The decision to extend tighter lockdown measures to the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough was based on the latest health evidence, including advice from the chief medical officer and local public health authorities. The resurgence of the virus has demanded further action to minimise harm to health and wellbeing, while preserving the ability of people to work and businesses to trade in the areas affected. That is why, throughout this crisis, we have sought to strike a balance between minimising the burden faced by businesses and protecting public health. To that end, we have provided one of the most generous and comprehensive packages of support for people, businesses and public services, totalling £190 billion by July.
As the path of the virus and the threat to the economy have become clearer, we have taken further decisive action. Last month, the Chancellor announced the winter economic plan—a package of targeted measures to protect jobs and businesses, including the job support scheme to support the wages of employees in viable jobs and an extension of the self-employment income support scheme to the end of April 2021. We are also continuing the temporary reduction in VAT for hospitality until the end of March 2021 and the Government-backed loan schemes until the end of November this year. We are also providing an additional £100 million in surge funding to support the hardest-hit areas in containing covid-19. That is on top of the £300 million provided through the test and trace programme. We are offering grants to businesses that have been required to shut because of the new measures, worth up to £1,500 for each three weeks of closure.
Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised a flexible and adaptable approach to economic support. We will continue in that spirit, and we stand ready to evolve our policies as required.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your courteousness and patience, as always.
Seventeen million people—one in four of us—are living under additional covid-19 restrictions. That was not inevitable: experts agree that it is linked to the continuing failure to deliver a functioning test, trace and isolate system. That failure has profound economic consequences and puts businesses and jobs at risk. Today, nearly 1 million people are still on furlough in the areas of the country that are subject to local restrictions or are on the watch list.
Support for local areas has only ever come after restrictions have been imposed—for example, a month later in Leicester’s case. There are leaked suggestions that the Treasury will be involved in decision making around restrictions, potentially to prevent such delays. When will the Government finally be in a position to deliver support hand in hand with the imposition of restrictions, not trailing them?
The response has been inconsistent: £3 million for Leicester, £7 million for the Liverpool city region, an undefined funding package for the north-east of England and nothing for Greater Manchester or the west midlands. What criteria determine the allocation of support to areas under local restrictions? Will they be published? If not, why not? Do they truly reflect the needs of areas subject to restrictions? I note that the Chief Secretary did not talk at any point in his statement about support for areas with economic needs, not health needs. He referred to the local restrictions support grant, but can he confirm that no area currently qualifies for that grant because of current restrictions?
The millions of people living under local restrictions deserve better. When will the Government grasp the scale of the challenge and act to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild businesses?
The shadow Chancellor almost implies that the resurgence of the virus is unique to the United Kingdom, yet anyone who looks across the continent will see that many other countries, as we come out of the summer period, are seeing exactly the same trend and are dealing with it in in many of the same ways as we are in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Lady says that support has not been offered to those suffering from economic harm, but that ignores, for example, the announcement that I made in the Chamber some weeks ago about the £1,500 of support for businesses for every three weeks of closure as the result of a local lockdown—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should let me answer, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position.
The hon. Lady also ignores the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has extended many of the measures that we introduced in our initial response, including the package of loans, the tax deferrals and pay as you grow. Those are universal offers to support businesses, irrespective of whether they are in areas of acute lockdown or otherwise.
As I said at the start, and as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we will keep listening, and we will keep striving to be creative in response to the challenges that we face. Where we can, he will act. That shows our willingness to adapt. The package of measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor brought to the Chamber just a few days ago, with the winter plan, illustrates that willingness to listen, to evolve and to respond to the virus, as the economic needs of the country dictate.
Local restrictions are inevitably impairing many thousands of businesses in those areas, but some businesses are not just being impaired: because of the regulations, they are simply unable to trade. I am thinking about many companies in the hospitality sector—events companies, hotels, nightclubs and many more. Would my right hon. Friend recognise that and come forward with a specific set of support packages for those businesses, which the regulations basically stop dead in their tracks? In that way, the many thousands of jobs in those businesses, which are otherwise entirely viable, can be saved.
The Chair of the Treasury Committee raises an extremely pertinent point, which I know my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has heard loud and clear. That is why we have seen repeatedly in the measures that the Chancellor has brought forward a targeting—particularly, as the Chair of the Select Committee says, in areas such as the hospitality sector, which, as my right hon. Friend says, have been acutely hit—with a package of measures, such as the cut in VAT and the package over the summer. For specific areas such as the independent cinema sector, there has been the £30 million of funding for the British Film Institute. That is an individual measure, but it does not address the much wider part of the cinema sector and the major chains. It is about looking at targeted measures of support in response to the issue that the my right hon. Friend as raised.
Local lockdown is a reality, and there is a potential for a national lockdown of some kind as we go into the months ahead. Livelihoods have been disrupted once again and the viability of businesses is being threatened by these restrictions, which are necessary to protect public health.
Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality told the Treasury Committee this morning that sector-specific restrictions require sector-specific support. What sector-specific support is the Minister going to bring forward for sectors such as hospitality, events, tourism, funfairs, culture and the arts? The Chancellor earlier seemed to suggest that people should just go and get another job, which is deeply offensive to many in those sectors.
Failing to support and sustain businesses right now risks putting those businesses over the edge so that they will not be there for a recovery in the future. The Minister must speak to the Chancellor today, extend the furlough in the self-employment support scheme and fill the gaps for those who have not had a single penny from the Government since lockdown began. People are depending on this UK Government, with the economic levers that they have. The Government are failing in their duty to protect those jobs and livelihoods right now. They are letting millions of people down and accepting the harm of mass unemployment that will follow.
The Scottish Government are limited in how much they can spend and in how much they can borrow, which is very limited. They do not even have the certainty of a UK Budget to know how much they will receive in the months ahead. If Scotland needs to lock down on public health grounds, how much money will come in support?
The hon. Lady says that she seeks targeted measures, but then seems to ignore the £1.57 billion that the Chancellor announced for the arts—exactly the sort of targeted package that she was referring to. She then says that that is not enough, but it is unclear how long the SNP would want to extend schemes such as the furlough, how targeted that would be on specific sectors and what that would mean for the supply chains for those sectors. We think that it is right to be honest with the British public and ensure that we target support beyond the eight months of the furlough, in the way that the Chancellor set out, with the job support scheme and the extension of the self-employment income support scheme.
On certainty of funding for the Scottish Government, I have had regular discussions with the Scottish Finance Secretary. I would have welcomed the hon. Lady’s acknowledgement that we had done something unprecedented in guaranteeing the Barnett consequentials in order—as the Scottish Government had requested, and responding to their wishes—to give them confidence in the funding pipeline. That had not been done before. The Government did it to give the Scottish Government confidence on the Barnett consequentials. An acknowledgement by the hon. Lady of that point would have been welcome.
Although I am clear that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Treasury have done a Herculean job in bringing forward schemes to support jobs in the economy, I, like the Chair of the Treasury Committee, remain concerned about those sectors that are unable to operate because of Government restrictions. I cite particularly the events industry and our aviation sector—I think especially of the regional airports, which will be affected by regional restrictions. May I ask my right hon. Friend to look with colleagues across Government at ways in which we can get those sectors at least partially working again, with proper social distancing rules? I cannot believe that it is not possible to do that. If it is possible to go to a supermarket, surely it is possible to have airport testing, and socially distanced trade shows and the like to get some of those sectors moving again.
My right hon. Friend is right that it is important, as we live with the virus and accept that it will be with us for longer, that we constantly learn from that and see what lessons there can be, not just in terms of, for example, regional air travel, but how that reads across into other matters such as non-pharmaceutical interventions. My right hon. Friend’s point is exactly why the Chancellor said yesterday that he will keep listening and striving to be creative. His track record has demonstrated that. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend as we learn those lessons.
Many businesses may not have to close because of local restrictions, but they have seen a drop in footfall and a decline in their business. I am thinking of many small family-run businesses that have approached me in Lancaster and Fleetwood. Will the Chief Secretary outline what support will be available for those businesses and what they can expect when local restrictions are put in place?
For exactly that reason, the Chancellor set out the package of measures in the winter plan. We recognise that there is a balance, and we have sought to strike one that enables many of those businesses still to trade—so restrictions have not led to the closure of certain businesses, as full lockdown did. However, we acknowledge that there has been an impact, particularly on cash flow. That is why the Chancellor set out the furlough bonus and the job support scheme and extended what is, by international comparisons, one of the most generous self-employment income support schemes. We recognise that there is a balance between the health measures that we are taking and the hon. Lady’s legitimate concern about the impact on businesses, particularly their cash flow.
There is no crystal ball that will tell us how bad the virus will be in various areas. I thank the Chief Secretary for his assurance that the Government will be flexible and continue to offer targeted support in areas of high coronavirus rates. Will he also assure my constituents in Wolverhampton North East and people in the Black Country that the Government’s levelling-up agenda will not be forgotten in the coming months?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance about levelling up. It is at the core of the Government’s mission. It is a key priority of the Prime Minister and consequentially of all Ministers. We are actively working in the Treasury to accelerate under Project Speed our infrastructure investment to ensure that it is better targeted in terms of place as well as scheme.
London, which is now on a watch list, is not only our financial centre but our cultural capital. [Interruption.] I believe so. It is the nation’s beating heart. Despite the £1.57 billion arts rescue package, freelancers and the self-employed in the sector in my constituency have not seen a penny since March. Established venues such as The Questors in Ealing face a record loss this year because the panto is off—oh yes it is! Will the Chief Secretary not be a villain, and sort this out now?
