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Support for Businesses: Covid-19

Volume 681: debated on Tuesday 29 September 2020

My Department has delivered a wide range of measures as part of the Government’s unprecedented support package. That includes £11 billion in grants supporting almost 900,000 business premises and over £57 billion in loan guarantees to over 1 million businesses across the UK. We have also extended the deadline for the loan schemes to the end of November, ensuring that there is further support for those who need it.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and for the support to date. When we emerge from the current crisis, we must build back in an environmentally sustainable way and ensure that we are on track to meet our net zero target. What is he doing to deliver carbon capture and storage across the UK, to ensure that manufacturing and agricultural businesses have certainty, with net zero in mind?

I agree with my hon. Friend: we need to build back better and build back greener. CCS will be an essential part of the transformation to a low-carbon economy, and it presents an opportunity for the creation of high-value jobs, which we want to see in our country. We have already announced a CCS infrastructure fund of £800 million to deploy carbon capture and storage in at least two industrial clusters over the next decade.

Many businesses in the Vale of Clwyd welcome the measures that the Chancellor announced last week, but some local and regional employers of all sizes still face significant challenges—none more so than Airbus. Will my right hon. Friend recommit to doing all he can to support Airbus and its highly skilled staff at this particularly uncertain time?

My hon. Friend and other Members are champions for the businesses in their constituencies. Airbus has been discussed with me and other ministerial colleagues. Of course, Airbus is a vital part of UK aerospace. We are currently providing the aerospace and aviation sector with over £8.5 billion of support through the covid corporate financing facility, R&D grants, loan guarantees and export support. We are in regular dialogue with Airbus, to see how we can assist it and its employees.

Over 1 million people are employed in sectors that are currently shut down, including weddings, events and nightclubs. The Chancellor last week refused to support them because, he said, they were not “viable”, but those businesses are shut because they are rightly following the Government’s public health guidance to help tackle the virus. As the person responsible for standing up for the businesses of this country, does the Business Secretary not think it is wrong, insulting and terrible for our long-term economic future as a country to write off as unviable these businesses and jobs that provide livelihoods for so many people in our country?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I talk to businesses every day, as he does, and I know it is very difficult for many of them right now. The job support scheme announced by the Chancellor provides targeted support for jobs and business facing lower demand over the coming months. He will also know that the measures have been welcomed by business groups and, indeed, trade unions. The TUC said:

“the Chancellor has listened and done the right thing.”

In addition to the JSS, there are other measures available to support all businesses across the country.

The Secretary of State did not answer my question about these businesses that are currently shut down and that are doing the right thing. Many of them have no income coming in, they are excluded from the JSS and they are already loaded with debt, yet they have rent to pay and overheads to cover, and the Government are just leaving them out in the cold. I believe these were good, viable businesses before the pandemic. They were good enough for the Government to support them back in March, and we need them for our economy after the crisis is over. Will he stand up for these businesses that need help and give them the support they need at least to survive the crisis?

Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Department does stand up for businesses. We have a very regular dialogue with sectors on an ongoing basis. As I said, I acknowledge that some of them are facing particular difficulties. As he himself knows from his time in government, we are not going to be able to protect every single job—very, very sadly—but that is why we are providing extra support in the welfare system but also, really importantly, support for skills and, indeed, apprenticeships, and the kickstart scheme for young people, so that we can help people into better jobs.

It has been confirmed that the Secretary of State is due to rewrite the industrial strategy this autumn. Given the concern expressed by businesses that the Department is the voice of Government to business, as opposed to the voice of business to Government, will he tell me how businesses will be engaged in the drafting of the new industrial strategy?

The Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of course raises an important point, and he will know that I have come to the House on previous occasions and outlined the detailed discussions we have. I have set up a range of taskforces; we had discussions on issues relating to the industrial strategy back in June, and we converse on a daily basis with sectors across the country.

I was really disappointed by the answers the Business Secretary gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I have global exhibition companies in my constituency that are on the verge of going bust. They do not need to be told about the kickstart scheme or apprenticeships, or to be told that universal credit is available to them. These companies are calling for an extension of business rate relief and a new grant scheme, bearing in mind that many of them were not eligible for the retail, hospitality and leisure grant. Will the Secretary of State consider this, and commit to publishing a provisional date when conferences and exhibition events can reopen, as has been happening in parts of Europe? Will he also agree to meet the sector? I have tried lobbying the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this, and I am getting nowhere. Will he pay attention to this sector?

As the hon. Lady outlines, this particular sector is the responsibility of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. However, I have been talking to representatives of the sector, as have my ministerial team, and, as I have said, we will continue to have such conversations. As I have also said, the Chancellor has set out a significant package of support since the start of this pandemic, and people are still able to make use of that support.