Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Both the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and our energy White Paper, which we published yesterday, set out our bold ambition for the UK to be a world leader in low-carbon hydrogen. As set out in the White Paper, we are determined to make tangible progress in this important sector, including by investing £240 million through the net zero hydrogen fund and supporting industry to begin a hydrogen heating trial in an entire neighbourhood by 2023. We will publish a comprehensive hydrogen strategy early next year.
The development of hydrogen energy can lead to thousands of new jobs UK-wide, including an estimated 6,000 in my region through the HyNet project. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to help HyNet access industrial decarbonisation challenge funding to allow it to progress?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is all about jobs—high value-added jobs. He, along with other colleagues in the House, makes the case at every opportunity for the HyNet project, and it is very lucky to have him as a champion. As he will know, HyNet has already received funding through phase 1 of the industrial decarbonisation challenge, as well as £13 million of support through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy energy innovation programme. We will announce the winners of the next phase of the industrial decarbonisation challenge in spring next year.
Bacton gas terminal in my constituency harbours a significant percentage of the natural gas intake into the UK. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the potential opportunities presented for the manufacture of blue hydrogen at Bacton, creating low-carbon jobs for the east of England?
My hon. Friend again raises the issue of jobs. Of course, creating these low-carbon jobs across the country is a priority for the Government. As I have set out, in our 10-point plan and the energy White Paper we have put forward policies for the creation of a significant number of jobs. The Oil and Gas Authority is currently conducting an in-depth feasibility study into blue hydrogen at the Bacton gas terminal. I very much welcome that work, and my officials and, indeed, Ministers would be very happy to engage further with my hon. Friend on this matter.
I am pleased to see that the net zero hydrogen fund that the Secretary of State just mentioned will support, among other things, the production of hydrogen. Will he commit today to using that fund to prioritise the production of green hydrogen, as opposed to blue hydrogen, in the future?
We will have to look at what bids come in in respect of how that funding is used, but I say again—I made this point yesterday at the Dispatch Box—that it is not just public money; we are also talking about private sector money coming alongside it. The hon. Gentleman will know that Hydrogen Strategy Now, a campaign group of more than 50 companies, has said that it is ready to invest £3 billion in hydrogen projects, and that was after the publication of the 10-point plan.
Low-Carbon Industries: Employment Growth
Our 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which we set out last month, has an ambition to support 250,000 highly skilled green jobs across the UK by 2030. The plans we published yesterday in the energy White Paper will further position the UK as a global leader in the future energy industry, not least by supporting the development of jobs and green infrastructure in low-carbon energy such as hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage, and of course nuclear.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. The scale of the opportunity for employment growth in low-carbon industries is immense. If the right approach is adopted, there can be enormous benefits to coastal communities such as Lowestoft and Waveney. How does the Secretary of State intend to transform the UK’s approach to energy skills in order to capitalise on these great opportunities?
Once again, a Conservative colleague talks about jobs, which is what the energy White Paper and the 10-point plan are all about. My hon. Friend is a tireless champion for offshore wind, and for jobs and growth, in supporting his constituency. He will know that we have set up the green jobs taskforce, which was launched in November and is led by the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). The taskforce brings together businesses and trade unions to assess how our jobs and skills should adapt to allow us to build back greener, and how the Government can support people in transitioning industries.
I commend my hon. Friend for his work as the voice of the hospitality sector in Bury and the surrounding area. The Government have provided an unprecedented package of support to hospitality businesses, including almost £10 billion in rates relief. Those under tier 3 may be eligible for a local restrictions support grant of up to £3,000 per month and the additional restrictions grant.
Hospitality businesses in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington have spent thousands of pounds to make their premises covid-secure. If Bury remains in tier 3 during the Christmas period, many of those businesses will face financial ruin. Will my hon. Friend therefore work with the Treasury to ensure that adequate financial support is given to those otherwise viable businesses? If we do not act now, these important community assets will be lost forever, with the devastating loss of thousands of jobs. Please save our pubs.
I am grateful to all the hospitality businesses across the country, including in Bury, that have done so much work to become covid-secure. I am in contact with Treasury colleagues who know that businesses need support in those higher tiers, and that is why we are giving additional support for wet-led pubs worth up to £40 million in grants.
