Before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our very best wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). I have been fortunate in having worked closely with him, and he is one of the nicest and most decent people in politics —a fantastic Minister and a tireless advocate for his constituents. We all look forward to his speedy recovery and to seeing him back in this place as soon as possible.
Last week, the Prime Minister set out the actions that we must take to control the spread of coronavirus. With your permission, Mr Speaker, today I will update the House on the economic situation we currently face, the action we are taking to support the British people and businesses through the crisis, and the factors influencing our outlook.
As the House knows well, coronavirus has already caused significant harm to our economy. The scale of the impact bears repeating. GDP fell by 18.8% in the second quarter of 2020. While the economy grew as the country opened up over the summer, it remained 6.7% smaller than it was before the crisis. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s November forecast showed GDP falling again in the final quarter of last year and it forecast the largest fall in annual output for over 300 years. Even with the significant economic support we have provided, more than 800,000 people have lost their jobs since February. While the new national restrictions are necessary to control the spread of the virus, they will have a further significant economic impact. We should expect the economy to get worse before it gets better.
In response, the Government have put in place a comprehensive economic plan. We have provided a fiscal stimulus of over £280 billion to fund our plan for jobs, to support public services like the NHS, and to provide financial support for millions of people and businesses. Some 1.2 million employers have furloughed almost 10 million employees. Almost 3 million people have benefited from our self-employment grants, taking the total support for the self-employed to nearly £20 billion. Over 1.4 million small and medium-sized companies have received Government-backed loans worth over £68 billion. Tens of billions of pounds of tax cuts, tax deferrals and cash grants have been delivered to businesses, and the United Kingdom Government have guaranteed at least £16.8 billion of additional funding for the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In response to the new national lockdown, we are extending and increasing our financial support. We are providing a bridge for people and businesses until the economy reopens, to give them the chance to rebuild productive capacity. To do that, we have extended the furlough scheme to April, we are supporting self-employed people with a fourth income grant, and we have announced, alongside the introduction of new restrictions, an extra £4.6 billion to protect UK jobs and businesses. All business premises in England that are legally required to close, including in retail, hospitality and leisure, can now claim one-off grants of up to £9,000 for each of their business premises, benefiting more than 600,000 businesses and coming on top of the existing grants worth up to £3,000 paid each month. We have also made discretionary funds of £500 million available for local authorities in England to support local businesses in those areas, on top of the £1.1 billion of discretionary funds that we have already provided to local councils.
Sadly, we have not been and will not be able to save every job and every business, but I am confident that our economic plan is supporting the finances of millions of people and businesses. Across almost all areas of economic policy, we are providing comparable or greater support than all our international peers. As the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have all recognised, our economic response is making a difference by saving jobs, keeping businesses afloat and supporting people’s incomes.
Looking forward, there are signs of hope. First, with the vaccine, we can start to see a path out of coronavirus. Vaccine roll-out is our most important economic lever and we have made available over £6 billion. We have now administered over 2.4 million vaccine doses across the United Kingdom, and by 15 February we aim to have offered a first vaccine dose to everyone in the top four priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
Also, the data shows that there are potential sources of underlying resilience in our economy. In aggregate, we have seen the household savings ratio reach record levels and, taken as a whole, corporate sector cash buffers have improved. And of course, we have now agreed a new trading partnership with the European Union. We have removed that uncertainty from businesses and can now start to do things differently and better—not least in financial services, where in November I outlined for the House our plan to reinforce the UK’s position as a globally pre-eminent financial centre.
While the vaccine provides hope, the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. Many people are losing their jobs, businesses are struggling, and our public finances have been badly damaged and will need repair. The road ahead will be tough. Now it is time for responsible management of our economy, taking the difficult but right long-term decisions for our country, but I am confident that, with this comprehensive support that the Government are providing and, above all, the determination, enterprise and resilience of the British people, we will get through this. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by joining the Chancellor in sending my very best wishes to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). I know I speak for everyone on the Opposition side of the House in wishing him a speedy recovery.
Six weeks have passed since the Chancellor last addressed this House. In that time, the Prime Minister scrapped his proposed relaxation of public health rules, introduced a new tier 4 level of restrictions for London and large parts of the south-east, and then superseded all of that with the imposition of a third national lockdown. After the Prime Minister’s most recent announcement, Parliament was, of course, recalled, and Members were given the opportunity to ask questions of the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the Education Secretary—but the Chancellor was nowhere to be seen. His sole contribution to a set of announcements that had profound implications for our economy was a 90-second video on Twitter, which begged as many questions as it answered.
There was no indication of how long the new grants are expected to cover and no clarity on how the discretionary funding for local councils has been calculated, nor of how it will be allocated. Funds being provided to the devolved nations were badged as new money, before the Treasury hastily amended its website to reflect that that money had already been committed to in December. We heard nothing about what would happen to those people who had started a new job since the beginning of November and are now ineligible for furlough. We heard nothing about what level the fourth grant for self-employed people would be set at, nor when that grant would be made available. We heard nothing for those people who have been excluded from Government schemes right from the very start, and we heard nothing about what the Chancellor would do to fix the broken system of support for self-isolation.
I was relieved to hear this morning that the Chancellor had undertaken to address the House today, but I deeply regret that, having last year blocked measures that would have helped to protect the NHS and secure our economy, today he appears to be out of ideas, urging us to look towards the sunny uplands but providing nothing new. The purpose of an update is to provide us with new information, not to repeat what we already know.
In addition, the Chancellor just now gave a highly partial picture of the state of our economy, talking of a rise in savings but not mentioning that over 5 million people are estimated to have taken on over £10 billion in debt just to get through the last year. He talked of corporate cash buffers, but did not mention that City experts have predicted that there will be over £100 billion in unsustainable corporate debt by the end of March.
The Chancellor needs to acknowledge the reality of the crisis we face—a crisis made worse by his Government’s irresponsibility, with our economy having suffered the worst recession of any major economy. He needs to act accordingly. I therefore ask him to respond to the questions that businesses and workers desperately need answered. Will he update the furlough scheme to reflect the dates of the current lockdown? When will he set out the new incentive scheme he promised to provide for businesses that will now not receive the job retention bonus? When will he provide details on the next self-employment income support scheme? What does he say to people who have been excluded from Government support schemes from the very beginning and who still are not helped by today’s announcement? How long will businesses have to make the new one-off grants last for? When will councils find out how the new discretionary funding will be allocated and on what basis it has been calculated?
Does the Chancellor believe that those who are classified as clinically extremely vulnerable should be automatically eligible for furlough if they cannot work from home? When will he fix support for those self-isolating, when the evidence for change is overwhelming? When will his much vaunted Project Birch actually start to deliver for struggling manufacturers? Will we have to wait until the Budget for recognition of all these problems and solutions to them, as was suggested by his social media account?
We had all hoped for a more optimistic start to 2021 than a new national lockdown and yet more uncertainty about the future, but the people of Britain understand that they have to make sacrifices. They are doing their bit for the national effort while the vaccine is rolled out. They are fulfilling their side of the bargain. The Chancellor must fulfil his.
I thank the hon. Member for her response, and in particular for her comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), which I appreciate.