I shall resist pursuing the panto theme, although I am not sure too many villains have allocated £1.57 billion to the industry in addition to the other package of support that the Chancellor has announced. The hon. Lady speaks of a real concern, which we are acutely aware of. The House has debated at length the issue of that subset of the self-employed who were beyond the date of the initial package and I do not think we need to rehearse that argument, but I recognise that it is an issue of ongoing concern. By international standards, the self-employment income support package that we have put in place is extremely generous, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor extended it further in the winter plan.
Hyndburn and Haslingden have been in local restrictions since 31 July, and were only removed for a short period beforehand. My local authorities are playing a huge part in supporting my community, to support the most vulnerable people and keep vital services running. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps the Government are taking to support them and what further support is being considered if further restrictions are imposed?
My hon. Friend is quite right to single out the huge amount of work being done by local authorities up and down the country to assist us in our response to the pandemic, and I am sure that I join many hon. Members in paying tribute to that work. She will be aware that my right hon Friend the Chancellor announced £3.7 billion of grant support for councils, an extra £1.1 billion of support for social care providers, and on top of that £300 million as part of our enhanced track and trace. In addition, £100 million was announced for the surge, in our response to local authorities. It is an important point; we work very closely with local authorities as part of our response.
We now have local lockdowns on top of the threat of further national restrictions, warnings daily from various sectors, and the threat of mass unemployment. Many companies are under threat because they are being responsible and following restrictions, so, bearing in mind what the Secretary of State has said about flexibility, will the Government now accept that an extension to furlough into June 2021, which experts say could protect more than 1 million jobs, is absolutely vital to those companies?
I am very proud that, as a result of our ability to act as one UK, the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom have enabled us to protect almost a million jobs in Scotland, supporting nearly half a million through the furlough scheme, and 65,000 businesses in Scotland have benefited from the UK Government loan scheme. The ability of the Treasury and the Government to act and support businesses and jobs in Scotland has been enhanced by our ability to act as one United Kingdom.
On what further measures are taken, I do not agree with the hon. Lady that the solution would be to extend the furlough scheme indefinitely, because I think that would hold out to people the expectation of a job that may never return, and do so at very significant cost. That is why we need to support those jobs that are viable, and, in addition we need a training package to enable people to get the skills to re-enter the labour market when they are needed.
It has been a time when most people have come together and worked together to respond to the very legitimate concerns that we all have on behalf of our constituents. The more we can work together across the United Kingdom and with local authorities and other stakeholders, the stronger will be the Government’s response to the pandemic.
The further restrictions announced on 1 October will have a huge impact on the Liverpool city region’s retail, hospitality and leisure sector—a sector that accounts for 20% of the city region’s economy. The end of the furlough scheme and the 20% below the self-employment income support scheme will impact thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses. The £7 million to be shared with other areas is not enough. The city region has therefore called for a support package totalling £710 million, in order to ensure that we have an economy to revive. Will the Chancellor make a statement on what financial support will be made available to the Liverpool city region?
The hon. Lady says that there should be a package for the Liverpool city region of £700 million of additional funding. That would equate to over £23 billion if applied evenly on a per head basis across England. It is important that we are proportionate. Of course, the £7 million is not in isolation; it sits alongside the many other things that have been announced, including £130 million of un-ring-fenced funding to the Liverpool city region in March; but I am happy to continue to work with colleagues across the House in considering our wider response.
May I return to the sectors that are effectively closed by the lockdown rules? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Chancellor is looking at what support he can give, he thinks about companies in the supply chains to those sectors, which have lost all their orders but so far have not had the benefit of some of the help, such as the business rate reliefs?
One of the difficulties when people talk about extending the furlough is that those supplying particular sectors do not simply supply one sector; they usually supply across sectors. In the wider discussion about extending the furlough, not only is there the question of how long, because we do not know how long it will be until a vaccine arrives, but it is often unclear from those seeking an extension which sectors it would apply to and how it would apply to the supply chains of those sectors. The reality is that people do not simply supply one sector; supply chains reach across many sectors.
The Minister knows that the Rhondda has not just had to contend with coronavirus this year; we have had the worst flooding of any area in the whole of the UK—nearly a quarter of it was in one constituency—and we have had a major landslide from a coal tip. In February, the Prime Minister promised this House that the money would be “passported” from Westminster to Rhondda Cynon Taf to pay for the repair work. In June, the Prime Minister told me that the work had to be done and that he would be looking at making sure it happened. The Minister wrote to me in July to say that we should be applying to the reserve fund. I cannot underline more strongly how serious this is for the local community. We are one of the poorest communities in the whole of Europe. The local authority will be bankrupted if we do not get the money. There are families who are fearful that they are going to be flooded all over again, and many more who are even more worried that there will be another Aberfan. Please, please, please, just say the money is going to come.
The hon. Gentleman has raised this before and I discussed it with the Secretary of State for Wales. As a result of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will ask for an urgent update to clarify with the Secretary of State what the latest is on that. Because of the emotion that I think everyone feels around the national tragedy of Aberfan, we recognise the specific issue in that regard, and I know that the Prime Minister is very sighted on it. To be fair, I think the issue has more aspects to it than simply the individual site that is of most concern; there is a wider discussion with the Welsh Government around flood protection and where that funding is, but I am very happy to follow this up. Given that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue before, let me follow it up, and I will write to him following today’s exchange.