Covid-19: Support for the Self-employed
The Government have already paid £13.5 billion through the self-employment income support scheme. In November, we announced an increase in the overall level of the SEISS grant, equivalent to an additional £7.3 billion of support to the self-employed through November to January alone. This scheme is among the most generous in the world.
As the pandemic continues, the flaws of the original self-employment income support scheme have become clear. One of my constituents lost out on thousands of pounds in a potential grant because, for the best part of the year in 2019, he was injured, unable to work and therefore could not evidence his usual income. When the pandemic started, we all appreciated the fact that these schemes were put into place very quickly to provide support, but in the months since, there has not even been recognition. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to look back at schemes to ensure that those who are excluded are supported, too?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We will always look for and listen to suggestions on how we can improve schemes, and I will continue to work with Treasury colleagues to reflect that.
Covid-19: Effect on Business
We know that certain areas of the economy have faced enormous challenges this year, and that is why the Government have provided an unprecedented range of support packages to help businesses precisely to continue trading.
Wet pubs in South Shields spent money making themselves covid-secure, only to have an arbitrary curfew imposed on them and then to be forced to close completely, yet there is no evidence at all that they are contributing to the spread of the virus. This was a policy, not a health decision. I heard the Minister’s earlier response, but if the Government really do not want to see our pub doors closed forever, why have they not listened to the requests from the British Beer and Pub Association and uplifted the current grants on offer?
As the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), has suggested, there is a considerable measure of support for pubs that are suffering at the moment. And as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said, there is a clear medical, epidemiological reason for pursuing the policies that we have done.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the BBPA said that the so-called support for pubs and brewers in the winter plan was met with “utter dismay and incredulity” among publicans. Many hostelry businesses crucial to life in Nottingham and across the country are not going to survive the winter with what is currently on offer. When is the Minister going to come forward with proper support?
I do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We are in constant dialogue with the pub industry and many people—publicans—certainly in my constituency, who have spoken to me are grateful for the measure of support. We are in constant dialogue, but they are grateful for the measure of support that has been supplied.
As conference of the parties president, I have held bilateral meetings with over 40 countries and spoken at around 50 international events over the past months. Throughout, I have called for world leaders to be as ambitious as possible with the climate action targets. The UK is showing real leadership in this area. On 4 December, we announced our new, ambitious nationally determined contribution and on 12 December, we co-hosted the Climate Ambition Summit, which saw 75 world leaders coming forward with 45 NDCs, 24 net zero commitments and 20 adaptation resilience plans.
The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow next year as the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference. This is a huge moment in our fight to stop climate change, so how will the UK Government engage with schools in Scotland and across the whole United Kingdom to promote this important event?
My hon. Friend is right: it is going to be a big moment for the UK in Glasgow next year and, of course, in the lead-up to it as well. I have been very encouraged and impressed by the commitment that young people are showing in tackling climate change. They have a vital part to play in ensuring that we deliver an inclusive and diverse COP26. In the run-up to the summit, we will be working closely with schools and young people, including by co-hosting the COP youth event, which will bring together 400 youth delegates from around the world to discuss a range of climate topics.
According to Climate Action Tracker, the national net zero pledges that have been put forward today could, if achieved across the board, limit global heating to around 2.1°, but in terms of actual policies, the world remains on course for catastrophic warming of over 3°. Given the gulf between what Governments, including this Government, have promised on climate action and what they are on course to achieve, does the Secretary of State agree that it is incumbent on the UK as COP26 host to demonstrate to the world that it actually has a plan to deliver net zero? If he does agree, will he assure the House that the Government will publish a comprehensive and fully costed net zero strategy well in advance of November next year?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I said that at the climate ambition summit. Leaders from around the world have come forward with ambitions, but we absolutely need to go further. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I think there is consensus on it in the House. With regard to his question on a net zero strategy, of course we will publish one. I also just want to make the point that, when we were talking about clean energy and hydrogen earlier, I stated that the Hydrogen Strategy Now group made a commitment on the £3 billion after the 10-point plan, but in fact it came before that.
UK Internal Market Bill: Devolved Administrations
The Government have sought to engage constructively with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. The recent fruits of that continuing commitment include several amendments tabled by the Government strengthening a role for the devolved Administrations.
