House of Commons
Monday 11 January 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaseholders: Fire Safety Costs
In beginning, may I wish you, Mr Speaker, all Members of the House and its staff, and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) a very happy new year?
We have announced a new £30 million fund to help end the scandal of excessive waking watch costs. This will fund the installation of alarm systems in buildings with unsafe cladding, reducing or removing the dependence on costly interim measures such as a waking watch. We estimate that that will save residents a combined £3 million each month. Alongside that, we continue to prioritise the removal of unsafe cladding and have committed funds to help make homes safer, faster.
Sleep deprivation is recognised as a form of torture. People living in buildings with unsafe cladding are being tortured: physically, due to a lack of sleep, as they live in fear; financially, as they cannot sell their homes and are forced to pay for waking watches; and mentally, as they live in limbo. When does my right hon. Friend expect that torture to end?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend; she has campaigned long and hard for her constituents, and has raised this issue with me outside the Chamber as well as within it. We all appreciate the terrible challenges and suffering that many people around our country face on this issue. That is why we want the residents of blocks that are enduring a waking watch to get the benefits of our changes as soon as possible. We expect the £30 million fund to be open this month, with the aim of providing funding for the installation of alarms as quickly as possible. I think we all agree that the best way of making buildings safe is to speed up remediation, and that is what our policies intend.
Local Authority Funding
We are increasing funding for councils in 2021-22. Through the local government finance settlement, we are making an extra £2.2 billion available to councils, with an average cash increase of 4.5%—a real-terms increase. We have also announced £3 billion of covid-19 support for next year, taking our total direct support for local government in responding to the pandemic to more than £10 billion.
I am grateful to the Minister for the announcement of the extra cash, particularly the covid cash, in these difficult times. He will know from our many meetings in the year since I was elected about my concern on fairer funding for Leicestershire. If Leicestershire were funded at the same level as London, it would receive an extra £374 per resident. Will he update me on the formula that underpins the structure and whether there will be a review? Is this likely to change? If so, when?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and the way in which he has consistently and constructively raised this issue with me and Ministers in our Department. Leicestershire will see an increase of 5.5% in its core spending power next year and receive more than £11.5 million to deal with covid pressures. The Government certainly agree that we need an updated and fairer method for distributing funds within local government. I hope he understands that this year we have had to focus on supporting councils through the pandemic, but once this is over we will revisit our shared priority of funding reform. In the meantime, we have substantially increased the rural services delivery grant to £85 million, its highest level ever, which will support the delivery of services in places such as Leicestershire. I am, of course, happy to continue meeting him in the weeks ahead.
May I thank the Minister for his covid cash for councils? Will he confirm that the Government will ensure that councils have the financial support they need to respond to covid-19 and support their local communities? In places such as Bucks, particularly, our council is doing a fantastic job but there is a lot of concern about whether it will have the financial support to carry on throughout the pandemic and make sure that care is taken of all the residents.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is right to say that councils have done an incredible job in responding to the pandemic. We have provided an unprecedented package of covid-related support for councils, which is now worth £10 billion over this year and next year. It includes £1 billion of unring-fenced funding, as well as support with lost income from tax, sales, fees and charges. Buckinghamshire will benefit from more than £54 million of covid support this year and £11 million for next year. Councils are the unsung heroes of the response to this pandemic and we are standing squarely behind them.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate Christina McAnea on being elected the general secretary of Unison? It is Britain’s biggest trade union and of course has many members who work in local government.
Let me turn to the Minister. How is it fair to force councils to choose between hiking up council tax for hard-working families during the worst recession in 300 years, or cutting social care for older parents and grandparents during an unprecedented global health pandemic?
