so that we can get as many of those people back to work as quickly as possible to the jobs that they have.

Covid-19: Landlords

The Government recognise the current challenges facing commercial landlords. That is why we have worked very closely with lenders to ensure that support and flexibility is being shown to commercial borrowers. This forms part of a much wider picture of unprecedented support to businesses affected, including via business rates holidays, grants and Government-backed loans—and of course those, in turn, give access to cash to pay for rents and salaries or suppliers.

May I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register?

While many tenants welcome the steps the Government have taken to protect them from eviction, for many small private landlords the rental income from shops, offices and residential property is their only form of income, which in many cases is completely tied up. Will my right hon. Friend therefore work with the sector to explore how to provide financial support to individuals who find that they have no income and no access to any of the other very impressive schemes that the Government have introduced?

My hon. Friend will know, of course, that we published a code of practice to encourage all parties involved in a landlord-tenant situation to work together to ensure equity and swift recovery. More widely, we have made available over £330 billion of guarantees through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the large business interruption loan scheme, and the corporate financing facility. But of course I would be happy to continue to discuss this issue with him.

Green Bond

The Government have been carefully considering the potential issuance of a UK sovereign green bond. At present, we have no plans to do that, but we continue to monitor the case for one, and we will keep it under urgent review.

I am glad that the Government will keep this matter under consideration because, as evidenced recently by Quebec, green bonds can be effective in raising capital investment and investment for operational expenditure to further the green transition. Will the Government also consider enabling the Welsh Government to issue such a bond to help the effort for a greener economy?

Clearly, debt and the handling of it is a significant challenge for the Government at this time. The core gilt programme is the most stable and cost-effective way of dealing with our financing needs. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. We will continue to look constructively at all options and at the changing environment that is a consequence of this crisis.

Covid-19: Support for Scotland

The UK Government’s response to covid-19 has been UK-wide. More than 750,000 people in Scotland have benefited from the job retention scheme and the self-employed income support scheme, and Scotland has received £3.8 billion of Barnett consequentials.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. It shows the benefits of being in the most successful political and economic Union in the history of the world. What support are the Government thinking about giving to the oil and gas sector, which is struggling from the dual blows of record low oil and gas prices and the covid-19 pandemic?

My hon. Friend is right to identify the benefit of pooling through the UK approach, and the specific issues relating to the oil and gas industry. That is why industry leaders met the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 11 June. Work is ongoing, particularly in relation to what support can be provided to the sector. We are very mindful of its significance to the economy of Scotland.

Covid-19: Support for Local Authorities

Last week, the Government announced a comprehensive package to support councils responding to the pressures caused by covid-19. We have now provided more than £3.7 billion of additional grant funding for councils, and announced a major new scheme to reimburse them for their lost income.

Fears have been expressed that the Government will fully bail out financially poorly managed local authorities, while better managed local authorities, such as the London Borough of Bromley, may have to meet covid-19 shortfalls through their reserves. Will my right hon. Friend offer reassurances on that point? If covid-19 funding shortfalls remain, will he consider allowing a capitalisation directive to enable councils to fund one-off shortfalls through capital receipts or borrowing?

We have always taken the approach that borrowing is allowed for infrastructure and capital projects, but not day-to-day revenue. That policy will continue. At the same time, all councils have received support, and £16 million has been allocated to Bromley. It is right that the support addresses councils’ varied needs, and that is very much the approach that we have taken.

Of course, one of the areas that local government has gone into more in order to fund its services is commercial investment. The package last week does not cover the shortfall in that, which is hitting some local authorities very hard. A number of them are looking at section 114 notices. Is the Minister prepared to see councils go bankrupt on his watch, or is there a package of support for those councils?

The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee will know very well that commercial income carries risk for councils investing in it. We are cognisant of that fact. I advise councils, where there is the risk of a section 114, to talk to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government ahead of any such decision.

The Prime Minister promised to do whatever it takes, and the Housing Minister told councils:

“spend whatever it takes, the Government will reimburse you”.

Will the Minister reaffirm that pledge? Councils need certainty. Many are already cutting services, and the one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Will he further commit himself to the principle that packages announced by the Government should meet the financial cost of coronavirus, and the social need for those local authorities?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the cost for local councils will be uncertain for some time, not least in terms of the impact of lost tax income. That is why we have addressed the short-term pressure through the £3.7 billion grant and additional funding that has been allocated, including the recent £600 million for infection control.