Of course, Rolls-Royce operates its own internal market in which plant is often set against plant, but more and more it relies on third-party suppliers rather than on in-house manufacture. Inchinnan has already seen some 700 jobs go, and despite favourable production stats, we now know that there will be further redundancies, with the aero shafts line closing and work being transferred to Derby, as well as other UK Rolls-Royce jobs being offshored to Spain. The Scottish Government’s Rolls-Royce working group was set up to protect jobs at Inchinnan. If the Government’s power-grabbing Bill is passed, will the Minister ensure that the Government will work with the Scottish Government to protect Scottish Rolls-Royce jobs?
The hon. Gentleman talks about grabbing powers back, but Scotland will be gaining powers in more than 100 areas that are at the moment controlled by the EU. Of course we will continue to work with important industries such as the aerospace sector and with companies such as Rolls-Royce to protect jobs.
Those of us who are paying attention will have seen that the House of Lords has passed amendments to the UKIM Bill to try to salvage what might be left of the devolution settlement, which the Government have explicitly rejected. If Members look at the Order Paper, they will see that it states:
“The Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru have each decided not to approve a Legislative Consent Motion relating to this Bill.”
How is this respecting the devolution settlement? This Government legislated to protect Sewel on statute, but now they are riding roughshod all over it.
The Sewel convention envisages situations such as this, where the UK Parliament may need to legislate without consent. We regret the fact that the Scottish Parliament has chosen to do that, but the Bill is essential for protecting businesses and citizens across Scotland, and across the whole of the UK, as the transition period ends.
Since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, Scottish productivity has rocketed by more than a third, way above the 24% for the UK as a whole. Our Parliament has been a gift to business, whether under Scottish National party or Labour and Liberal Governments. This Bill extends Westminster’s bony hand into the control of devolved spending across health, food safety, the environment and much more. Is it too late for a festive miracle, with a Tory Minister actually listening to the wise men and women across Scottish society, industry, organisations and law and in Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament and Government, and scrapping this assault on Scotland’s democracy and business productivity?
Spending powers in the UK internal market are in addition to the spending that the Scottish Government already make. These are issues that have up to now been dealt with by the EU, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations throughout this process.
The Minister talks about spending powers. This Bill allows UK Ministers to control spending in the devolved areas of economic development, infrastructure, cultural activities, regional development, education, water, power, gas, telecoms, railways, health, housing and justice. Given the track record of the Tories, for Scotland this really is the nightmare before Christmas. Can he see why, after 16 opinion polls in a row, Scottish people do not want his rotten gifts but instead are looking to protect their Parliament and their rights through Scotland becoming a normal independent nation?
I regret that the Scottish Government have not continued their discussions with the UK Government about an internal market Bill specifically, whereas they have continued them on the common frameworks. On the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, we have made amendments in the other place that reflect conversations with the Welsh Senedd and Northern Ireland Assembly. I just wish the Scottish Government would come back with productive conversations so that we can push this through and give certainty for business.
Covid-19: Support for Businesses
My Department continues to deliver a wide range of measures to support UK businesses. We have extended our loan schemes, which have already delivered more than £65 billion of finance, until the end of January.
That level of support is impressive, and I also thank the Minister for all he is doing on the vaccine roll-out. There are sections of the UK economy that are going to grow rapidly, not least the green industrial revolution, thanks to the energy White Paper announced yesterday. What steps is he taking to make sure that it is UK-based businesses that grow the workforce and benefit from the job creation as a result of the green industrial revolution?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her excellent question. The 10-point plan will build on the nearly half a million green jobs that already exist in the UK economy, supporting up to 250,000 further high-skilled jobs. The House will be interested to know that we are talking about 60,000 in offshore wind, 10,000 or more in nuclear, 50,000 in green and comfortable homes, 8,000 in hydrogen, 53,000 in carbon capture utilisation and storage and 40,000 in accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles.
The weekend before last, I was pleased finally to start my Christmas shopping in Botley High Street, as part of Small Business Saturday, which included visiting Wardrobe at 24 and Mermaids deli. This crucial campaign highlights the important role that businesses and entrepreneurs play. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever to support our high streets and shop local this Christmas? Will he assure me that this Government will continue to stand by our town centres and high streets as we recover from covid?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; now more than ever it is vital that we continue to help our local economy by supporting our town centres and high streets. That is why we have delivered one of the most generous comprehensive packages of support, with a total financial package of £200 billion.