I think that it is right, where possible in this House, that we acknowledge those areas—many areas, in fact—where there is agreement on both sides of the House: for example, on wage support, on business support, on loan guarantees, on funding for critical public services, on tax deferrals and tax cuts, on support for renters and homeowners, on support for job creation, retraining and skills, on support for children learning at home, on support for the self-employed, on support for the NHS, on support for the vaccination roll-out, and on testing. I could go on. The truth is that, politics aside, there is in fact significant unity of purpose in this place: to protect the most vulnerable; to vaccinate our people as quickly as possible; to reopen our country; and, finally, to rebuild and begin the process of recovery. Given this agreement, while it is right to acknowledge the difference in degrees and emphasis that the hon. Member poses, it is clear that on the fundamentals there is, in fact, little disagreement.
Let me turn to the shadow Chancellor’s specific areas of concern. With regard to the formula for the local authority grants, I can tell her—as was, I think, published—that the formula for the additional half a billion pounds will be the same as that for the £1.1 billion that was issued shortly before the end of last year. With regard to the furlough dates, she will be pleased to know that the change in date from the original spring date through to the new date at the end of October, before the announcement of the new scheme and the extension, will bring an additional 3 million people into coverage for the furlough scheme. I am sure that she will join me in welcoming that the scheme has protected more than 9 million jobs over the past several months. It is, of course, already possible for people to be furloughed if they are clinically extremely vulnerable or have childcare difficulties, but those decisions are, of course, to be made by individual employers and their employees. It would not be right for the Government to put a blanket mandate in place. The hon. Member is right that the Budget is the appropriate place to consider her various other questions, given the scale of the response and the fact that all our major avenues of support have been extended through to the spring.
The hon. Member made a comment about this country having experienced the worst recession out of anyone. It is important in this place that people have the right facts, particularly when those facts impact people’s confidence and understanding of what is happening. I must gently point out some facts, which I am sure the hon. Member knows, because she will have studied this carefully. She will know that, when making international comparisons between the performance of our economy and others, it is important that we are careful because everybody calculates things in very different ways. Indeed, as the Office for Budget Responsibility mentioned in its latest report—which I am sure she will be able to read—and as the Office for National Statistics has highlighted, in this country we calculate public sector output very differently from almost any other country. It is very clear that the way in which we calculate that output flatters other countries and disadvantages us when it comes to making such comparisons. As those independent forecasters have pointed out, when corrected for that difference, we find that our economic performance is actually very much in line with comparable countries. It is not the worst, and I do not think that it is good for confidence or for people’s understanding of the situation for that to be propagated.
Throughout this crisis the Government have always been pragmatic. When changes must be made, we have made them, and when help has been justified, we have always provided it. We are now so close to the end of this difficult period for so many people that I would ask the hon. Member at this time to recognise that the national interest is best served by our co-operation, not partisanship. The vaccine roll-out is the most important priority of this Government and provides us with the path to getting out of this situation, protecting people’s health and releasing the restrictions that are hampering our economic recovery. That should be our focus—I know she will agree with me on that—and it is in that spirit, in the best traditions of this House, that I hope we will be able to see out this crisis in the coming months.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I welcome the continuation of the vital measures to support British business through this further period, while keeping an eye on the hospitality sector and small businesses, which continue to have a very hard time and may need extra help.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to recall how we had to put VAT on to energy-saving products before we left the European Union, because of European Union rules? Having struck VAT off sanitary products, can we look at other opportunities to use our freedoms now that we have left the EU to strike VAT off energy-saving products such as solar panels and home insulation, in order to promote the greener recovery that we want to see emerging from this crisis?
I thank my hon. Friend for his advice and for the helpful information about the hospitality industry that he provided me with over the winter period. It has been helpful in formulating our response and I thank him for it. I also appreciate his thoughts on future tax policy, which he will know remains for the Budget. He is right to emphasise the importance of our green recovery, which was why I was pleased to make sure that we can fully fund, with £12 billion, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green recovery, of which ensuring that we upgrade the efficiency of our buildings with regard to heat and energy is a key part, with more than £1 billion put aside for that. I will bear my hon. Friend’s further thoughts in mind.
I thank the Chancellor for finally gracing us with his presence and for not redacting his statement for once—I suspect that was because there is so little in it that is actually new. What is also missing is the additional £375 million that he promised to Scotland on 6 January. It was lauded by the Tories in Scotland, before the Treasury back-tracked, edited the press release and decided that Scotland’s businesses were not entitled to the £9,000 that English businesses will receive. Why?
Businesses are still struggling with debt and loss of income, so will the Chancellor extend the English business-rate holiday to allow Scotland to do the same? Will he continue the reduction in VAT to assist those in the struggling hospitality sector?
The Chancellor acknowledges the 800,000 jobs lost, but not his role in their loss and the uncertainty that his stop-start furlough has caused. Will he commit to extend the furlough and the self-employment support scheme for as long as necessary, with no more arbitrary stop-start?
Still, the gaps remain—for freelancers, directors of limited companies, those refused furlough and pregnant women who have lost out, as well as those on annual pay-as-you-earn and the newly self-employed. Will those who are now submitting tax returns be included in the self-employment support scheme from 31 January? Hundreds of thousands of people are counting on being able to do that.
Will the Chancellor extend the £20 increase to universal credit, and will he finally expand it to include those on legacy benefits who have seen no increase over these past months? Will he increase the pitiful level of statutory sick pay?
I have said for months now that we will not be out of this crisis quickly, and I am sad to have been proven right. On top of this crisis, Brexit is causing chaos for Scottish exporters trying to get their goods across the border. It is no wonder that Scotland is looking on at this shambolic Westminster Government and deciding in poll after poll that independence offers a brighter prospect for our future than more of the same old Tory austerity.
I am happy to address directly the point about funding for Scotland and perhaps clear it up. In recognition of the very difficult circumstances that the devolved Administrations were grappling with—as we all are during this crisis—the UK Government made an unprecedented decision to provide an up-front funding guarantee to provide certainty and clarity for the Scottish Government so that they could make plans in advance of individual announcements being made and the appropriate Barnett sums being made available at that time. That was something that the Scottish Government had asked for, and it was welcomed. It is now clear that the hon. Lady seems to think that that is not a good thing. The point of doing that is to provide up-front certainty, but it is still also right to keep a tally of the various announcements, as they are made, about the additional sums that they trigger for Barnett, which will net against that guarantee, and then over time the guarantee will be adjusted. If I am hearing from the hon. Lady that she would prefer not to have up-front funding guarantees and would prefer the system of knowing Barnett consequentials only on an announcement- by-announcement basis, she should please write to me and let me know. But in aggregate this year £8.6 billion in up-front funding guarantees has been made available for the Scottish Government; the most recent announcement did trigger Barnett consequentials, which will net off against that guarantee. Over time, as we have done, that guarantee will be increased over the year as new announcements are made. I am not sure I could tell from the hon. Lady’s response whether businesses in Scotland have been offered an additional grant of up to £9,000 to help them get through the next few months. Perhaps she can clear that up for Scottish businesses, because that is what the UK Government are providing for businesses here in England. That money has been made available to the Scottish Government through the guarantee, and, of course, we look forward to seeing how they use it.
It is also important that this is not just about Barnett consequentials; we have always adopted a UK-wide approach to our support. Whether we are talking about the furlough scheme, all the things we have done on VAT, supporting people into employment or indeed our loans, many businesses and people in Scotland have been supported, because this is one United Kingdom Government and we will make sure that we provide support for our citizens in every single part of it.