It is hard to take lectures from the Labour party about raising council tax when Labour doubled council tax while in office and has trebled council tax in Wales. If the hon. Gentleman wants to speak about raising council tax, he should start by speaking to the Mayor of London, who is proposing a 9.5% increase in council tax for next year. We are ensuring that local government has the resources it needs to emerge stronger from the pandemic. That is why we are putting in an extra £2.2 billion next year. We are also giving councils the flexibility to defer any increases in council tax next year if they believe that is right for their community. If the Opposition Front-Bench team looked at the detail of what we are proposing, they would see that we have provided £670 million to help councils to support people who are least able to pay council tax. There is of course one council that will definitely be raising council tax next year, and that is Croydon, because of its completely disastrous management of its finances.
High Street Regeneration
The Government’s priority throughout the pandemic has been to protect lives and livelihoods, with substantial support flowing to high street businesses through business grants, the paying of people’s wages and tax deferrals. Just last week, the Chancellor announced an additional £4.6 billion in new lockdown grants to support businesses and protect jobs. I was pleased that on Boxing day we allocated £830 million from our future high streets fund to 72 areas to transform underused town centres into the vibrant places to live, work and visit that we all want to see after the pandemic.
Online sellers, global giants and supermarkets have enjoyed a virtual monopoly since the pandemic started, whereas small businesses in Bracknell, Crowthorne, Sandhurst and beyond are often on their knees. What is my hon. Friend going to do to address this growing imbalance?
That idea lies very much behind the comprehensive package of support that the Chancellor has made available, with £200 billion specifically targeted at supporting small businesses on the high street. It is also why we have brought forward the further top-up grants, worth up to £9,000, to help small businesses through this next—and hopefully final—phase of the pandemic. We will of course continue to review the situation. Such concerns lie at the heart of our plans through the towns fund, the high streets fund and now the future levelling-up fund.
Just before Christmas I met businesses on the Oxted high street. Even with the unprecedented Government support that the Secretary of State has laid out, it has been a difficult and anxious year for them, with many going above and beyond for their customers. Surrey County Council and the Surrey economic growth board, on which I serve, are doing important work to revitalise and transform our high streets; will the Secretary of State meet us so that we can share our ideas on how we can best support such hard-working family businesses?
I praise my hon. Friend for her hard work to support Oxted high street in Surrey and the work of her local councils. The truth is that the pandemic has not so much changed things but magnified and accelerated enormous market forces that were evident even before the pandemic. There will now be a very significant role for local councils in bringing forward imaginative plans to bring private and public sector investment back to the high streets over the course of the year, and to make good use of the licensing and planning reforms that we have already brought forward and that we will bring forward more of in future. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to hear her plans for Oxted.
Waterlooville town centre in my constituency was struggling as a shopping centre even before the pandemic, and is now really suffering, with closed shops and a lack of investment. There is a vision for the town centre, but we need money to develop it. Will my right hon. Friend point out a fund of money that I could approach to make this happen?
As I said, I was delighted to announce over the Christmas period the 72 places that have benefited from the future high streets fund, but I appreciate that hundreds of high streets throughout the country will be thinking about their own futures. We will very shortly bring forward the levelling-up fund, from which all parts of the country, including my hon. Friend’s in Hampshire, will have the opportunity to benefit. I also direct my hon. Friend to look at the planning reforms that we have brought forward, because it is not simply about more public investment; we also want to support entrepreneurs, small businesspeople and small builders through the right to regenerate, the changes to the use-class orders and the new licensing arrangements—such as the ability to have markets, keep marquees outside pubs and have more tables and chairs outdoors—that I would like to be put on a permanent footing so that the al fresco dining we saw in the summer can be replicated this year.
As we have been hearing, high streets are struggling like never before. When will the Government level the playing field on business rates between high street retailers and online businesses, so that they can compete on equal terms?
The Chancellor announced earlier in the year an unprecedented business rates holiday, which is benefiting thousands of businesses the length and breadth of the country, and he will be considering what further steps are necessary. I know that he is making a statement later today, and we will bring forward a Budget in March. We all want to support small independent businesses on our high streets, which is precisely why I encourage the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to support the planning reforms that we have already introduced, such as the ability to build upwards, to bring more homes on to the high street and to turn a derelict or empty property in a town centre into something more useful for the future. Those are the ways that we attract private sector investment and enable small builders and entrepreneurs in Croydon, in Newark and in all parts of the country to face the future with confidence.