The Welsh Government have imposed movement restrictions in four north Wales counties, an area where tourism and hospitality are the mainstay of the economy. That has had an immediate adverse effect on local businesses, some of which have closed, maybe never to open again. Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Welsh Government have been in touch with the Treasury to outline what financial measures they intend to put in place to compensate the businesses that have been so badly affected by this action?
I am not aware of any specific representations in respect of the individual case that my right hon. Friend refers to. The wider point I would make is that it is important across the United Kingdom as a whole that decisions on local lockdowns are shaped by the Joint Biosecurity Centre so that we have a consistency of approach that is led by the medical science, and then, on the basis of that, the Treasury can have discussions about any individual issues that arise from that advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Last Friday, in an interview with the BBC, the Prime Minister said that additional resources would be available for Northern Ireland in the light of restrictions due to alarming covid numbers, which are now twice the UK average. There are local restrictions in place, hundreds of students are isolating, and businesses are struggling but have to keep the doors open to pay the bills. With furlough ending and an extra 89,000 universal credit claimants just in the second quarter of this year, people cannot afford to wait and see. When asked whether extra funds would be available, the Prime Minister said, “Absolutely.” When will those funds come?
We have provided significant funds to Northern Ireland—an additional £2.2 billion—to cope with the pressures of the pandemic, and that has enabled 300,000 jobs in Northern Ireland to be protected through the furlough scheme, along with an additional 78,000 jobs through the self-employment income support scheme. Indeed, the package of measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his winter plan applies in terms of additional support for Northern Ireland as it shapes its response to the pandemic.
Does the Chief Secretary agree that the best way to help business is to let business get on with the job, as free as possible from Government control? Will he note that when the Treasury argues against further lockdowns for business, scores of Tory MPs and tens of thousands of businesses cheer it on? After all, to quote the Chancellor, is it not our “sacred” duty to “balance the books”? What is the point of solving this problem by borrowing money? Is that not the socialist way? What would be the point of a Conservative Government if we did that?
As a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my right hon. Friend is quite right to focus on the importance of value for money and protecting the interests of the taxpayer. He knows me well enough to know that I share that sentiment. On our wider response, it is important that we get the right balance between responding to the virus and doing so in a way that is supportive to the economy. It is a false perception to see this as a choice between health and economics; they are clearly intertwined and we need to work together in shaping our response.
It is a horrific irony that while we risk 1980s levels of unemployment, the Chancellor was busy reminding his party conference that Tory values are old and timeless. I appreciate that not every job can be saved, but many more jobs can be saved by a proper extension of the furlough scheme and targeted support for aerospace, aviation, travel, tourism, hospitality, the night-time economy and those excluded to date. If the Treasury is not going to step up, does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government need borrowing powers so that they can provide targeted sector support and localised support where local restrictions might be needed for public health measures?
The slightly puzzling thing is that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to accept yes for an answer. When I was asked by the Scottish Government Finance Minister whether I would give further guarantees on Barnett consequentials, we agreed that, thereby enabling the Scottish Government to make spending commitments with that guarantee, yet that point is not recognised at all. The reality is that it is because of our broad shoulders and ability to act across the United Kingdom that we have been able to protect 930,000 jobs in Scotland at the peak in July, and 65,000 businesses in Scotland have benefited from our loan schemes. Our ability to act across the United Kingdom enables us to better protect jobs.
I urge my right hon. Friend not to forget areas like the High Peak which, although not under local restrictions themselves, are impacted economically by the local restrictions next door in Greater Manchester. I wish to highlight specifically the events industry, which, if it is allowed to trade again, could be a crucible for economic recovery. The situation is imminent—the organisers of lots of fantastic events, such as Buxton International Festival, are having to make decisions now about when their events can go ahead next year—so I urge my right hon. Friend to look urgently at measures for the industry.
My hon. Friend is quite right that the impact on business is not confined to those areas most acutely affected by the virus; there is a wider displacement effect on businesses, including in neighbouring constituencies. We very much recognise that issue, which very much shaped the approach that the Chancellor set out in the winter plan, particularly in respect of the cash-flow pressures faced by those businesses. Together with the job support that he introduced, the package recognises the very real pressures businesses face and will provide comfort as we go through the winter period.
In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), the right hon. Gentleman suggested that he would be willing to work with MPs from all parties because of our concerns about the vulnerability of the hospitality, retail and live entertainment industry. In the light of that invitation, may I suggest that he agrees to meet local MPs from our city region, together with council leaders and the Metro Mayor, for a constructive discussion about how a comprehensive package for those sectors and others can be put in place as a matter of urgency?