The hospitality sector in Ipswich certainly welcomes the grant support the Chancellor announced last week—that is very welcome—but about a month ago I held a virtual roundtable event for the sector in Ipswich and it was probably one of the most sobering virtual meetings I have taken part in since this pandemic started. It was very sad to hear about the extreme anxiety those in the sector have; they have poured their whole lives into the businesses where they are working and there is still concern even now. So will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will be reflecting on what further support might be provided ahead of the Budget? I am talking specifically about a potential extension of the business rates holiday throughout 2021 and also the support on VAT, because there is light at the end of the tunnel but when we go into that much better place I want to make sure that The Brickmakers Arms, The Kingfisher, the Belstead Arms, Pauls Social Club and the California Social Club, which I am now a member and stakeholder of—I own part of it now that I have become a member—are there with us.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his local hospitality industry, and I very much hope I have a chance to visit the California Social Club in Ipswich at some point in the future. I will bear in mind his suggestions for how we can look at providing further support. This is a vital industry for our local communities and nationally it employs more than 2 million people, and he rightly says that they have borne the brunt of these restrictions and deserve our support as we emerge on the other side.
First, may I associate myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues with the remarks made about the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), whom I have come to respect greatly during my time here? I wish him the speediest of recoveries.
What we have from the Chancellor today is just another series of patches, whereas we need a long-term strategy. We still have nothing for the many millions who have been excluded from all financial packages, and our independent retailers need support against the online behemoths. Today, we learned that already a quarter of a million businesses are facing collapse. So when will he tell us what his long-term strategy for recovery is? Will he extend the furlough through the summer? Can he tell businesses what help there will be for them now that they face an enormous burden of debt?
All our economic support now extends all the way through the spring. We will of course have a Budget on 3 March, where we will provide an update on the next stage of our economic response to coronavirus and the economic outlook for the rest of the country as well. On the specific question regarding support for businesses as against those online, the hon. Lady will be aware that this year we implemented the digital services tax for the first time, which collects a levy on online marketplaces. That will collect significant revenue this year. It is a right step and we are working with other countries to put in place a multilateral solution, which is the best long-term way to solve the problem she highlighted.
I thank the Chancellor for his latest announcement on grants, which has been warmly welcomed by the hospitality sector. Can he confirm that the up to £9,000 he has made available is in addition to the up to £3,000 a month that has been made available to businesses that have had to close? He will be aware that businesses in the hospitality sector will continue to face real challenges in the coming months in order to play a part in our recovery. Will he reflect carefully on what further support we might be able to make available to this vital sector in the Budget?
I can confirm that the £9,000 is in addition to the monthly grants of up to £3,000, which means that over the next three months, businesses could receive up to £18,000 of total cash support. I will bear in mind other avenues for future support. As we come out of this, it will be important that the hospitality industry is given every possible chance to succeed and flourish.
The Chancellor has said that we are now seeing signs of hope, especially because a deal has been struck with the European Union. It does not look like that in Northern Ireland, where supermarket shelves are empty and thousands of people are being sent letters from suppliers in England saying that neither they personally nor their businesses will any longer be supplied with goods. The steel industry today has received a letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs saying that engineering firms will have a 25% tariff imposed on steel that they bring here, and companies that sell goods to GB have been told that they will not get a refund on the taxes they have to pay, even though their goods are not going into the EU. All this has been brought about as a result of either a lack of knowledge by officials in HMRC or a reneging on the promises the Government made that there would be unfettered trade and access for UK firms selling in Northern Ireland and vice versa. What is the Chancellor doing about the impact that his Department is having on businesses in Northern Ireland?
I am sorry to hear about some of the examples that the right hon. Gentleman raised. I know that goods in aggregate continue to move smoothly between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I am not aware of any significant queuing. Individual issues are being addressed by UK authorities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is talking with colleagues across the House to make sure that we are kept abreast of any particular issues, so that we can look to resolve them as we can.
The Chancellor will know that I have worked hard and lobbied for financial support for Harlow’s small businesses, and I really welcome the financial package for our town, worth well over £160 million so far. However, I have been contacted by many businesses in my constituency that have yet to receive much of the grant funding they have been allocated, such as Carol Bush, the wonderful landlord of the Golden Swift pub, because Harlow Council is yet to distribute it. What steps can he take to ensure that councils across the country distribute these grants from the Government immediately, as they should have already done, to help our hard-pressed businesses?
My right hon. Friend is right that this cash should get to businesses as quickly as possible. I can confirm that the guidance will be published this week, and cash from central Government should be with local authorities by the end of this week, at which point it will be up to them to distribute it as quickly as possible. I know that they have been focused on this in the past several months, so hopefully this process can be as quick as we all need it to be.
Infection rates in Sefton have more than doubled in the last week, and hospital admissions are up by 50%. Those people who have been excluded from financial support so far want to reduce infection levels and hospital admissions by staying at home, protecting the NHS and saving lives—they want to play their part too, but they need the Chancellor’s help to do so. What is his objection to using the £2 billion that the large retailers have returned in unused business rate relief to enable the many freelancers, self-employed people, people who run small firms and people who changed jobs at the wrong time to play their part in the national interest while we wait for the vaccine to be rolled out?
I think that the Opposition had called for that money—the £2 billion—to be used to support small businesses, particularly retail and hospitality businesses, which we have now supported to the tune of £4.5 billion; I know it would be nice to spend the same money twice. With regard to those who need supporting for self-isolation purposes, we have made available £500, on a means-tested basis, to those who need that help, and that money is being worked through with local councils and the Department of Health.
Given the state of public finances, and as we look to the post-covid recovery, will my right hon. Friend resist any calls, in his forthcoming Budget, for increases in public expenditure? This needs to be a private-sector-driven recovery, most importantly by small businesses who will provide the employment and prosperity that we will need going forward if we are to fund our public services in future.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and has spoken passionately about this throughout his entire career. I firmly agree with him: this must be a private-sector-led recovery. Government cannot and should not do everything. We can support free enterprise by investing in skills, innovation and infrastructure, but ultimately it will be those small and medium-sized businesses that create the jobs that we desperately want to see.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), I am very disappointed that the Chancellor has not given support for the many self-employed people who are not getting help, but my question is on another issue. The Chancellor appears to have little appreciation of how low-paid people manage to survive from week to week. Given the huge coverage today pleading with people to stay at home and follow the rules, I would have expected him to have announced better support for those who need to isolate. The fact remains that some people who should be isolating will go into work because they are struggling to put food on the table or pay their heating bills, and cannot afford to lose any income. I ask the Chancellor again: will he go away and look at what extra support can be given to ensure that people who are isolating do not lose any income and that gives them the incentive to stay at home?
We have in fact put in place payments to financially support those who need help when they are asked to stay at home, and they are available up to £500. As we have now reduced over time the period of self-isolation, the real value of those payments has actually increased, in some cases by 20%, 30% or 40%, depending on when people were contacted. More generally, throughout this crisis the Government have always made sure that we look after the most vulnerable. That is clear in the measures that we have taken and clear in the data that was published over the summer showing that those on the lowest incomes have had their situation protected the most by this compassionate Conservative Government.