Private Rented Sector
The Government are committed to enhancing renters’ security by abolishing no-fault evictions. During the covid-19 pandemic, our collective efforts have been focused on protecting people during the outbreak. This has included introducing longer notice periods and preventing evictions at the height of the pandemic on public health grounds. We will introduce a renters’ reform Bill very soon.
I thank the Minister for her response. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of being evicted when the ban is lifted. The covid crisis has highlighted underlying problems in the private rented sector, including families being forced into expensive and insecure housing. Local organisations in my constituency, including Stockport Tenants Union and ACORN, have long campaigned to end section 21 evictions, but when will the Minister deliver her manifesto commitment to do the same?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are committed to abolishing no-fault evictions under section 21. Obviously, we have already taken some action. Last week, for example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State increased the ban on evictions for a further six weeks. We have also introduced six months’ notice, which means that people who receive an order now will find that it will not go through the courts until July. We are committed to making sure that we protect anybody who is suffering homelessness. That has been borne out by the level of investment that we have put into the sector during the pandemic. We will keep all these measures under review.
Millions of hard-working people are excluded from every covid scheme—newly self-employed or employed, small business owners, people with mixed employment, even some on maternity or paternity leave who have lost work because of covid but have little or no Government support. The Government’s own stats show that hundreds of thousands have fallen behind on rent. A loophole in the new evictions rules means that anyone with more than six months in arrears is at risk of eviction. When the Secretary of State said that no one should lose their home because of coronavirus, did he or did he not mean that?
I regret that the hon. Lady does not recognise the unprecedented steps that this Government have taken in an unprecedented global pandemic to support renters and people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping. Our data show that our measures to protect renters are working. We have had a 54% reduction in households owed a homelessness duty to the end of an assured tenancy from April to June compared with January to March. Ministry of Justice stats show no possessions recorded between April and September. We have put a ban on evictions, given a six-month notice period, extended buy-to-let mortgage holidays, provided £700 million to support rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness, provided 3,300 next steps accommodation, given £6.4 billion to local authorities to deal with the impact of covid, helped 29,000 people with Everyone In, and saw 19,000 move on to settled protection. The list goes on and on. We know that people are experiencing hardship in these times, and this Government will continue to review and take the necessary action to ensure people in this country are protected.
Covid-19: Local Authority Income
We are providing councils with comprehensive support for income lost due to the pandemic. We are extending the existing compensation scheme for lost sales, fees and charges income into 2021-22, and we have already paid councils £528 million under this scheme. We have introduced a local tax guarantee scheme for this financial year that provides 75% of irrecoverable losses in business rates and council tax, worth an estimated £800 million. We are also allowing councils to phase recovery of collection fund deficits over three years.
I very much welcome the incredible financial support provided to local authorities, particularly through the national leisure recovery fund. Does my hon. Friend agree that supporting council provision of health and leisure centres is vital in helping us to keep healthy and to support our mental wellbeing? Will he look at the situation in my local authorities, Runnymede and Elmbridge borough councils, and their individual leisure operator contracts and according liabilities, where those are in excess of the support provided by the scheme?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Leisure services play a vital role in helping people to be active, supporting physical and mental health, and bringing a wider range of community and wellbeing benefits. I can confirm that Runnymede and Elmbridge have each lodged an expression of interest as the first necessary step in the application process for the national leisure recovery fund; I believe that they will have submitted their completed applications before the deadline of 15 January. It is also worth noting that councils may be eligible for support from the sales, fees and charges scheme, which was recently extended into the first three months of 2021-22, but I am always more than happy to meet him to discuss this matter in more detail.