Covid-19: Four-day Working Week

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of including a four-day working week as part of the Government's covid-19 recovery strategy. (904360)

The Prime Minister recently set out the first steps of the Government’s strategy to rebuild and fuel economic recovery in response to covid-19. The Government believe the best way to secure a recovery is to invest across the UK to level up, while ensuring that we create the conditions for private enterprise to flourish.

The Chancellor will have received a letter signed by Members from across the House, including myself, asking him to consider introducing a four-day working week as a way of helping the country recover and creating a better future post covid-19. So will he commit himself to the Treasury exploring a four-day working week as part of its economic planning for the recovery? Will he also meet me and other Members to discuss how we can work together to make shorter working times a reality?

The Government believe that the best way of dealing with these issues is for workers to look at existing options available for flexible working and discuss them directly with their employers, rather than the Government legislating for the entire UK workforce. However, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this topic further, if he would like.

Covid-19: High Street Businesses

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904361)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904368)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904372)

As Members will know, the Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of support for high-street businesses affected by the pandemic. In particular, the Government are giving retail, hospitality and leisure businesses a year’s business rates holiday; protecting commercial tenants from eviction and debt recovery; offering grants of up to £25,000 to eligible businesses; and making sure that businesses have access to the financing they need as quickly as possible. We stand ready to take further steps, as necessary.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I recently visited a brilliant independent furniture store, Rooms, right in the centre of Keighley, which is run by Andrew Foster, his wife Janine and his son Joe. They and many others welcome the 100% business rate relief this year but are concerned about next year, and indeed about the fairness of the business rate structure when we consider purely online businesses and those based in premises. Will my right hon. Friend continue to review this area in the light of covid and look more closely to creating a fairer business rate structure?

I am delighted to hear about Rooms, and many businesses in my constituency have reopened. Reopening the economy is the central step we need for our national recovery. As my hon. Friend will know, we have committed ourselves to a fundamental review of the business rates systems and published some comprehensive terms of reference for the review at the spring Budget. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting businesses and have taken actions to reduce the burden of rates, which will save businesses more than £13 billion in the next five years.

It is no secret that Chancellors have an overarching influence across all Departments. Within my Lincoln constituency’s county of Greater Lincolnshire we are faced with major local government reorganisation. Does the Treasury take the view that for the UK’s second largest county a single unitary authority would be in the best financial interests of my constituents, when enforcing forthcoming local government reform and devolution?

It would be wrong for me, as a Minister, to offer a view on this, but I can tell my hon. Friend that my personal experience has been that the more streamlined and clearer the lines of authority and the more integrated and shared the approach that is taken, the more effective the infrastructure delivery is likely to be.

I have been visiting high-street businesses in Wantage, Didcot, Faringdon and elsewhere, and they are hugely grateful for the furlough scheme, the grant scheme and the business rates holiday, but what they want most now is footfall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be the priority? Will he confirm that he is considering all measures to increase footfall on the high street?

I absolutely confirm that. The reason we have backed high-street firms so strongly all the way through is precisely that we recognise the central importance of these sectors to getting Britain’s high streets back firing on all cylinders. My hon. Friend will know that we have also introduced the Business and Planning Bill to help businesses in England get back on their feet, and we have accelerated nearly £100 million of investment in town centres and high streets, through the towns fund this year, to the same end.

Aviation Industry: Job Protection

What discussions he has had with the (a) Secretary of State for Transport and (b) Home Secretary on providing financial support to protect jobs in the aviation industry. (904364)

Treasury Ministers meet the Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Secretary on a regular basis to discuss a variety of important issues, including the aviation industry.

I have asked Ministers multiple times why it is that we have not yet seen a specific package of support for the aviation industry, and I have received general answers about general measures that are clearly not working, with easyJet already consulting on 4,500 job losses. Thousands of jobs in Luton and its council are reliant on income from Luton airport. If the Governments of France and Germany are protecting their aviation workers, why are this Government not doing the same?

We continue to work closely with the sector and are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, provided that all other Government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors.

Covid-19: Charity Sector

Alongside unprecedented support for individuals and businesses in the light of the covid-19 outbreak, the Government have announced a £750 million support package for charities, £360 million of which will be allocated directly to charities providing essential services and £200 million of which will go to local charities through the National Lottery Community Fund.

