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Covid-19: High Streets

Volume 678: debated on Monday 20 July 2020

What steps he is taking to support the safe reopening of high streets as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904954)

My Department has brought forward a range of measures to support the safe reopening of high streets across England, including providing flexibility for outdoor dining, which has helped to create an al fresco dining renaissance in this country; enabling business to operate on takeaways; making it easier to hold outdoor markets; and pedestrianising town centres and high streets to support local businesses. That is in addition to the Government’s VAT cut for hospitality, the eat out to help out scheme and the £50 million reopening high streets safely fund.

The Secretary of State and his Housing Minister are welcome to come for a bit of al fresco dining in Bexhill and Battle whenever they are around. I give credit to both of them for the way in which they have helped to reform the planning system so that high streets can reopen. Will they take further steps, if required, particularly in respect of temporary structures, where help with permitted development rights could be given, if that were so needed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. We are certainly open to further measures that we can take to make the lives of small businesspeople across the country easier as they seek to recover their businesses and livelihoods after the pandemic. In particular, I can give him reassurance that the existing legal framework that enables one to put up a temporary structure for 28 days is being extended to 56 days during 2020 to enable, for example, a pub to put up a marquee, a restaurant to do the same, or a market to operate for longer than it would ordinarily do—all designed to help local businesses to prosper in the weeks and months to come.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to ask the supplementary despite my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) being held up.

Does the Minister recognise that after all Government funding is taken into account, including the emergency funding, councils still face a funding gap of between £6 billion and £10 billion, while they are of course required by law to balance their budgets in-year and take appropriate measures to ensure that that happens? How many jobs does he estimate will be lost as councils are forced to make severe cuts to plug this gap?

Our engagement with councils has enabled us to understand pressures at a national and local level across England. To date, we have announced £4.3 billion-worth of additional resource to councils, including £3.7 billion of unring-fenced funding. We have also announced the sales fees and charges co-payment scheme to compensate for irrecoverable income loss that is designed to flex according to the extent of the losses as they crystallise. We will also extend the period over which councils must manage shortfalls in local tax income relating to this financial year from one year to three years. All those measures are intended to prevent councils from having to make difficult in-year decisions. I reiterate the message that I have now sent out countless times to individual authorities: any authority facing an unmanageable situation should make contact with my officials.