Leaseholders: Fire Safety Costs
We expect—and we are right to expect—developers, investors and building owners who have the means to pay to cover remediation costs themselves without passing on costs to leaseholders. In cases where this may not be possible and where there may be wider costs related to historical defects, we are keenly aware that leaseholders can face unforeseen costs. That is why we have introduced funding schemes, providing £1.6 billion to accelerate the pace of work and meet the costs of remediating high-risk and the most expensive defects. We are accelerating the work on a long-term solution, and are working to announce the findings of that as soon as possible.
The Government have always been right to say that leaseholders should not bear the costs of a scandal for which they bore no responsibility. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that it will be wholly—[Inaudible]—for them to be expected to meet the costs by way of a loan scheme supported by the Government, as is reported in some of the press? That would not be consistent with the Government’s policy or the Government’s word, would it?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he was breaking up a little, but I think we got the gist of his question. We have always been clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about fixing the costs of historical safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause. I fully understand the anxiety that they must all feel, particularly given the compounding challenges of the pandemic. That is why we are determined to remove the barriers to fixing those historical defects and to identify clear financial solutions to help protect those leaseholders while also, of course, protecting the taxpayer. We will update the House with further measures as soon as possible.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—happy new year to you. I am sure it would be remiss of me if I did not say that your local constituency football team have made rather a good start to this year.
In saying happy new year to the Minister as well, I am sure he would want it to be a happy new year for all leaseholders, but he did not really answer the question from the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). Even if a loan scheme were introduced to cover the costs of these defects, and even if it was a very low-interest scheme, that would still be a capital charge on properties—a capital charge that would be a considerable financial burden on leaseholders, would put many of them into negative equity, and would mean that their properties were unsaleable. Will the Minister accept that a loan scheme that puts an additional debt on leaseholders is not a fair way out of this problem and that he should instead look to the industry and to Government to cover the cost of putting these defects right?
The Chair of the Select Committee is absolutely right—we should look to developers and to building owners to remedy the defects in their buildings. We have made available to owners who are not able to remedy those defects quickly and effectively £1.6 billion in order to remedy those defects. As I said in my earlier answer, we do not want and we do not expect hard-pressed leaseholders to bear unfair costs of defects for which they are not responsible. That is why we are working quickly to bring forward a long-term solution to ensure that costs are met, that defects are remedied, and that the position that leaseholders find themselves in is remedied too.
A belated happy new year to you, Mr Speaker.
Clauses 88 and 89 of the Government’s proposed Building Safety Bill will impose a charge on leaseholders, not developers and not the industry. Ministers now refer to “affordable” cost and a 30-year loan on top of current debts, including for waking watch, which we still have no remedy to. Adding insult to injury, Ministers are trying to gag recipients of the building safety fund from speaking to the media. That is just not going to happen. Have Ministers learned nothing about transparency from the Grenfell inquiry? Is it not about time that Ministers stepped in and made sure that the developer community shoulder their responsibility for this mess?
The Government have stepped in: they have spent £1.6 billion of public money on remediating the most difficult and challenging buildings that require help and support. We have made a further £30 million available for waking watch. The Building Safety Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers—one of the most significant pieces of legislation in this Parliament —will be brought forward to make sure that building defects such as we have seen are things of the past. In the meantime, we will work at pace to find solutions that resolve the question of building defects such that we do not see hard-pressed leaseholders enduring difficult, unforeseen and unfair taxes. If those leaseholders wish to step forward and make comments themselves, who am I to say that they should not? We live in a free country; let them speak.
Waking Watch Relief Fund
We expect that the £30 million fund will be open this month, as I said earlier, with the aim to start providing funding for the installation of alarms as quickly as possible. We will work with local authorities and fire and rescue services on the delivery of the fund, and we expect to publish a prospectus with further information on the additional eligibility criteria and evidence requirements as soon as possible.