As I think colleagues across the House would recognise, I have always been open to meeting MPs from all parties, and I am happy to give an undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman to meet MPs to discuss these issues. On the Liverpool city region, the point I was making in response to the previous question is that the request for £700 million that has come in will equate to an additional funding commitment of £23 billion. There is a responsibility on all of us, not just on Government, to have a view of the wider value for money of schemes, because £23 billion, in addition to the other packages, is a very significant amount.
Some of those worst affected by local lockdown measures will be our young people, who are left isolated or, worse still, trapped in unhealthy home environments, and there will be long-term implications for local services that stem from that. Youth groups and organisations that can offer support need help, and the youth investment fund is vital to their sustainability. Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to end the delay to that funding and get that help to the young people who need it?
My hon. Friend is right that the youth investment fund is a very important allocation—£500 million was allocated in September 2019 under the fund. However, he speaks to a more fundamental point, which is that many of those most affected by covid’s economic consequences are the young, who tend to congregate in areas such as hospitality that are most impacted. That is why the Chancellor has set out measures such as the £2 billion for the kickstart scheme, the tripling of traineeships, the £2,000 for apprentices and the doubling of work coaches. We recognise that it is not just the number of young people whose jobs go, but the length of time that they are out of the labour market that is absolutely crucial. Both of those are key areas of focus and I look forward to working with him in our response on them.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for High Peak (Robert Largan), what consideration have the Government given to the impact of local lockdowns on businesses and supply chains located beyond the lockdown areas? What support will be made available to businesses that are materially impacted by restrictions imposed elsewhere?
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan), it is absolutely valid for colleagues across the House to raise the wider impact. That is partly why we gave the guarantee on Barnett consequentials, which has meant that the Welsh Government have benefited to the tune of £4 billion. It is why we are engaging very closely with the Welsh Government, among others, on shaping our response, and why the Chancellor set out, through the winter plan, the package of additional measures, building on his plan for jobs—the £30 billion that was announced in July. We recognise that it is not only the areas most affected by lockdown that have pressures in terms of retaining jobs or cash flow challenges; the winter plan spoke to the issue much more widely across all parts of the United Kingdom.
First, all businesses are able to benefit from the universal elements of the support package put in place by the Chancellor, whether that means loans, tax referrals or schemes such as the furlough. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that the nightclub sector is affected acutely, among all businesses affected. That is not just because it has been shut down from the start of the lockdown, but because it is very unclear when the end will be in sight, in terms of that sector and our ability to reopen. That is why the Chancellor has said, extremely reluctantly, that we are not in a position to save every single job. I think that around a third of nightclubs have repurposed by becoming pubs or reshaping their offer, but I absolutely accept that not all nightclubs will be able to do that. We are trying to target the very comprehensive measures of support on areas where jobs can be saved, but we recognise that not every single job will be saved.
In my constituency, more than 11,600 jobs have been protected so far through the furlough scheme and more than £50 million has been made available to businesses to bounce back through various loans and grants. Recently, Stoke-on-Trent was removed from the watchlist and avoided a local lockdown, thanks to prompt local action; however, we are geographically close to many local lockdown areas. I ask my right hon. Friend for reassurance that those businesses in Stoke-on-Trent most economically vulnerable to any local lockdown will continue to be able to access financial support.
I am very happy to reassure my hon. Friend that the package of support that the Chancellor set out in his winter plan will assist businesses in Stoke and elsewhere, bringing back jobs that are viable and supporting them in terms of their cash flow. Furlough has already seen more than half the jobs—from a peak of 8.9 million—come back, so it has served a key part of its purpose. I know that my hon. Friend is also a keen champion of the wider levelling-up agenda, so as those businesses bounce back, it will also be important that we work together on that agenda, which I know areas such as Stoke should benefit from very strongly.
In the leisure and entertainment industry in my constituency, Cineworld shut its cinema, Hollywood Bowl has written to me about the problems that it has, wanting a further cut in VAT because of the impact of additional restrictions, Peller Agency has had virtually no work for any of its artists in live entertainment venues since March, and Central Travel and Linburg Travel were offered no help by the Government at all because, perversely, coach companies are not seen as part of the leisure industry. Those are effects on the constituency without additional restrictions; it can only get worse if additional restrictions come into play. Will the Government introduce a comprehensive range of measures to help the leisure and entertainment industry? Ultimately, if measures are not brought in, such products and offerings will not be available for all of us to enjoy once the restrictions are lifted.
I gently take issue with the point about coaches not having support. One of the areas where coach firms have been able to benefit hugely from our response, and to work with the Government, has been school transport. We were able to secure the additional capacity that we needed in part through the willingness of coach companies to adapt as part of our response. It is not the case that coach companies have been unable to get any business during the pandemic.