Does my hon. Friend agree on what a success the recent Small Business Saturday events were and on how important small businesses are to local communities across my constituency in Gerrards Cross, Beaconsfield and Marlow? Does he agree that we must continue to fight for small businesses during this pandemic, so that we do not risk undermining the economic foundation of our country?
The recent Small Business Saturday event meant that the spend from the Great British public rose to £1.1 billion this year, which is a 38% rise on last year. The Government will continue to champion small businesses, through our unprecedented support schemes, as they begin to recover from the impact of covid-19. As the Secretary of State has just reminded me, the spend is not £200 billion—it is £280 billion of support for small business.
Of the £5 billion of new online spend because of the pandemic, 40% has gone to one website, Amazon. Many small businesses are afraid that they will not make it through the winter because of a lack of Government support, and they have Brexit and climate and technological change to deal with too. So I want to ask the Minister this: what is the plan for small businesses to survive covid and build back smarter and greener? I am talking not about vague promises, but about firm commitments to help businesses invest in new technologies, as Make UK has called for, or to target procurement to support net zero businesses, as the Institution of Civil Engineers proposes. Or are the Government just going to let business down again?
As a fellow engineer, the hon. Lady will know that the Made Smarter initiative has been a tremendous pilot in the north-west. We recently announced a further expansion, with £300 million—£147 million coming from the Government and the balance coming from the private sector—to support the adoption of technology into manufacturing. I hope the hon. Lady will continue to support Government initiatives such as Made Smarter.
Green Homes Grant
The Prime Minister has made it clear that energy efficiency is a top Government priority. The green homes grant provides economic stimulus, supporting more than 80,000 jobs, and through it households could save up to £600 a year on energy bills.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but will he explain what assessment his Department has made of the benefits of individual products when deciding what to include in the green homes grant scheme, and why solar thermal systems are included but not solar PV panels, which are not only more cost-effective but much better for the environment?
As my hon. Friend will know, the list of technologies currently included reflects the Department’s assessment of the best balance between economic stimulus and maximising value for householders and taxpayers. In respect of solar PV, the particular emphasis in the green homes grant was on the energy efficiency of homes and not necessarily on electrification per se or the use of electricity.
The 10-point plan set out a comprehensive package to underpin our ambition for 5 GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030. We have also announced a £240 million net zero housing fund and will publish a UK hydrogen strategy next year.
The GMB union has pointed out that one of the simple benefits of the hydrogen strategy is that there is an existing gas network with 24 million homes connected to it, and thousands of jobs can be retained without any retraining schemes. When the Minister brings forward his hydrogen strategy next year, will he bear in mind that the HyNet system in the north-west will be able to deliver 80% of the entire UK target of 5 GW by 2030? Will he resist the temptation, which I mentioned to the Secretary of State yesterday, to play one region off against another, and perhaps increase the amount of money so that we can all share in the benefits?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The whole point of a hydrogen strategy is to dovetail nicely with the levelling-up agenda. I know many of the people in the HyNet cluster, which is an excellent cluster doing great work. We hope that those benefits and that innovation can be spread throughout the country and create opportunity the width and breadth of our country.
Small Modular Nuclear Reactors
My hon. Friend will know that small modular reactor technology is very much at the centre of what the Prime Minister outlined in the 10-point plan; in fact, the nuclear segment of that plan was the third item on the agenda and is extremely important. SMRs will certainly play a part in our nuclear future.
Let us land the next question from Bob Blackman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister rightly says, small modular nuclear reactors can be developed quickly and provide green energy at very low costs. They can also be located at a range of sites throughout the UK to enable easy connection to the national grid. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward proposals to accelerate the roll-out of this exciting new opportunity to provide clean energy and create more employment in the UK, putting us ahead of the rest of the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that SMRs represent a huge opportunity for precisely the reasons he gives: they are flexible and one can operate them in lots of geographical areas. Next year, we will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the siting requirements for SMRs and advanced modular reactors so that we can develop this exciting technology.
Covid-19: Green Economic Recovery
We are delivering on our ambitious commitment to build back greener from covid-19. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will be instrumental, creating long-term advantages for the UK in low-carbon industries and supporting up to a quarter of a million green jobs while continuing to drive down our emissions.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that, in the long term, the green element of this plan will be hugely important for our whole country, but in the short term, in the current economic climate, I know that many of my constituents will be focused on job creation and employment. Can she assure me that these investments will create opportunities for the most left behind parts of this country, and tell me how my constituents in Mansfield will directly benefit from that investment?