Residents of Royal Quarter, Kingston in my constituency have contacted me to say that their building has been assessed as having dangerous cladding, but they cannot apply to the waking watch fund, as their building is less than 18 metres tall. Leaving leaseholders to pick up the tab for remediating cladding means that many buildings will not be made safe in the near future. Will the Government commit to funding the remediation of cladding on all buildings as soon as possible, to ensure that they can be made safe, and then claim the money back from those responsible?
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question. In our response to this challenge, we have been guided by Dame Judith Hackitt, who advised that we should focus our attention specifically on buildings that are over 18 metres, and that is what we have done. We believe that the £30 million that we have made available will go a long way to helping with the waking watch challenges of many of those buildings. It still remains the responsibility of developers and owners to make safe the buildings that they own or are responsible for and to resolve the defects in them. That is the point I have made from this Dispatch Box before and which I make again today, and it is the point that the building safety Bill will help to remedy.
Local Government Powers
We are committed to levelling up across the United Kingdom by devolving directly to local areas, which understand the needs in their community and are best placed to take decisions over investments to drive economic growth and deliver services for their communities. From May this year, 41% of people in England will be living in areas with directly elected regional mayors, and we intend to bring forward the devolution and local recovery White Paper in due course.
I welcome the answer from the Minister. It is important that local government has the powers to deliver quality services, but unfortunately in Scotland the SNP Scottish Government have been grabbing powers back from local authorities for years. Does the Minister agree that we need to see Governments of all levels working together to ensure that British people get access to the services they deserve?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that devolution should be about delivering services that work for local people, which is why we are committed to devolution. We will need, at all levels of government across the country, to work together to achieve that and the best possible services for residents. We intend to bring forward the devolution and local recovery White Paper in due course, which will detail how we will partner with places across the UK to build a sustainable recovery. I can absolutely assure him that this Conservative Government will continue to set the pace on devolution.
The Government care deeply about building more homes and delivered more than 243,000 last year, the highest level for more than 30 years. We have gone to great lengths to keep the whole industry open during the pandemic, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs and livelihoods, while continuing to stimulate the market through our stamp duty cut. Covid will impact starts significantly, so we are taking steps to sustain activity, including delivering up to 180,000 homes through our £12 billion investment in affordable homes, the biggest investment of its kind for a decade.
There are about 100 small rural villages in my Gainsborough constituency, and I doubt there has been any building of social housing in any of them over the past 40 years. It is virtually impossible for young couples, who often do precisely the jobs we want in rural areas, to buy into villages. We do not want our English villages filled with people like me; we want young people. [Interruption.] That is the truth. Will the Secretary of State do a massive campaign, like the Macmillan campaign at the beginning of the 1950s, to build social housing and rent to buy in our rural villages in England?
Like my right hon. Friend, I want to see more homes of all kinds built in all parts of the country, and I want to deliver as many social and affordable homes as we possibly can. I was delighted that the Chancellor gave us the funding for the £12 billion affordable homes programme, which as I say is the largest for a decade. It has a target to deliver 10% of those homes in rural areas, so it should support his community in Lincolnshire.
To answer the broader question, rural areas need to consider how they can bring forward more land in the plan-making process in their neighbourhood plans for homes of all kinds. The current planning system permits local communities to choose the type of homes that they want, so when they allocate sites, they can say that they should be affordable homes, through which they can support the next generation. I do not think any village in this country should be deemed to be set in aspic. Organic growth has happened throughout the generations and can and should happen in the future.
My constituents particularly welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent announcements in respect of improving the circumstances of leaseholders and ensuring that overly tall buildings are not permitted to blight local neighbourhoods. When can we expect to see the benefit of those measures being implemented?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has done in this area, along with a number of his colleagues representing London constituencies. I have corresponded with the Mayor of London, directing him that in the forthcoming London plan there now be a tall buildings policy for London, which will ensure that every borough can determine if and where tall buildings should be built. We have no objection to tall buildings. London needs more housing, and that includes good-quality tall buildings, but it is fair for communities to decide where that should be focused. It may be in areas where there are existing clusters of tall buildings, such as Nine Elms or Canary Wharf, or it might be around transport infrastructure in other parts of the city, but we should be able to protect the character and feel of outer London and those parts of the suburbs that my hon. Friend represents, which deserve that added level of protection.