In normal times, a successful British aviation sector supports 1 million jobs in this country. Will the Chancellor look urgently at what can be done best to ensure a rapid recovery for the sector heading into the summer? In particular, as he prepares his Budget, will he look at whether it makes sense for us to have one of the highest levels of air passenger duty anywhere in the world?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is right to passionately champion both our aviation and aerospace sectors, which are critical to our economy. I am grateful for the help that he gave in helping to design a test-to-release policy for quarantining arrivals, but also in campaigning for business rates relief for airports—up to £8 million per airport, which is benefiting dozens of our regional airports up and down the country. I will bear in mind his suggested measures for forthcoming Budgets, but, like him, I want to see our industry return to its strength.
Just for the record, the Chancellor said that he was unsure of what the Scottish Government were going to do with regard to the business top-up grants. It has just been announced that larger hospitality businesses will receive up to £25,000 in Scotland. Due to his intransigence, it looks like the 3 million excluded will be going a full calendar year without support. That is absolutely shameful. The fact that the £20 per week uplift to universal credit does not apply to legacy benefits is equally shameful. Can the Chancellor tell my constituents about to lose that £20, when Minister after Minister admits that they could not survive on universal credit rates, why and how he expects so many of our constituents to do just that?
The Scottish Government obviously have control over their tax-raising powers and indeed have the ability to top up and design benefits, so if that is something that they are keen to do, they have the ability to raise the tax to fund a permanent uplift in the welfare system. I am sure that that is an opportunity that the Scottish Government can take up if they want to and see fit to do so.
As well as the 18,000 people in my constituency who benefited from the furlough, businesses here have benefited from more than £50 million-worth of loans. As we move into the recovery, we need to make sure that they are creating jobs and are not held back by excessive debt repayments. What will the Chancellor do through pay as you grow or other schemes to make sure that they can get on with the business of creating wealth and creating new jobs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of cash flow, and he is right to highlight pay as you grow, which means that the 1.3 million businesses that have benefited from bounce back loans will have the opportunity significantly to reduce and extend their repayments for those loans. By extending the repayment term to 10 years from five, we have cut the average monthly payment by almost half from just over £500 to just over £300. Businesses also have the option to move to interest only, which further reduces the payment to around £60 or £70 on a typical loan. That extra cushion will ensure that businesses can save their cash for driving their businesses forward as they reopen after these restrictions.
I acknowledge the scale of the financial support that has been provided by the Chancellor, but almost a year on there is a stubborn refusal to address the needs of those who are excluded often by what are seen as very arbitrary rules. Will the Chancellor confirm that the Treasury has indeed received a number of constructive proposals on how existing schemes can be modified without the risk of fraud? Will he commit to giving those proposals a fair consideration and, where appropriate, to making back payments?
Stroud and the south-west is packed with creative people and industries that need innovative support right now. Specifically, many UK film and TV productions have struggled to get insurance for costs related to covid-19. Can my right hon. Friend outline for the House what the Government are doing to support this £4 billion UK industry?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy and, indeed, to our social or cultural capital. That is why the Government have created a £500 million film insurance scheme, to which she rightly alluded. More than 100 different film productions have taken advantage of the scheme so far and it is currently safeguarding over 14,000 jobs. It is that kind of thinking that we hope can help drive our recovery and support the industry that she rightly champions.
In line with advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the TUC and Maternity Action, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer today commit to amending the furlough scheme to cover the cost of maternity suspensions on full pay for women who are 28 weeks or more pregnant or otherwise medically advised to shield?
My right hon. Friend is aware how good Bridgwater and Taunton College is and how many apprentices it is training for Hinkley Point and many other organisations. One of the unforeseen consequences of the pandemic is that £8 million of the college’s funding goes into training those people but, unfortunately, a lot of employers are not taking on apprentices, or are making them redundant, so those young people are not getting the chance to finish their training in the skills they need to get jobs. Can we urgently examine ways to ensure that they and the colleges are empowered to train those young people and get them into the workplace as soon as possible?
I am fairly certain we have already put in place a new matching services for apprentices who, sadly, are unable to complete their apprenticeship with their current employer, but I am happy to get the details and write to my hon. Friend about that. More broadly, like him, I support passionately further apprenticeships, which is why we have given companies a £2,000 bonus to take on a new apprentice and provided additional funding to both businesses and colleges to pay for the associated training.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and well done Chorley FC!
If the only economic message is quibbling about how statistics have been used, there is no message. Now that the Chancellor is with us, can I ask him, if he thinks there is so much unity of purpose, does he really stand by the plan to cut £20 a week from universal credit and to maintain the cruel two-child policy? I give him the opportunity to make an announcement and do something today to make sure that his appearance before us in the House today is not a total waste of time.
Labour-run Rotherham Council took a long time to devise a discretionary scheme for businesses and individuals excluded from support during the first lockdown, and ended up handing back millions of pounds to the Government because it had not distributed the money. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government have given councils the flexibility and support necessary to ensure that local businesses and the self-employed receive the full help they deserve, and that councils have a duty to distribute funds speedily and effectively, so that that mistake is never repeated?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The funding is indeed discretionary. Obviously, I and the Government do not know the exact economic circumstances in every local area and it is right that local authorities are best placed to make those discretionary decisions. They know their areas and how best to support their businesses, and our guidance gives them the discretion to do so.
The Chancellor says he is supporting 95% of the self-employed—a claim he knows is disputed—but even if we accept his figures, does that not mean that 250,000 people lose out? Surely writing off a quarter of a million people and their families is not what he means by “whatever it takes”?
Those figures are not disputed; they are fact, based on the returns we have. Of the returns we have from people who are majority self-employed, 95% qualify and are eligible for support. The 5% who are not, to whom the hon. Gentleman alludes, are excluded because their income is greater than £50,000. He will have heard me say before that the average income of those people is £200,000, and I think it is right that we target support on those who most need our help.
I thank the Chancellor for the further one-off grants for closed businesses of up to £9,000. Businesses in Crewe and Nantwich are very ready for the cash, but can he assure them that they do not need to choose between those one-off grants and the monthly grants—that both are available to affected businesses?
I am happy to confirm that that is absolutely the case. Businesses do not have to choose: they will continue to benefit from the monthly grant of up to £3,000 a month, and on top of that, to help them to get through this difficult period till the spring, they can additionally receive a one-off grant of up to £9,000. That means that cumulatively over the next three months, businesses could receive up to £18,000 of support. I know that my hon. Friend’s businesses will warmly welcome that. He has spoken to me at great length about supporting his local hospitality industry, and I hope that this helps.
The Chancellor’s assertion that the Prime Minister’s trade deal means that businesses can now start to do things differently and better will have been heard with total incredulity by anyone whose business involves the export of seafood. The new procedures for export are a bureaucratic mess that has brought export trade to a grinding halt. One local fish trader told me this morning that a single consignment now has to go with no fewer than 17 different attachments, and another told me on Friday that he had lost £50,000 on a single consignment that he had been unable to export. What is the Chancellor going to do to offer help to fish exporters to get them through this very difficult time—difficult because of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own rules and procedures?
What this deal ensures is that all those businesses that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned have tariff-free access to European markets. Otherwise, there would have been significant tariffs on those exports. He is right that there are changes to our trading relationship. That has always been the case, and the Prime Minister and the Government have been clear about that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster is working through individual issues as we look over time to streamline and improve all our processes. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that we have invested a huge amount of resource in the IT systems at DEFRA and in providing support for those businesses that need help to fill out various customs forms and meet new procedures.