On more comprehensive measures, the hon. Member is right that the cinema industry has been hit hard. We were all concerned to see the announcement from Cineworld at the weekend. Together with Odeon and Vue, that is 75% of the market, but as he knows it is not simply down to one issue. With cinemas, there is the supply of films—the delay of some of the blockbuster films has had an impact—and consumer confidence. Attendance is significantly down compared with last year, and there is also the impact of the non-pharmaceutical interventions. There is not one single factor, but we continue to work with the cinema industry in shaping our response.
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn and Darwen said that some of the more economically challenged boroughs are
“being placed into more restrictive control measures at an earlier point in their…case rate trajectory. This has the effect of exacerbating the economic inequality impacts of the virus in those areas.”
Why are some areas being treated differently from other areas, and can the Minister not see the need to have greater transparency and equity across the board?
The pace of those medically driven decisions is more, perhaps, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who I know has been to the Chamber and answered such questions. I am willing to flag the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the transparency of that process.
I thank the Minister for the generous and timely support that businesses and workers across Aberconwy have received during this pandemic. Sadly, the same businesses and workers, mainly in tourism, are struggling now under fresh local restrictions that have been brought in by the Welsh Government. I noted the Minister’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). Will he press the Welsh Government, when they introduce local restrictions that are stricter than those in other parts of the UK, and do so at lower thresholds than in other parts of the UK, to also provide the funding that the businesses and workers struggling under them need?
As I said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), it is important that these decisions are shaped by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and that it takes a consistent approach throughout the United Kingdom. That helps not only with the consistency of support that can be offered to businesses across the UK, but with communication to constituents and the clarity of that message.
I welcome the Minister’s agreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth) to meet local MPs, local leaders and the Mayor to talk about what is happening in the Liverpool city region. The Minister will know that £7 million between nine different local authorities as extra money for the much more severe restrictions being imposed is not nearly enough, so will he promise to keep an open mind about the extra support we need in a region where 20% of our economy is the visitor offer, hospitality and tourism, and where 50,000 jobs and 4,000 businesses are at stake?
As I said to colleagues earlier, I am happy to meet Members of Parliament across the House, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady, who brings considerable experience to these issues from her time in government. However, as I pointed out earlier, it is not the case that it is only £7 million of support. It is important to look at the wider package of support that has been offered, but of course we can discuss that in due course.
There is no doubt that a number of businesses in, Northfield and across Birmingham, especially in hospitality, would not exist now if it was not for the support packages put in place by the Government over the past several months. Will my right hon. Friend please commit to looking at as many ways as possible of supporting businesses, especially those affected by the local restrictions and the 10 pm curfew?
As I said in an earlier reply, the Chancellor was very clear yesterday that he continues to listen and to strive to be creative in our response. I refer my hon. Friend to the comprehensive package that has already been announced, including the winter plan that the Chancellor has announced, which provides considerable support to businesses through the furlough bonus, the job support scheme, the self-employment income support scheme, the tax deferrals, the loans and so on, all of which support businesses in his constituency.
The fact is that more and more people are struggling just to put food on the table, as the Trussell Trust and others have highlighted, so with furlough being wound down, will the Government end the five-week wait for universal credit? Will they also make the £20 uplift permanent and extend it to legacy benefits? These measures are desperately needed.
We always keep these things under review. That was a temporary set of measures brought in by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but the hon. Member is right to point to the wider package of support that the Government offer. Following the package of support that was set out in March for individuals, public services and businesses, he will recall that the Chancellor has continued to revise that, with the most recent iteration being the winter plan that he announced in the Chamber a week or so ago.
A theme of many of the questions, and of some of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s answers, is predicated on the assumption that some of these economic support measures will be needed only for a short period. My right hon. Friend referred to the potential for a vaccine to solve the problem. Is it the Treasury’s assumption that these measures will be needed only for a short period and that a vaccine will come along and solve everything, or is it more likely, as I believe, that we will see permanent changes to our economy that will require us to accept that a significant economic transformation is required?
The significant fiscal measures that we have put in place will clearly have longer-term consequences for the public finances. The Chancellor has been quite clear about that in terms of our response to the future fiscal event. In terms of the timing of a vaccine, as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have set out, things have changed since March, when there was perhaps a sense initially that these measures would be needed for a shorter period, and it is now clear that we will be living with the virus for a longer period—at least for a further six months. I know, however, that through the work of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a huge amount of work is going on in the vaccines taskforce, because that is clearly the best way to limit the longer-term damage. However, we cannot guarantee the timing of when any vaccine would arrive.
The Minister will no doubt appreciate just how precarious the future of many businesses is and how desperately worried they are that they could face further restrictions and more local lockdowns. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), will the Minister please outline the additional and specific support that businesses that do not have to close but are facing significantly lower demand can expect to receive?
One of the most important areas of support is avoiding, if at all possible, businesses closing in the first place. That is why, in response to the measures brought forward by the Secretary of State for Health, we have drawn the balance between businesses being open for the majority of the evening and addressing the risk—outlined by the chief medical officer and others—that social distancing tends to be weaker later in the evening. This addresses the concerns of the Department of Health about the increased risk, while protecting the ability of businesses to stay open. It is important that we keep this measure under review and ensure that the modelling and the data evolve so that we get the balance right for businesses.