Hard-working young people saving up for their own home have been let down by successive Tory Governments, and this Government are missing their own target of increasing to 300,000 the number of homes built per year by the mid-2020s. The stamp duty holiday pushed prices out of reach of first-time buyers, and the first homes scheme built literally no homes. So what does the Secretary of State say to the young people whose dream of home ownership he has so badly let down?
Let us remember that the last Labour Government left house building in this country at its lowest ever level in peacetime—the lowest since the 1920s. The statistics that we published at the end of last year show that this Government are building more homes than any Government has built for almost 40 years, and were it not for covid, we would have built more homes than any Government since that in which Harold Macmillan was Housing Secretary many years ago.
We will keep on building more homes. We will keep on investing in homes through the affordable homes programme and more investment in brownfield land, and we will keep on bringing forward ambitious planning reforms to free up the planning system, to support small builders and entrepreneurs and to create and sustain jobs for the brickies, the plumbers and the self-employed people the length and breadth of the country who need a Conservative Government to be on their side. I would respectfully ask the hon. Lady to back us. She and her colleagues have voted against every single one of those measures since the pandemic. People across this country need those measures to get this country building and support jobs.
Housing Development Levies
Contributions from housing developers see around £7 billion a year invested back into communities, building more homes and vital infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, and helping to deliver more than 30,000 affordable homes last year. But, as my hon. Friend has raised with me a number of times, the system is still too long-winded and complex. To fix that, we will introduce a flat rate, non-negotiable single infrastructure levy. As set out in the “Planning for the future” White Paper, that will accelerate house building, aim to raise more revenue than under the current process and deliver at least as many on-site affordable homes. We will publish more details on this soon.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as raising more for the infrastructure that is needed to support new housing, more of the cost should be borne by developers rather than taxpayers, and that we should give more power, freedom and flexibility to local councils about how they spend those revenues in line with local priorities?
The current system is not successful. It leads to long-winded wrangling. It places the cards in the hands of big developers, rather than local councils, communities and, in particular, small developers, who find it too costly and complex to navigate. The new infrastructure levy will be simpler and more certain and, as my hon. Friend says, it will do two important things. First, it will raise a larger amount of money, capturing more of the uplift in land values, so that more money can be put at the disposal of local communities. Secondly, it will give greater freedom to local councils to decide how they choose to spend that, so that development can benefit communities in flexible ways.
Housing Need and Planning Reform
We regularly engage with the ONS on many issues, including the role of household projections within the local housing need standard method. The hon. Gentleman may also be interested to learn that, alongside the planning reform White Paper, Ministers and officials have hosted and attended a very large number of consultation events. We are always interested in working with stakeholders and experts on proposals, and we welcome the expertise that the ONS brings.
Like communities up and down the country, the people of Warwick and Leamington are extremely concerned about overdevelopment and, in villages such as Bishop’s Tachbrook, urban sprawl. When we look at the numbers from the district plan, we see 932 homes supposed to be built per year and the Government’s figure from their “malgorithm” is 910 homes per year, whereas the ONS estimates 623 properties a year and, likewise, Lichfields 627. There seems to be a huge disparity between the figures from the ONS and Lichfields versus those of the Government. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss and explain the reasons for that because, on the face of it, the figures do not stack up?
I am always happy, of course, to meet the hon. Gentleman, although he may be misinformed in so far as I think the local housing need for his own constituency and local authority is 627 a year, not the 910 that was projected in the Lichfields projections in the middle of last year. However, I am always very happy to meet him, and I am sure at that time he will be very keen also to put on record his great pleasure in receiving £10 million in future high streets funding for Leamington, because his Boxing day tweet, in which he seemed to rubbish this spending, did smack a little of “Bah, humbug!” It seems that Ebenezer Scrooge does not live simply in the mind of Charles Dickens; he is alive and well, and living somewhere in Warwick.