I welcome the £4.6 billion in grants announced last week for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, businesses in the hospitality industry have been subject to restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving the sector as one of the hardest hit financially. I have spoken to many affected business owners and workers in Stoke-on-Trent Central. As we approach the end of this financial year, with the possibility of restrictions now extending beyond it, will my right hon. Friend reassure me and businesses in my constituency that the Government will extend the existing package of measures, including the current business rates relief and VAT reduction, which act as an important lifeline for many in the sector?
I know from visiting my hon. Friend’s local area how important hospitality businesses are to her. While I obviously cannot comment on future Budget decisions, I can give her the assurance that I remain very committed to supporting our fantastic hospitality businesses through this crisis, so that they can recover strongly on the other side.
I thank the Chancellor for his statement. Northern Ireland is facing a double whammy. First, we are coping with the economic consequences of covid, and we thank the Chancellor for the help with that, but at the same time we are also trying to deal with a protocol that is crippling businesses in Northern Ireland. South of the border, the Irish revenue authorities have said that all companies can circumvent customs to deal with this problem, but on our side of the border, HMRC is increasing the red tape. This protocol is an unmitigated disaster. Personal protective equipment can no longer get into Northern Ireland. Foodstuffs cannot get into Northern Ireland. Marks & Spencer has produced a list of 400 goods it will not bring into Northern Ireland. We now must invoke article 16, and I encourage the Chancellor to do that. I am sure that the Scots Nats are delighted they do not have a protocol now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for registering some of those issues with me. I know that he and other colleagues are speaking to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about individual issues, and I will be sure to follow up with him later today. The hon. Gentleman will know, and I hope it is helpful, that we funded with £200 million a trader support service, which is helping businesses in Northern Ireland to adjust to the new arrangements. I think 25,000 at the last count had signed up, and I know that the response has been pretty good, but there is always more we can do, and I look forward to talking to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster later.
The Treasury has done really well supporting businesses and jobs in this crisis, but directors of small limited companies are many of the people who will ultimately be paying for the Treasury’s support. What can be done, perhaps using a version of the Federation of Small Businesses’ suggestion of a directors income support scheme, to help prevent hard-working linchpins of our economy—on modest incomes taken as dividends—from falling through the cracks?
We always will give fair and due consideration to any proposals that we receive. Indeed, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) has met the FSB and received the proposal, and we will go through it in detail.
Musicians and performers in Glasgow North have already very often been excluded from the Chancellor’s support packages, and they will find it difficult to look towards a brighter future when they then hear that the Government have failed to negotiate visa-free touring for them across the European Union. Many of us have been warning that Brexit would simply compound the economic crisis caused by a pandemic, and that kind of decision seems to prove the point, does it not?
We have provided significant support to our cultural industries. I think it is right that we highlight the contribution they make both to our society and to our economy. I struggle to find any other countries that have matched the £1.5 billion of support we have provided, which has now gone out, I believe, to over 3,000 different cultural institutions, supporting the livelihoods and local institutions that cover performing arts, such as musicians, and we know that they will play an important part in our recovery.
There are businesses in my constituency in Pembrokeshire that only made it through to the end of 2020 because of the outstanding support and intervention by this UK Government, and the funding support that the Treasury has provided for the devolved Administrations has been a key part of that. However, does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, at the same time as businesses in my constituency tell me they feel shut out of the Welsh Government’s business support grant scheme, it appears that the Welsh Government are sitting on about £1 billion of unallocated funding support? Does he agree that this is not a moment for holding back support and that we need to be getting it to the frontline, especially for small businesses?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the question, and he is absolutely right. We must try to get our cash support out to businesses as quickly as possible; they are suffering as we speak. The Welsh Government have been provided with over £5 billion in an up-front funding guarantee, and he is right to highlight the importance of that money getting out to support the local businesses that he knows are so important to driving the future prosperity of the Welsh economy.
Analysis by the Resolution Foundation, based on the number of households claiming universal credit or working tax credit in April last year, found that 34% of working-age households across the north-east stood to lose out on over £1,000 a year if the uplift is cut, as currently planned, in April 2021. Unless I am mistaken that is still the case, although the Chancellor said it was at the end of the year in answer to an earlier question, so maybe he can clarify that. Can I ask the Chancellor if he agrees with me that it would now be unthinkable to cut this lifeline given the ongoing significant impact the pandemic has had on low-income families?
It is important to recognise some of the other things that we have put in place for next year already, notably support for over 3.5 million vulnerable households with their council tax bills—£150 each, worth £670 million in aggregate—but also increasing the national living wage above inflation, at 2.2%, providing about £350 of benefit to those on low wages. Those are the kinds of things that this Government will continue to champion.
Can I first welcome the furlough extension, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which will give many Carshalton and Wallington residents a great sense of peace of mind? However, some businesses have been in touch with me with concerns about the October cut-off date to be eligible to start furloughing staff, so can my right hon. Friend outline whether this decision could be reviewed or what other support businesses can access to help mitigate this?
The change in the date from the original spring date to October will bring an additional 3 million people into the scope of benefiting from the furlough scheme, and I know that is something my hon. Friend will welcome. With regard to additional support, he will know our comprehensive plan, whether it is discounted or Government-backed loans, tax cuts, tax deferrals, VAT deferrals, business grants, business rates holidays or discretionary funding from local councils. All of that is available depending on a business’s circumstances, and I would urge his businesses to look online and see what they might be eligible for.
The Chancellor said earlier that there is “unity of purpose” across this House. One area where it is clear there is unity with everybody except for him is that more support is needed for the excluded. It frankly beggars belief that he has yet again come to this House with nothing to announce for them, so I urge him to urgently look at the directors income support scheme for directors of small limited companies, which has been on his desk since November. There are also the recently self-employed still left out in the cold, and freelancers, those who combine PAYE and self-employment, and women who have taken time out because of pregnancy all still utterly abandoned. I want to know how he has the gall to continue pretending that he is doing enough for my constituents and the millions like them who are still left in poverty and despair.
With regard to our support for the self-employed, it is worth noting—not that you would know it from what the hon. Lady said— that almost 3 million people have benefited to the tune of around £20 billion. I do believe that that is comprehensive. It is certainly more comprehensive and generous support than has been provided by almost any other country I can find. Of course, we always look at other suggestions we receive, and I will continue to do that.
As the pandemic continues, it is only right that the Government provide further financial assistance to support jobs and businesses. That is why I welcome the £4.6 billion of funding for grants that was announced last week, which will benefit people and businesses across Barrow and Furness. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that in the long term we have to return to sustainable public finances in order to build resilience to similar shocks in the future, whatever they may be?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent and insightful point. This is about resilience in the public finances—he used the word well. We have faced two supposedly once-in-a-generation shocks in the space of 10 years and we do not know what the future holds. What we do know is that we want to encounter the next shock that comes along in as strong a position as possible, because ultimately that will enable us to respond in as comprehensive and generous a way as we have here. That is why, over time, we must rebuild our public finances to that position of, as he said, resilience and strength.
I wonder if hon. Members really do believe in being fair to everyone. If they do, I implore them to ask short questions—do not make statements and do not make speeches. This is a statement by the Chancellor. It is an occasion for a quick question. I have 36 people to get in and 25 minutes in which to do it. Shall we see whether Members really do want to be fair to everybody else?