The 10-point plan is crucial to a part of the Prime Minister’s mission to level up the country and to revitalise the towns and regions of places such as the east midlands, from where my hon. Friend and I hail, and which is also the birthplace of the first industrial revolution. I can tell him that green recovery will support highly skilled jobs in towns such as Mansfield across a range of green industries from electric vehicle technicians to those installing low-carbon heating to make our homes warmer and fitter for the future.
Renewable Energy: Capacity
The UK is a world leader in offshore wind and proud to be the home of the world’s largest offshore wind farm. That is why we have increased our target to deliver 40 GW of offshore wind, quadrupling capacity by 2030, and announced £160 million to support ports and infrastructure enabling the sector to support up to 60,000 jobs.
Off the Sussex coast, the Rampion wind farm has plans to triple its output. It is already powering local homes, but it could also be key to developing green hydrogen to power heavy transport, including buses. Does my hon. Friend agree that this technology needs to be scaled up and at pace, and what support is being given by her Department to bring partners together to deliver this green hydrogen fuel across the network so that places such as my home town of Eastbourne can see an improvement in its air quality and meet its 2030 carbon neutral ambition?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Green hydrogen, coupled with our abundant offshore wind resources, could play a vital role in decarbonising crucial parts of the economy, including heavy transport. The energy White Paper sets out our ambition for 5 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. The £23 million hydrogen for transport programme has already helped grow the number of publicly accessible hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK.
The tidal energy industry has a hugely important role to play in meeting increased demand for electricity and achieving net zero carbon emissions. The Mersey tidal project has the potential to transform Merseyside, generating enough power for 1 million homes across the north-west, while creating thousands of jobs and positioning our region as a world leader in tidal energy. What practical steps are the Government taking in the immediate term to support the development of this much needed project?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. The Government have funded the north-west energy hub to develop renewable opportunities in the region and are open to considering well-developed proposals with strongly demonstratable value for money and for the environment. He will also know that our officials have been in communication with the Mersey tidal power team, and I ask that they continue their engagement.
Employers: Dismiss and Re-engage Tactics
The Government appreciate the difficulties that many people are currently facing and are sympathetic to those who are worried about their jobs. We are clear that using threats about firing and rehiring as a negotiating tactic is unacceptable. However, businesses in real financial difficulty need flexibility to offer new terms and conditions in order to save as many jobs as they can.
First it was British Airways, and now British Gas/Centrica has threatened thousands of employees with fire and rehire tactics, including a number of my constituents, such as Wayne and Paul. These people have many decades of experience working for these British companies and our society. Will the Minister join me in condemning the company’s actions? What action is the Department taking to ensure that these deplorable approaches are dealt with? Write to them.
It is not acceptable for employers to use unacceptable negotiating tactics, including fire and rehire. I understand that it is a difficult situation for employees to find themselves in. There are commercial matters between employers and employees, but we expect employers to treat their staff in the spirit of partnership. In the vast majority of cases—unlike the ones that have just been outlined—employers do want to do the right thing, and there are processes in place to prevent abuse.
Heathrow, British Airways and British Gas—all flagship companies—have used abusive fire and rehire tactics to cut the pay and conditions of their loyal work forces. Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick is home of the jet engine and the battle of Britain aircraft. Hundreds of staff there are being made redundant and their jobs offshored to Singapore, Spain and Japan. These iconic companies have received billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash, so why did the Government not make retaining jobs a condition of this financial help? Does the Minister recognise that by providing no-strings-attached support, the Government have facilitated UK jobs being either downgraded or moved out of the country at the taxpayers’ expense?
We have worked with and supported the aviation sector in a number of different ways. We have also made it really clear that when companies want to make redundancies, they should follow the correct consultation process. It is important that we get the balance right to protect jobs for those companies.
We have engaged with businesses to understand their needs at this challenging time. We are providing an unprecedented support package, including an extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme until 31 March 2021, grants, loans, rates relief and a VAT cut.