Regeneration: Towns and Cities
While we look to the future with optimism as our vaccine programme continues to make progress, we know that covid-19 has meant an unprecedented challenge for towns and high streets. That is why, last month, I announced a new urban centre recovery taskforce, bringing together local leaders and industry experts to help our cities and towns to adapt and take advantage of the new opportunities that may follow. This builds on our wider planning reforms, giving shop owners the flexibility to change the use of their property and to rebuild vacant properties as homes. All this comes on top of our £3.6 billion towns fund, the £4 billion levelling up fund and the new brownfield funding, all of which will ensure that towns have the investment they need to prosper.
I welcome the recently announced levelling up and brownfield funds. As we did not benefit in Stoke-on-Trent previously from similar funds, will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to ensure that we do not miss out this time on much-needed funding for towns such as Longton and Fenton in my constituency and for our entire city?
We will be publishing very soon the prospectus on the levelling-up fund, and that will give an opportunity for all parts of the country to benefit from this additional funding, including the community that my hon. Friend represents in Stoke-on-Trent. We also, as a result of his assiduous lobbying, have brought forward further funding for the remediation of brownfield land. Stoke-on-Trent has an excellent track record of developing new homes, but it does face significant challenges with the cost of remediation and the viability of those homes, so I hope Stoke-on-Trent will benefit from that funding as well.
Tremendous strides have been made in Aylesbury over the past year with the council and the town centre management team working incredibly hard, despite coronavirus, to make the town a place in which people want to live, work, shop, visit and invest. Proposals for the regeneration of the Market Square and Kingsbury Square will give a much-needed boost to the street scene, so could my right hon. Friend outline how the Government will assist ambitious local authorities such as Buckinghamshire Council to make plans for regeneration in Aylesbury a reality?
I am very pleased to hear that Aylesbury has made such progress with its regeneration plans, which will complement Buckinghamshire’s ambitious garden town project—to which we have already allocated over £172 million—to unlock 10,000 homes. My hon. Friend is right to say that this year a priority postcode for every single council in the country, including his own, must be how they can help their town centre to thrive, not just today but well into the future. That will include ambitious plans to turn underutilised retail into work spaces and homes, and trying to attract private sector investment by making full use of the planning reforms that we have brought forward, with a more flexible, more certain and more responsive system to make regeneration a reality.
I am delighted that high streets across the north-west will benefit from the future high street fund, including Kirkham in my constituency. However, seaside resorts such as St Anne’s that are already in need of regeneration have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, so what plans does the Department have to support the regeneration of this Lancashire coastal gem?
I was very pleased to announce last month that Kirkham will benefit from our future high streets fund, receiving over £6 million, which will go a long way to support its ambitious plans. Not only that, but my hon. Friend’s constituents will no doubt benefit, in part at least, from the £39.5 million that we have awarded to nearby Blackpool, which will help to revitalise the town and fund several projects, including modernising the illuminations, so that they can be brighter than ever later this year. He is right that as a seaside town St Anne’s faces some very significant challenges, which he and I have spoken about in the past. We have provided over £230 million of support to other coastal towns in England through the coastal communities fund, and coastal communities will be very much in our thoughts in the £4 billion levelling-up fund and also as part of the UK shared prosperity fund, both of which we will be publishing prospectuses for very soon.
Over Christmas the Government announced the 72 recipients of our £830 million future high streets fund competition, enabling the delivery by councils of ambitious plans for regeneration. Councils are once again critical to the covid-19 pandemic, and our focus in the coming weeks will be on ensuring that they play a full and supportive role in the vaccination programme, especially ensuring that the hardest to reach in each of their communities are protected and vaccinated.
