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Covid-19: Support for Businesses

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

My Department continues to deliver a wide range of measures to support UK business. We have extended our loan schemes across the board, which have already delivered over £62 billion of finance, until the end of January, and the new local authority grants will also offer further support to businesses affected by the national restrictions.

I thank the Minister for his reply. During this second lockdown, many of us are likely to find comfort in reading. My constituent David Campbell, who runs Everyman’s Library, has written—with the backing of over 20 leading authors, including Salman Rushdie, Simon Jenkins and Sebastian Faulks—to the Prime Minister asking that books be considered an essential item for sale during the current restrictions. Does my hon. Friend agree that, to support small businesses during the covid-19 crisis, it would be preferable that local independent shops, which are based in the heart of their local communities and often employ local people, remain open and secure sales, rather than a global internet brand?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a very difficult decision that we have grappled with. Independent bookshops are of great importance to local communities, with books playing a vital role in people’s mental health and wellbeing. The decision to close non-essential retail is part of a wider package of measures to make it clear that people should stay at home and accept this for a limited period of time. Of course, bookshops can offer delivery and click-and-collect services, which I am sure that her constituent, David Campbell, is probably considering.

The Government’s new support measures for businesses provide a genuine lifeline. However, support to stay closed is not the long-term answer, and many will only remain viable if they can be open as normal for the pre-Christmas season. May I ask what the Minister is doing to urgently lobby Government and the Prime Minister on the necessity of keeping businesses going and getting them reopened from 2 December, including in hospitality, which is so important to a city like York?

My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point, and I absolutely agree with him. This is not the long-term answer, and I fully appreciate that retailers across England will be desperate to reopen in time for the important Christmas trading period. The regulations, as the Prime Minister said, will expire on 2 December, and we will return to the local restrictions thereafter—the tiered system. Of course, Ministers and officials are regularly engaging across Government, including my colleagues in BEIS, to ensure the sector can reopen safely on 2 December.

I thank the Minister for his answer: financial support for businesses is such a lifeline at this time. Speaking to businesses across the spectrum in Runnymede and Weybridge—from those in the wedding sector to logistics and corporate events—they tell me that one of the biggest challenges they face is uncertainty around planning for the next six months to a year. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that one of the best supports for business we can give is a long-term plan for how we deal with and get out of the covid pandemic?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. The current restrictions will expire on 2 December. After those restrictions have expired, we intend to return to the tiered system, as I just mentioned on an earlier question. Of course, we have to make sure that businesses have that clarity, hence why the Chancellor extended the furlough scheme all the way to the end of March for businesses. The British Chambers of Commerce made it very clear to me a few days ago in a phone call that that was incredibly important help at the right time.

The Arcade Tavern is one of the most popular pubs in Ipswich. It has insurance against income loss because of notifiable diseases, but its insurers, New India, is refusing to pay out, blaming the Government for the loss of income. This has left the business fighting this pandemic and for the money that it is entitled to. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will look unfavourably on insurers that do not honour their contracts and that this is not the case of the little man being stitched up? I have the letter right here, so I am happy to share it with him after this.

I will happily look at the letter, and it sounds incredibly concerning that any insurer would act in this way. Pubs, of course, are a valuable part of many local communities across the country. We are in continual dialogue with the insurance sector regarding its response to this unprecedented situation. I will happily look at the letter and the details of my hon. Friend’s case.