Many plumbers, electricians and other self-employed people, including sole traders, have been left out of Government support. What can the Minister say to people who have worked hard all their lives and paid their taxes, and have seen their businesses collapse through no fault of their own? This includes the hospitality sector. Can the Government commit to providing further support, as local publicans in my area say that the tiny grant they got does not even get close to covering their overheads?
I was self-employed, running companies, for most of the 25 years that I was working before I was elected to this place; there but for the grace of God go I. I will continue to reflect the views of the self-employed in conversations with the Treasury. I also speak to the hospitality sector every single week and will be doing so later today. We have allocated £40 million extra to wet-led pubs, in addition to extending the moratorium on rent evictions and legal processes facing tenants, the VAT cut and the business rates relief.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Imports and Exports
The Government publish estimates of consumption emissions every year. The latest figures show that UK emissions on a consumption basis fell by nearly 25% between 2007 and last year.
When emissions from the production of imports, and from sea and air transport are included—minus those of exports—the UK has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 0.6% a year, not the 1.5% that the Government quote for territorial emissions alone. This country depends on imports, including the emissions that they produce. Ministers can kid themselves all they like, but is it not the case that unless the UK cuts the emissions that we are responsible for around the world, we are not going to make the contribution that we need to in order to deal with the climate emergency?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we do have to take into account the carbon emissions that we are responsible for through trade, but he will also recognise that this is part of an international movement. There is no country in the world, in the EU as well, that is properly accounting for carbon emissions in this way. I point out to him that we were the first G20 country to mandate disclosures under the TCFD—Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures—framework across the economy, and we are leaders in terms of carbon accounting.
Review of Alcohol Duty
We are in regular contact with the Chancellor on measures to support hospitality businesses. The alcohol duty review aims to improve the current system to make it simpler, more economically rational, and less administratively burdensome on businesses and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
I thank the Minister for his response, but can he outline what steps have been taken to address the binge culture, which has been enhanced by supermarket offers, especially in these times when we all need to have our wits about us?
We looked at the curfew, for example, when there were stories coming back to us about people coming out of pubs and going straight into supermarkets to buy more drinks. That was an unintended consequence, so it is good that we reviewed that and changed it. The alcohol duty review will take into account the balance between supermarkets and hospitality.
Covid-19: Support for Business
Businesses in tier 2 that are required to close can access payments of up to £1,500 per 14 days of closure. We are giving additional financial support of £1.1 billion to local authorities to support other businesses severely affected by restrictions even though open.
May I gently suggest to the Minister that one of the best ways he will be able to support small businesses in my constituency of West Dorset is to use his influence in discussions within Government tomorrow to reduce West Dorset from tier 2 to tier 1? In the event of that not being possible, could he outline more specifically what the Government will be doing to support the 97% of businesses that are small or micro-sized?
I recognise that the winter months will continue to be extremely tough on many businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I am confident that the grant programme that we have in place, alongside other measures like the job retention scheme and the support for the self-employed that have been so widely discussed this morning, will continue to deliver that support. An estimated 90% of small and medium-sized business premises in closed retail, hospitality and leisure sectors should, broadly, have their monthly rent covered by the business grant programme.
It is essential that the local restrictions support grant is available promptly to businesses and is not subject to a prolonged application process. In anticipation of some areas—hopefully my own in the north-east—moving into tier 2 this week, will the Secretary of State ensure that grants are paid quickly to businesses, including the retrospective grants, particularly to pubs?
The local restrictions support grants, additional restriction grants and Christmas support payments are all available now for businesses through their local authority. I know that the Secretary of State takes these businesses very seriously. Throughout this whole process, since back in March, he made sure that all his Ministers talked to local government to make sure that we do get those payments out promptly.
Life Sciences Sector
The Government have invested approximately £1 billion through two life sciences sector deals, helping to generate significant industry investment in the UK. Last year the industry had a turnover in the UK of £80.7 billion.
The life sciences sector is a truly international endeavour, as can be so clearly seen with the recent vaccine research efforts. With worries in the sector about our ongoing relationship with European countries and the European Union, would my hon. Friend confirm that the concerns of the life sciences sector are of paramount importance in the ongoing negotiations?
Clearly, the UK’s relationship with the EU is subject to ongoing negotiations, but as we leave the EU the life sciences sector will be supported through the life sciences sector deals that I mentioned, and a new, innovative regulatory framework. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has proven itself globally to be one of the finest regulators in the world, and new international regulatory collaborations are on the way too.