Behavioural scientists are clear that to get people to self-isolate requires that they have the capacity, motivation and opportunity to do so. So far, frankly, the £500 on offer is not achieving that. What assessment has the Chancellor made of that scheme, and what is he planning to do to improve it?
A constituent approached me to say that many supply teachers working through agencies are not being furloughed because schools are open to key worker children, yet those supply teachers are not being called into schools because most year groups are learning remotely. Will my right hon. Friend look at flexibility within the furlough scheme in this area, similar to last time, to assist agency workers?
I shadowed the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), and I wish him successful treatment and a speedy recovery.
About 130,000 individuals across Greater Manchester are ineligible for any support—that number is second only to London. Many of them have been shut out of support since day one, which is almost a year ago now. Will the Chancellor confirm today that he is actually looking at this important issue, and confirm whether more support for this group is actually coming their way?
As part of the announcement made last week, half a billion pounds of discretionary funding is being made available to local councils. That comes on top of the £1.1 billion that was made available at the end of autumn last year. If local councils want, some of that funding can go to support the very people the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
Financial services are very important to my constituency and to the country as a whole. I welcome the free trade agreement, but clearly there is more to be negotiated on financial services. Will my right hon. Friend outline how we can retain the strong relationship with Europe on financial services, while retaining autonomy to adapt the industry to our needs?
I praise my hon. Friend for being a fantastic representative of her constituents when it comes to financial services. I have enjoyed my conversations with her, and I look forward to working with her and the industry to ensure that we maintain a close relationship with the EU, but also that we look to capitalise on the new opportunities, making sure that London remains a pre-eminent global centre and that the UK does its bit. Whether it is on greening the financial system or taking advantage of new digital technologies, we must lead the world, and I know that she will help me to do that.
The Welsh Government have not hoarded money meant for Welsh businesses, and it is dangerous to hear the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) saying such things in the Chamber. They are getting help to those businesses while the UK Government make a big fanfare over new help that turns out not to be new help at all. Will the Chancellor tell me and my constituents how much new money for Wales he has announced today?
I am happy for the hon. Lady to refer to the answer I gave earlier, but if she would prefer that, rather than give up-front funding guarantees and certainty to the devolved Administrations in a pandemic, we returned to piecemeal funding by announcement, she should please write to me and let me know. The Welsh Government have received over £5 billion in up-front funding guarantees, and as we make announcements it is right that we highlight the amount of additional Barnett funding that flows from those announcements, so that that can be netted off against the guarantee.
I am delighted to learn that local authorities will be receiving additional cash at the end of this week. Could I please ask the Chancellor to do everything possible to help local authorities to get that money out of the door as quickly as possible, to help businesses’ cash flow?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of speed. We try to keep the guidance the same, and that helps local authorities. Indeed, the guidance for the £500 million discretionary funding will be the same as for the £1.1 billion, and that will help local authorities. They should have the cash by the end of this week at the latest, and I too urge them to get it out as quickly as possible.
As in many places, local pubs and bars in Oxford, West and Abingdon on their knees. One of my constituents, a bar owner, has told me that her business is slowly going under and that she stands to lose everything. The £9,000 is of course welcome, but the concern is that this will delay rather than stop them going under, so will the Chancellor step in and save our locals by scrapping the rateable value cap for pubs, allowing them to access the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund, offering rent holidays during times of enforced closure and guaranteeing now to extend the furlough scheme for as long as it is needed?
The hon. Lady makes a good point about the importance of our local pubs. There is no rateable value cap on the grant. That was the case in the earlier iteration in the spring, but the latest grants are done by rateable value, and they are available for businesses with a rateable value in excess of £51,000. The businesses also benefit from the business rates holiday, so I hope that helps, but I share her sympathy for the industry. I know it is difficult, and we must do what we can to help them.
The Chancellor will know that the furlough scheme and the self-employed scheme have helped to protect many millions of jobs across the UK and many livelihoods across the Birmingham, Northfield constituency, but as he said, unfortunately not every job is going to be able to be protected during the pandemic, so can he outline the measures he is taking across Government to help to support those who find themselves unemployed?
I can give my hon. Friend my assurance that the Government’s No. 1 economic priority remains jobs and trying to help people into employment. To that end, we have created various schemes and put billions of pounds towards them, whether through doubling the number of work coaches, the restart scheme for the long-term unemployed or, indeed, our kickstart scheme to help 250,000 young people at risk of becoming unemployed to find new work in Government-funded jobs. I look forward to working with him and delivering all those vital initiatives.
A number of people are still in childcare voucher schemes rather than having moved to tax-free childcare. A number of them did not realise, at the start of the pandemic, how long the impact would last, and they have now racked up large balances that they will not be able to spend before their child no longer needs wraparound childcare. Will the Chancellor please look at the people who have these large balances and consider putting in place some flexibility, or asking employers to put in place some flexibility, because they have ended up in this situation through no fault of their own?
I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of an extra £500 million of discretionary funding for local authorities in England. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that councils have absolute discretion in the use of those moneys, including, if they so choose, the provision of grants to self-employed workers or sole traders whose businesses are based at their home address?
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the grants are meant to be discretionary. It is for local authorities to make the decisions at their discretion as to how best support their local economies. The guidance should remain the same as it was before. I believe it gives local authorities the discretion they need.
A supply teacher in my constituency contacted me last week after being told she would not be furloughed despite being unable to work while schools are closed. Last summer, less than half of supply teachers were furloughed. In some cases, they were furloughed at just 80% of the national minimum wage. What steps will the Chancellor now take to ensure all supply staff are able to access the furlough scheme during the lockdown and prevent them falling through the gaps?
I welcome the continuation of the unprecedented support provided by the Chancellor throughout this crisis. While looking forward to economic bounce back, may I call on my right hon. Friend to extend the business rate holiday and VAT reduction, which have been absolutely critical to the tourism and hospitality sector in Fylde?
I know how important the tourism and hospitality sector is to my hon. Friend’s constituency and what a fantastic champion he is for it. I know how important those initiatives have been. Of course, future decisions of that magnitude will be for the Budget, but I will take what he says into consideration.
Community union self-employed members have raised serious concerns about discrimination in the self-employment income support scheme for those who have taken maternity or parental leave. They point out that eligibility conditions and calculation methods chosen by the Chancellor discriminate against women because they do not exempt periods of maternity leave. What steps has the Chancellor taken to ensure that all parents, and women in particular, are not penalised in their income support payments for having children?
My constituency contains an award-winning nature reserve at Kenfig and some of the best surfing beaches in the world. The town of Porthcawl is a popular tourist town and Bridgend itself is an historic market town. It is no surprise, therefore, that the impact of covid-19 on the hospitality sector has really hit my constituents hard. Many have written to me recently to ask me to support UKHospitality’s recommendations on how the Government can help, in particular with an extension of VAT and business rates support. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that every step possible should be taken to support this vital sector?
My hon. Friend is right about the importance of this vital sector to our local communities and our economy, with hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of people employed. Like him, I am keen to see it spring back to its former glory. I look forward to hearing from him about how best he thinks we can support that industry into the future.