Many of the areas that have been hit hardest by covid are those that relate most to the Government’s levelling-up agenda and that, like Stoke-on-Trent, will be vital for unlocking productivity. Will my right hon. Friend prioritise ensuring that we continue to see a refocusing of investment into these areas as we build a stronger recovery, so that no part of our country is left behind again?
There are few stronger champions of the levelling-up agenda in this House than my hon. Friend, and rightly so. I share his determination to ensure that our levelling-up agenda speaks to the people of Stoke and to many other places across the United Kingdom. I look forward to continuing conversations with him as we take that important work forward.
From 1 November, the job support scheme will only be available to firms that can offer their staff at least a third of their usual working hours. For businesses forced to close as a result of local restrictions, that will not be possible. What do the Government suggest such businesses do in these circumstances to retain their staff who are skilled and who have been trained by these businesses?
As we covered earlier, there are specific measures for areas with local lockdowns, such as the £1,500 support for businesses that are closed for three weeks or more. The Chancellor announced a package of measures in the winter plan, including tax deferrals, loans and other cash-flow support, alongside the self-employment income support and job support that he announced in the same statement.
Thank you, ground control.
I thank my right hon. Friend for explaining the current position. He will know that we are currently experiencing an increase in the infection rate in virtually every borough in London. What we do not know is whether lockdowns or further restrictions will take place covering the whole of London or on a borough-by-borough basis. In either case, there will be a huge impact on business, so will my right hon. Friend set out what measures will be in place to support London and each London borough in the event of local lockdowns or a London-wide lockdown?
As I have said in reply to a number of colleagues, we will continue to listen and evaluate the circumstances, including what applies to London. The Chancellor has set out a comprehensive package of support that applies to businesses within the London community, assisting them in their ability to retain what is most prized within a business, which is the talent of its own staff, and in addressing particular cash-flow pressure. We responded very much to the feedback that we have received from business leaders, including business leaders in London, as the winter package was shaped.
The International Monetary Fund has encouraged Governments to spend on infrastructure. In London, the infrastructure is the west end and the suburban theatres. What urgent plan will the Government put in place to protect the workers—whether the technicians, the actors, the divas or the stars—to keep our desperately loved theatre going?
On the specific point about the theatre, it is a sector championed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, and I referred earlier to the £1.57 billion package that the Chancellor has set out. I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of infrastructure as a whole. Theatre is one aspect, but there is a much wider piece that includes Crossrail, High Speed 2, the acceleration of our road schemes, and broadband in particular in areas of poor connectivity. There is a huge agenda for infrastructure, and delivering that at pace is a key focus of the Chancellor and the Treasury team.
The hospitality sector has benefited from an incredible and innovative package of support, and I hope that will continue in a targeted way to mitigate the impact of local lockdown. But if we do not rethink the 10 pm curfew, we could see bars, pubs, restaurants and breweries call last orders for the final time. Will the Government back Britain’s boozers and breweries and reconsider their approach to the 10 pm curfew?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is important that we act in a targeted way both in terms of our economic measures and in our health response to the pandemic. It is about getting that balance right.
On the 10 pm curfew, it is worth reflecting on the fact that we are not alone in that. The Netherlands and parts of Spain, such as Madrid, have taken a similar approach, but it is all about getting the balance right and ensuring that we act in a targeted way, as my hon. Friend suggests.
Live music professionals in my constituency saw an average income drop of 97.5% during the initial lockdown. If further local restrictions come into force, the situation is likely to become even bleaker. Given that the sector employs 589,000 people nationally and that their skills are in demand worldwide, will the Chief Secretary extend the remit of the £1.57 billion arts support package to cover live music?
We keep all packages under review but, to address the very legitimate point that the hon. Lady raises about particular impacts within the economy, we have extended the self-employment income support scheme as one of the vehicles of assisting many of her constituents and those affected particularly in the arts. It is the case that certain sectors have been acutely hit and where we are not able to save every job in a sector, it is extremely important that we are able to get the support, the skills and the training package in place to people from such sectors in the wider economy.
We can all agree that the Government’s economic support has been a lifeline for millions of hard-working people, but in local lockdown areas, such as those across the north-east, hospitality businesses are really struggling with restrictions such as the 10 pm curfew and households not being able to meet for a meal and a pint across Bishop Auckland. May I urge my right hon. Friend to look at how he can offer additional economic and financial support? Some of these businesses have seen their takings drop through no fault of their own.
I know that the 10 pm curfew is an issue that a number of colleagues across the House have raised. As I said a moment ago, it is about getting the balance right. We have striven to ensure that venues are able to continue to be open most of the evening rather than, as we saw in the initial lockdown, having to close. It is about protecting the majority of the evening and getting the balance right with the later night socialising that the chief medical officer and others are most concerned about in terms of the risk to public health. It is something that we continue to keep under review and learn from other countries around the world. As I have said, other countries are addressing similar issues.