Green Deal Loans: Mis-selling
The hon. Lady will be aware that too many people have suffered from mis-selling by a small number of green deal providers. We are doing all we can to provide redress where appropriate, as enabled by the green deal regulations.
If someone is mis-sold something, there is a six-year time bar to get redress, unless they were not aware of it at the time, in which case they have three more years from when they became aware. There is a significant number of victims of green deal mis-selling, many of whom were very elderly and thought they must have misunderstood, but they did not; they were duped. Why are they, after all they have been through, being denied that extra three-year rule and access to justice?
It is correct that a complaint must be made within six years of the date of the breach, as we would expect mis-selling to become evident within six years, but we have to take everything, as the hon. Lady knows, on a case-by-case basis. We will explore the relevant facts of each case, and then we can work out whether an eligible complaint can be made within the relevant timeframe. I am very happy to meet her individually to discuss cases as they arise, because we have to take each on a case-by-case basis.
At this last Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy oral questions of the year, I take this opportunity to thank my brilliant ministerial team, our brilliant Parliamentary Private Secretaries, our fabulous Whip and the outstanding civil servants for the huge effort they have made this year to support business and procure 357 million doses of the most promising vaccine candidates.
Since the previous oral questions last month, the Department has led on the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, which is our blueprint for a green industrial revolution, and the energy White Paper. We have also been central in setting the UK’s ambitious nationally determined contribution, as well as helping to organise the climate ambition summit on 12 December. The pace and energy of delivery will continue in the new year, because our businesses and people across the United Kingdom deserve no less at this challenging time.
Rate relief for hospitality venues is welcome, but many are racking up huge rent debts while they are closed and getting only a third of the support they got earlier in the year. Have the Government had any discussions about a model of sharing the rental debt burden among tenants, landlords, banks and the Government, because without more help, many of these businesses will close?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and of course we have dialogues with landlords and tenants. As he will have heard, the rent moratorium has been extended to 31 March, and he will also know that because the rates holiday continues, that is money that does not have to go out, which can be used for other purposes.
My hon. Friend and I have had a number of conversations about the green industrial revolution. I am very excited about the opportunities in her wonderful county, and I look forward to visiting, when restrictions permit me, some of these wonderful projects.
Businesses face a double whammy from the ongoing economic crisis and potential Brexit disruption. They want the Business Secretary to stand up for them. Some 61% of the country will be in tier 3 from tomorrow, and the situation for many pubs, restaurants and bars is catastrophic, as this morning’s record redundancy figures show. Will the Secretary of State now finally recognise what he has been told repeatedly by Members across the House—and again today—and by industry that support for the hospitality sector is hopelessly inadequate if many of these businesses are to survive through the winter?
I completely accept that it is a very difficult time for lots of businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector right now, but as the right hon. Gentleman will know, support is being provided. Businesses that are required to be closed can get grants of up to £3,000 a month. I also point him in the direction of the International Monetary Fund, which said that the support the UK Government are providing is
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State is failing to stand up for the hospitality sector. Let us talk about the 150,000 businesses that, even with a trade deal, will have to fill in customs forms for the first time from 1 January. The ports are struggling, the IT systems are not ready, the customs agents are not in place, and businesses still do not know the rules that will exist in just 16 days’ time. Are these firms not entitled to conclude that they are being badly let down by a Government who have left them totally in the lurch and a Business Secretary who seems asleep at the wheel?
I will refrain from coming back on that jibe. As a Government, we have been working incredibly hard to support businesses. I know that it is very difficult. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the end of the transition period. Of course, there are a lot of changes that businesses can already put in place and, as he knows, we are communicating with businesses to ensure that that happens. I think that businesses do want us to continue talking to the European Union, and that is precisely what we are doing.
As my hon. Friend knows, we are providing support. It is difficult for a lot of businesses right now. The furlough scheme has been extended until the end of March, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working closely with the sector, as is the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully).
We are in regular dialogue with Royal Mail and others. I am happy to take up the point that the hon. Gentleman raised separately, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, who is responsible for Royal Mail, will be happy to follow up with him.
My hon. Friend is right to say that renewable energy manufacturing of all sizes has huge potential, not least in his constituency. At this stage, our initial focus is to establish a first-of-its-kind, large-scale manufacturing site of over 200 hectares, and after we have established that, we can look at strengthening the supply chain.