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the support that enabled charities to develop new ways of working during lockdown. Will the Minister outline how this Government’s support has helped my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent Central?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the extraordinary innovations of charities in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country. We have seen innovation and adaptation right across the economy, made possible in part by the unprecedented level of support that we have been referring to during this session. As of the end of last week, £230 million had been disbursed from the Government’s charity support fund.

Support for Hospitality, Tourism and Entertainment

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on ensuring that businesses in the (a) hospitality and (b) tourism sector receive adequate support during the covid-19 outbreak. (904369)

What fiscal support he is providing to the (a) theatre and (b) entertainment sector during the covid-19 outbreak. (904384)

The Treasury is working extensively with employers, taskforces and industry groups to understand the long-term effects of covid-19 across all key areas of the economy, including the artistic, creative, tourism and hospitality sectors. We will continue to monitor the impact of Government support on the economy.

While hotels, hospitality businesses and holiday parks are reopening in my constituency, many businesses fear that this will be a year of three winters. What support are the Government considering beyond what has been delivered so far? In particular, would the Treasury consider the tourism and hospitality sector’s request to cut VAT to 5% for those businesses?

As ever, all taxes are kept under review, and changes are announced at fiscal events. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that admissions to cultural venues, for example, are already exempt from VAT if they are provided by a local authority or an eligible body, such as a charity. We will continue to review the situation.

Like many other Members, I met this morning members of ExcludedUK and people such as freelancers, many of whom are in the creative industries, who have fallen between the gaps of the different Government schemes. The package that has been announced for the creative industries is welcome, but what will the Government do to support the many thousands of people in those industries, including in Cardiff South and Penarth, who have fallen between the gaps?

The UK continues to have one of the world’s most generous coronavirus support schemes, including for many self-employed people such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. He will know that the Government recently announced a £1.57 billion cultural fund, and such funds are being targeted at the very people he mentions.

School Funding

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on ensuring adequate funding for schools. (904370)

I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Education to discuss school funding. We are providing a £1 billion package to help students catch up on lost learning, and that sits alongside the £100 million to boost remote education and the additional £7.1 billion of core funding for schools that we announced at the 2019 spending round.

I know that my right hon. Friend enjoyed his time in Stoke-on-Trent during the winter last year, but he will also know that, sadly, the area of Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke is ranked in the bottom 20% of the social mobility index. Sadly, we are also well below the national averages in both young and old taking up courses at levels 3 and 4. Will he set out the steps that the Department is taking to support further education? Does he agree that post-16 providers, such as Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, play a vital role in levelling up opportunity and upskilling and retraining both young and old, enabling them to be better off than those before them?

As a former teacher, my hon. Friend speaks with great authority on such issues. I absolutely agree that a strong post-16 education system is vital to our recovery. That is why we have applied a range of flexibilities to the usual funding arrangements, and the Department for Education has set out further details.

Innovative and Fast-growing Firms

On 20 May, the Government launched the future fund. The fund is an investment scheme for high-growth companies impacted by the pandemic. It provides between £125,000 and £5 million in Government funding through convertible loans, with third-party investors at least matching the Government funding on each loan. As of 5 July, £379 million-worth of convertible loans had been approved through the future fund, and the Government have also made £750 million of support available for innovative firms through Innovate UK grants and loans.

Unemployment in Wolverhampton North East was three times the national average as we came into the pandemic, and many businesses have expressed their gratitude for the wide range of support. As we emerge from the pandemic, can my hon. Friend reassure me that this will be the party that champions innovators, start-ups and SMEs, so that we can get job opportunities and more prosperity in seats such as Wolverhampton North East?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and case for her constituency. As the Prime Minister set out last week, we will double down on levelling up and give everyone growing up in this country the opportunity that they need. The Prime Minister announced the acceleration of £96 million of investment from the towns fund, including nearly £13 million on kick-start activity in the west midlands.

Order. May I just say that the Members not reached are pretty upset at others taking too long? They were desperate to get in, but there we are. I am sorry about that.

Topical Questions

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, in the Budget, we committed ourselves 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 that 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 such 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 himself to extending the covid £1 billion to post-16 catch-up, and will he commit himself 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 in the Budget a £400 million increase in post-16 education funding and 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.