Contrary to the Government’s briefings, the problem with lockdown is not support bubbles or exercising with a friend. The key problem is that people are still being forced into work, with too many non-essential workplaces open and statutory sick pay so low many cannot afford to self-isolate when they need to. Will the Chancellor provide the economic support necessary for people to stay at home by ensuring that all non-key workers who cannot work from home are furloughed on full pay, and by raising sick pay to the real living wage at £330 a week?
With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, I think it is best that we listen to the scientists with regard to the appropriate health restrictions. She will have heard the chief medical officer this morning giving his view on the right approach to other restrictions. With regard to support, the furlough scheme remains one of the most generous and comprehensive anywhere in the world. It is something that I am proud of and which I know is providing security to many millions of people at this very difficult time.
The Chancellor will know that the Blue Collar Conservatism group was instrumental in persuading the supermarkets to return the business rates relief that they did not need; we asked them to do so on the basis that there were many who had gone without support, and they agreed to do so on that basis. Will the Chancellor therefore ensure that that £2 billion returned by the supermarkets goes to those who have so far been excluded from support? They cannot go another three months without any income.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s tireless campaigning on this issue. She is a great advocate for the cause. She will know that we have just provided over £4.5 billion of support to many small businesses up and down the country, which I know she will warmly welcome and has called for. Indeed, part of that is half a billion pounds of discretionary funding for local authorities to support local businesses, many of which may include the people she has talked about who will be eligible for that support.
For 10 months, 3 million people have been forgotten or excluded by this Government, including several of my own constituents, such as Graeme Park, and Karen and Matthew Cox. The Prime Minister said last week that these people will be listened to and that support packages are there to protect people, so can the Chancellor tell us clearly today what package of support is actually available for these groups, how much is available and when will people be able to access them?
Rather than me recapping every single thing that we have done, let me say that it is worth bearing it in mind when the hon. Lady talks about 3 million people that for over half of those people self-employment is not the primary source of income; they are not majority self-employed. From memory, the average income from self-employment of those individuals is around £2,000. It is actually the case that many of the other things that we have done will be of more significant support to them. Indeed, the majority of them are actually employed and can benefit from our furlough scheme, so it is not right to say that they have received no support. We have put in place a range of different things, and many people are benefiting from them.
The hospitality supply chain is crucial to the sector: food and drink producers, dairies, breweries, wholesalers and many more. Will the Chancellor look at extra support for hospitality supply chains, such as with VAT and business rates, so that when the vaccine allows hospitality to reopen again, there is a supply chain there to support them?
My hon. Friend is right about the supply chain. He will know that much of the supply chain also supplies the on-premises trade as well as the off-premises, so those businesses will have some trade during this period, but he is right that we must ensure that it is there for the recovery. The supply chain will, of course, benefit from our furlough scheme, which is very comprehensive in its eligibility and very generous. I thank him for his points and will of course bear them in mind.
The Young Women’s Trust found that because of covid 1.5 million women are losing income; 69% are claiming benefits to the first time; half of young mums are unable to keep or find employment because of childcare costs; and a third of women will not report sexual harassment for fear of being fired. Can the Chancellor therefore tell me how his Government can possibly continue to justify the five-week wait, have statutory sick pay at a disgracefully low £94 a week, and exclude many female business owners from help? Will he take proper action for women, who are bearing the brunt of this pandemic?
All the support that we have put in place is blind to gender; no one is excluded on the basis of gender and I do not think it is fair to suggest otherwise. One of the reasons that I have been so keen to try to support the hospitality industry throughout this period, and to encourage people to be able to go back to it when it was open, was because of the social justice aspect. It is an industry that disproportionately employs women and other groups that we want to try to see protected. That is why it is a very important industry to me, and we must get it back to its former glory.
While politics is played with narratives around council tax increases, will the Chancellor confirm that the most important thing right now is support for local authorities to deliver public services in constituencies like mine? Will he please outline the steps that the Treasury is taking to deliver that support?
My hon. Friend is right. We have provided over £3 billion of additional funding for local authorities next year to help them get through coronavirus in different ways and, within their day-to-day budgets, an additional £300 million of adult social care grant. They are seeing one of the highest core spending power increases in a decade. With regard to the political points that he knows others are trying to make, it is probably worth bearing it in mind that under the last Labour Government council tax rose on average by about 6% every year; under this Conservative Government since 2010, it has risen so far by just over 2%.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer will share my desire to see economic recovery right across the United Kingdom. I thank him for the support provided to sustain businesses in this difficult time. However, in addition to covid-related challenges, businesses in my constituency are being hampered in trading by the chaos created by the Northern Ireland protocol. A local haulage company reports that protocol-related difficulties cost it an additional £48,000 last week. Another business in my constituency is being hit by 20% VAT on bicycle parts. Our second-hand car industry faces wipe-out because of the VAT margin scheme. The protocol spells economic harm for business and consumers in Northern Ireland. What will the Chancellor and his Government do to remove the barrier to economic recovery and free and unfettered trade within the United Kingdom?
I am sorry to hear the various examples that the hon. Lady gave. I hope that the Trader Support Service can be of some assistance to her small and medium-sized businesses. We have funded it to the tune of about £200 million to provide support for the change of circumstances, and I know that 25,000 companies have already signed up and are benefiting from quite speedy support. I will of course keep that under review and ensure that it is doing what it needs to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for providing grants of up to £9,000 to businesses forced to close due to the new national restrictions. I know those businesses in retail, hospitality and, in particular, the pub industry in my constituency of Burton and Uttoxeter are grateful for that safety net. Will he continue to review the support available to them to ensure their long-term survival and growth as we come out of the pandemic?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Hospitality is such an important sector for our local communities and indeed our national economy. I cannot comment on future Budgets, but I will bear what she says in mind. She can rest assured that I will do what I can to support the hospitality industry and ensure that it can drive our recovery.
Last week, the Chancellor graced Members of this House with a 90-second video on Twitter announcing support for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. While I look forward to him delivering the Budget on TikTok, those gimmicks leave businesses in the dark through a lack of scrutiny. Now that he has been freed from Twitter’s time limits, will he tell struggling businesses in my constituency just how long they need to make those grants last?
The grants we have put in place are one-off but can help businesses through to the spring. Additionally, they will, of course, continue to receive the monthly grants of up to £3,000, which will be paid throughout. That means that, for example, over the next three months, a business could receive up to £18,000 in cash support. We will, as the hon. Lady said, have a Budget on 3 March, before that time elapses, at which point we will set out the next stage in our economic response to coronavirus.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor knows—not least from the conversations he had last November with businesses in my constituency—how heavily our local economy depends on the hospitality sector and how hard hit it has been. Will he give me and the sector an assurance that he will look sympathetically at its calls to extend the lower rate of VAT and the business rate holiday? What message has he got for the sector about its importance to the UK economy and to the wellbeing and quality of life of our citizens?
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with my right hon. Friend’s local businesses. He mentioned exactly the right point: quality of life. This is not just about our economy and jobs; this industry is so vital for our wellbeing, and it brings spirit, life and vitality to our local communities. He can rest assured that I will want to continue supporting the industry, as I have done in the past, and I will bear what he says in mind for future Budgets.
A failure to make the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent would have a disproportionate impact on families across the north-east, which has the highest rate of unemployment and the second highest rate of child poverty. Will the Chancellor now commit to make that £20 uplift permanent?