It was a major achievement, and it shows the family of rugby league.
I congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituent, Kevin Sinfield. We have a good settlement in the spending review for R&D: we are committed to reaching £22 billion a year by 2024-25.
I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is a big champion for his local pubs, for which I know there will be a lot of competition. Yes, the review will be in the next couple of days, and I hope we will see a number of pubs being able to open at that point, because that is what they want. Government support has been welcomed, but customers coming back through the doors, especially in the busiest months, is what we all want to see.
I would just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, on support for businesses, what we have done is to look at the requirements and increase that support. As he will have heard, the level of support is now £280 billion. We have extended furlough and we have extended the self-employment scheme, and businesses that are now required to be closed because of restrictions can get up to £3,000 a month.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has raised the issue about weddings and events with me on a number of occasions. We continue to work with the Treasury to see what more we can do to support the hospitality sector as a whole. I am really looking forward to working with the weddings taskforce, which has been set up by the sector itself, to see what a covid-19 secure wedding looks like and how we can introduce that when the health science allows.
We call out British Gas and other employers if and when they are using unfair pressure in negotiations, but we do say that we need to retain flexibility as well, so that big companies can save as many jobs as possible in difficult times.
I know the hospitality business in York has been affected, as it has around the country. Yes, we will continue to look at this and, when the data allows, we will move York and other areas into more forgiving tiers. For the hospitality sector—as I say, it welcomes Government support, largely, but wants customers—this is what is going to help the pubs, bars and restaurants in York and beyond to be able to survive and thrive.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a whole range of support is available. I completely accept that not everyone will feel they have got precisely the amount of support that they would have liked, but a significant amount of support is available and, of course, all of this is always kept under review.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary is working very hard to help NHS trusts return to pre-covid levels of elective care as soon as possible. I have been really quite impressed over the past months throughout this pandemic at how businesses, both within the medical field and outside, have come together to support the NHS.
If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, I will be very interested to hear about them, but the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is there to provide certainty—to provide access for Northern Ireland to GB and vice versa.
I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to ensuring that whistleblowers enjoy high standards of protection under UK law. The international standard to which she refers is for employers wanting to introduce their own whistleblowing policies, which is already encouraged by our code of practice.
The furlough scheme is really important for young workers—for young people—but when the scheme ends many are worried that we will see large-scale youth unemployment, so what is the Department’s input into the kickstart scheme and exactly how many jobs will be created by March next year to help young people?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the kickstart scheme is a Government initiative, and the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have led on this. I have had discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the issue, and of course we want to make sure we continue to support young people at this crucial time. We know that when unemployment is going up, it is new workers who find it particularly difficult to get jobs.
On Thursday, I had the pleasure of taking my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), the Minister for science, research and innovation, to Greencore’s Springfield Meadow development in my constituency, where it is building not just net-zero homes but carbon-positive homes and selling them to Sovereign Housing at precisely the same cost as for any other kind of home. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Greencore on this innovation and does he agree that it is exactly the sort of thing we need more of to hit our 2050 goal?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I am delighted to report that our joint hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) had a very successful visit and thoroughly enjoyed her trip to Greencore Construction, and we obviously heartily welcome Greencore’s excellent work in sustainable construction.
After 10 years of this Government, before covid, constituents of mine were averaging £100 a week less in earnings than the average for the rest of the country; now a third of them are on furlough, which means a further £100 less per week—£10,000 a year less than the average. Will the Minister understand that when the Government talk about levelling up, in an area like mine people will say it is time that Ministers got out of their privileged bubbles and did something for communities all over this country, where millions of people are living very precarious lives?
I know it is a very difficult time for very many families, and that they will feel that particularly acutely as we get to Christmas. I would just say that across the country we have protected 9 million jobs—households up and down our country, who have been supported by the measures that the Government have put forward; and that that will extend until the end of March, as well as the other support that has been provided.
Given that we have now come to the end of questions, Mr Speaker, I thank you and your staff for all the support that you have provided to all Members in a very challenging year. I thank all Members—including the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—for all their support, and I hope that they will have an opportunity to get some rest over the festive period.
May I just say thank you to the Secretary of State for completing the list? 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 three minutes.