Last week, one of my constituents who owns a bridal store contacted me in desperation. Because of the coronavirus restrictions in the north-east, brides-to-be can no longer take a relative or friend to their dress-fitting appointments, a special time for any bride. Ultimately, this has led to numerous cancellations. To echo my hon. Friends, will the Minister commit to providing support for businesses, like my constituent’s, or will the Government allow them to fail through no fault of the owner?
This is one of those sectors that have been hit hard both emotionally and economically. One can see the human distress and the impact of the virus in such cases, at what is a pivotal moment in people’s lives, and also the economic distress. It is certainly not the case that this is about the Government letting businesses fail in that regard. The consequences of the pandemic hit particular sectors more acutely than others. We have put in place, as I said earlier, a comprehensive package of support, but it is also the case that not every single job will be protected. Where that is the case, we need to work with people to ensure that we are able to support them back into the labour market.
I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend’s response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) about restrictions in London. I have heard from a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises in Wimbledon that the business rate support grant—the relief that the Government made available—was the lifeline that has kept them going. If there are further restrictions to be imposed, may I ask him to look again at that as the way to help SMEs, a vital part of our economy, to keep going?
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority when it comes to the business community. I know that he engages extensively with it and understands the issues closely. I am very happy to relay the issue that he raises to my right hon Friend the Business Secretary. As I have said on a number of occasions, we have put in place a comprehensive package of support. It will not address every job, and the Chancellor has been honest with the public in that regard, but it is right that we keep the situation under review. I will take my hon. Friend’s representations on that issue.
With the Health Secretary reportedly considering further restrictions on hospitality in areas of local restrictions and with 19,000 people in Bradford still on the furlough scheme that comes to an end in just 25 days, will the Treasury bring in a local furlough scheme to save those very viable jobs, which are now under threat as a direct result of this Government’s decisions?
The hon. Lady raises a legitimate concern, but I do not see the panacea for that being an extended furlough for an indefinite period. What has never been clear to me from those who seek to extend the furlough indefinitely is for how long they would extend it, and how many sectors would be included. We have taken a different approach, as the Chancellor has set out, through the winter plan, the job support scheme and the self-employment income support scheme to support those jobs that we are able to support. I say respectfully to the hon. Lady that I do not agree that the panacea for this would be an open-ended furlough.
I think there is a growing understanding that we will be wrestling with this crisis for perhaps many more months to come—far longer than any of us had perhaps hoped at the beginning of the pandemic. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential we have a longer-term framework in place—a framework of support for families and for businesses through periods of rolling on-off lockdowns and through periods of self-isolation and sickness—and that, underneath that framework of support for society and for business, we need a strong safety net of social security, which is the hallmark of a decent society?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that our response to the pandemic needs to evolve as our understanding of the disease improves but also as we get a better understanding of how long we will live with the consequences of the pandemic. That is at the heart of the Chancellor’s strategy. In the initial phase in March, we locked down to protect the NHS and to build our capacity. There was a shift to the second phase in July, with the plan for jobs and more recently with the winter plan as we look to move people from being furloughed at home to being brought back into the workplace. The more tailored approach of which my right hon. Friend speaks is shaped by things such as track and trace and the significant funding that the Treasury has put into that programme in order, as he rightly says, that we can be very targeted as we deal with this in the months ahead.
In areas of Lancashire—in South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire—that I represent, I speak to businesses and they get that we are trying to save lives. The businesses they are in are people businesses—they are in events, weddings and bands—and they will put people first, but they are looking at three winters. They would not be here without the coronavirus business interruption loans, the bounce back loans and the furlough. But can the Minister assure me that he is giving every consideration to ensure that those businesses are still here when we are past this awful virus?
The Chancellor, through measures such as the extension of the loans to which my hon. Friend refers, and other cash-flow measures such as tax deferrals, is seeking to support those businesses, but we do face living with the virus for a longer period. That is why, as our approach evolves, it needs to be targeted, so that we get the balance right, not just between the health measures and the economy, but within the economy, where we need to get the balance right between wider fiscal sustainability and the support we are able to offer specific sectors.
The speculation in the media today that the Scottish Government are about to introduce greater restrictions in Scotland just as we go into the October school holiday is causing tremendous concern to businesses in my constituency, especially those working in the visitor economy. What comfort is the Chief Secretary able to give them that, at this last opportunity they have for a bit of a boost before the third winter comes, they will be protected and that he will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that they get the support they need?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The response to the pandemic is helped if across the UK we take a co-ordinated approach. For example, Scotland’s chief medical officer sits alongside the CMOs from the rest of the UK; a huge amount of joint work is undertaken through the Joint Biosecurity Centre; and I engage regularly with counterparts in the Scottish Government. The right hon. Gentleman raises the important point that there is concern in the business community and it is important that a consistent message across the UK, followed by the CMOs, is applied.