The hon. Lady, for whom I have a lot of respect, mentioned two things: unemployment and child poverty. We know that the best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty is for them not to grow up in a workless household; indeed, the rate of poverty among children who are not in workless households is five times lower. Work—removing unemployment—is the best, surest and most sustainable way out of poverty, which is why this Government have backed with billions of pounds our various initiatives to support people into work, which I know she will support, whether that is the restart scheme, the kickstart scheme, doubling the amount of work coaches or increasing the incentive for people to take on new apprentices. Those are all the surest ways to help people out of poverty, and that is why we are committing billions of pounds to that end.
We are officially out of time, but I will keep this running for a few minutes longer if Members will be decent and be quick. There are two more items of business, and it is simply not fair on other Members later in the day if this item of business takes too long.
Retraining opportunities will be a crucial part of our economic recovery. I have been really impressed by companies such as Openreach, which has set a promising target for more women in its employment programmes. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor look at making sure that women are not excluded from the economic recovery?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have enjoyed my conversations with her on this topic. We want to make sure that people can find new opportunities, which is why we have funded companies with bonuses to take on new apprentices, as well as providing a universal entitlement to a level 3 qualification for the 37% of our adult population that sadly does not have one, and traineeships also provide young people with a start into work experience and then a job interview. Those are the kinds of thing that help people find economic opportunity, and we will make sure that women benefit equally from all of them.
Amy Pierce, the director of a small company in my constituency, was doing well until the pandemic. Since then, her turnover has dropped by 40%, but her costs have not. She has now had to lay off her staff, which is massively regrettable. What can the Chancellor say to small businesses like that to assure them that the employment base and the economic base will be there in towns such as Rochdale when the pandemic ends?
I am incredibly sorry to hear about the example of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, which will be mirrored by many others up and down the country. As I said in my statement, the restrictions we have had to put in place have taken a significant economic toll on the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and businesses are suffering. We have tried to protect as many as possible. It is not possible to protect all of them, but with the support that we have put in place, I am confident that we are helping many businesses, protecting many people’s incomes and saving many people’s jobs. I hope that his constituent’s business and many others can bounce back strongly once we are through this.
I very much welcome the Chancellor’s substantial grant support to smaller hospitality businesses in my constituency, which will at least give them a chance of seeing through this difficult period. I also represent a constituency with a large number of small travel businesses that depend on the revival of the travel industry and, in particular, the aviation sector. As he prepares for the Budget, will he look at any way he can to help that industry and that sector get back on their feet as restrictions are lifted, hopefully in the spring?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the travel sector to our economy. I was pleased to work with him to help to put in place a test and release policy for international travel, which was helping, and to provide business rates support to our many airports—I know that up to £8 million per airport has been of value. I will continue to listen to him and others to see what we can do to support the economy as we recover out of this crisis.
We are nearly a year on since the Chancellor rightly introduced the self-employed income support scheme, but despite his having had months to fix the gaps that have wrongly excluded millions, he is refusing to do so. The right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) asked the Chancellor whether the £2 billion in business rates relief that is being returned to the Treasury from supermarkets and other large shops could be used immediately to support those who have been excluded and received nothing; will he now answer that question?
Green finance has a crucial role to play if we want to build back better and transition to a net zero economy by 2050. The UK has a critical role in the development of the sector internationally, not just as a global leader in finance but with this year’s presidency of COP26 and chairmanship of the G7. Will the Chancellor outline for the House what he is doing to develop the vital green finance sector?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point: not only are we leading in the world in reaching our net zero targets but we are a global financial centre, and we have combined the two to lead the greening of the financial system, which is an opportunity for us. We are going to issue a sovereign green bond this year and will be the first major economy to make mandatory the climate-related financial disclosures recommended by the international taskforce, which will help to cement our global leadership. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the other things that we can do in this vital year for our journey to net zero.
A Castleford constituent—a single mum who works at a major company’s distribution warehouse—has been told that her employer will not furlough her while schools are closed and that she has to take six weeks’ unpaid leave that she cannot afford. The school has said that she cannot have a place as it is overwhelmed with key worker applications. Does the Chancellor agree that the employer’s response is completely unfair? What should my constituent do now?
I am more than happy to receive a letter from the right hon. Lady about the particular situation that she describes, but I hope she will understand—she will know this, having been in a similar position—that it is hard for me to comment on the specific circumstances between an employee and employer. The furlough scheme can be used for the circumstances that she described. Obviously, the school will be better placed than I am to determine whether the constituent in question is a key worker, but if the right hon. Lady writes to me, I will be more than happy to follow up on her questions.
I add my support to the cause of directors who take income as dividends. As a former inspector of taxes, I have heard what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has said and do not entirely agree with it. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss the options available to deal with directors who take income as dividends?
My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has met several groups and heard representations on different proposals. I am not aware of another country that has found a way to support people’s dividend income, but if my hon. Friend knows of one, I would be delighted to look into it if he sends it in.
The testing capacity that we have in this country has considerably increased from where it was. The House will remember that at the start of this crisis it was 10,000, and now we are doing several hundred thousand a day, so that is a substantial increase, and testing can play a part in reducing the spread of transmission. Obviously, given the new strain of the virus, we have had to put in place new restrictions, which is disappointing, but I still believe that test and trace can play a role in suppressing the spread of the virus, especially as we come out of this crisis. The hon. Lady is right to hold me and others accountable for every pound of taxpayers’ money that we spend and I am sure will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend is right: our innovative companies are a great strength of the UK economy compared with others and they will help drive our recovery. That is why we put in place the future fund, which was an unprecedented intervention to help 1,000 of our fastest-growing start-up companies with match funding. Innovate UK also made available £500 million of additional grants and loans through its innovation schemes, and most recently, we have committed extra funding for our start-up loans scheme next year. Taken together, it is a significant vote of confidence in those innovative companies, and I look forward to hearing from her other ways that we can support them to help drive our recovery.
Last week, when I challenged the Prime Minister over the lack of support for the 3 million excluded, he claimed that they had “not been excluded”, so can the Chancellor spell out what is being done to make the PM’s word a reality, as I did not hear anything today that will give meaningful support to my constituents who have had 10 months of zero income or Government help?
It is just not right to say that people have not been able to receive any support. Obviously, I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of every single person, but we have put in place £280 billion of direct support in a multitude of different ways, and then there is additional support that is not even fiscal—for example, mortgage holidays, which now one in six, or one in seven mortgage holders have taken advantage of. So yes, it may be the case that people have not been helped in the exact way they wanted, but with £280 billion of support in literally 20 different ways, this Government are doing what they can to provide reassurance and security to millions of people and businesses through this difficult crisis.
The Welsh hospitality sector employs over 8.5% of the Welsh workforce and is even more important in rural areas, such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, where hospitality provides 27.3% of employment. Today’s statement provided no new money and no clarity for struggling hospitality businesses that need to be able to make informed decisions in the coming months. Will the Chancellor therefore confirm that there will be no further announcements of extra funding prior to the March Budget?
The Welsh Government have received over £5 billion of up-front funding guarantees to support their local economy. I hope they will use it to do exactly that, but also, Welsh businesses will benefit from UK-wide interventions—for example, our furlough scheme, our loan programme or, indeed, some of the VAT reductions—and I have said that all our support now extends through to the spring. We will have a Budget on 3 March, where we will set out the next stage of that economic response to coronavirus.