The work that communities have done in protecting some of the most vulnerable in society—rough sleepers—has truly been first-class. Last week, I announced the next phase of our strategy, which has been widely praised as one of the most successful of its kind in the world, and which has already committed over £700 million in the past year to supporting rough sleepers and the homeless.
The Prime Minister and I have been clear that central to this Government’s mission is the Conservative party’s promise of home ownership, helping more people to achieve the dream of owning their own home. Our landmark leasehold reforms are the next step in that great tradition. We are putting an end to practices that for far too long have soured the dream of home ownership for millions, and preparing the way for a better system altogether with the active promotion of commonhold.
Notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has just said about our councils being at the frontline of this pandemic, in addition to general grants Bucks council has received £200 million across 25 specific grants as at the end of the last year, but they are subject, I am afraid, to myriad conditions. For example, it has been told that the contain outbreak management fund cannot be used to support local businesses. Surely the Secretary of State can see that it would be better to give our councils the freedom and flexibility to deploy those grants in a way that best meets the needs of their communities, as, after all, they are really facing the danger we all fear?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Local councils have done a fantastic job, but they have limited capacity and in many cases they are close to the limit of that capacity. We are very aware of that. I am urging my colleagues in Cabinet and across Government to prioritise carefully their asks of local government, to ensure that the schemes they bring forward are as simple as possible to reduce the burden on local councils. My long-standing view is that we should be providing funding in almost every case to local councils on an un-ring-fenced basis. That is certainly the way we have proceeded in general throughout the pandemic. We have provided £54 million of un-ring-fenced funding to her local council on top of, as she said, a whole range of schemes to support local businesses and the care sector.
The Secretary of State has taken the extraordinary decision not to challenge the opening of a new deep coal mine in Cumbria. In the year the UK is hosting COP26, we need to show an example to the rest of the world. The application is of national, even global, importance and demands his intervention. Will he now commit to block this disastrous application? If he will not, will he tell the House how he expects anyone to take the Government seriously ever again on tackling climate change?
I cannot comment on an individual application, other than to say that a decision not to call in an application is not a decision on the merits of a particular case. It is a decision on whether it meets the bar to bring in a case and have it heard on a national scale, or whether, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, it is better left to local democratically elected councillors, in this case in Cumbria. It is those councillors who will now make the decision. The national planning policy framework presents a balanced judgment that they will have to make, balancing our national presumption against new coal with any particular benefits that a project might bring to that community in terms of jobs, skills and economic benefit. That is a decision that in this case will be made by the democratically elected members on Cumbria County Council.
In November, the Secretary of State promised me that more details about the replacement of EU structural funds would be revealed in the spending review. They weren’t. The Scottish Government and councils have been left in the dark about the future of the UK shared prosperity fund. Why did the Secretary of State break his promise in November, and where is the so-called respect agenda for devolved nations?
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. We said at the spending review that we are bringing forward not just the UK shared prosperity fund but £220 million of additional funding on top of that to support local communities in all parts of the country, including Scotland. We will shortly be publishing the prospectus. I hope he will now take this occasion to welcome the fact that not only will Scottish residents and businesses receive as much funding as they would have received had we stayed in the European Union, but £220 million more than that. We are more than meeting our commitment to his electors in Scotland.
I am glad the Secretary of State has touched on that, because Scotland’s share of the measly £220 million of transition funding to replace structural funds will be £18 million. If Scotland was an independent member of the European Union, it could expect to receive over £121 million at the very least. How can he claim that the shared prosperity fund is replacing lost EU funds when Scotland is receiving less than a sixth of what it would if it had stayed in the European Union?
The hon. Gentleman needs to do his sums again, if he is fully abreast of what is happening. The EU structural funds will continue for the coming year at the level they would have been at had we remained a member. The Chancellor has chosen, in addition to that funding, to add £220 million more. The hon. Gentleman does not know the proportion of that going to Scotland, because we will publish that in the prospectus. The figure he quotes is the one set by the European Union, so his objection is to the way in which the European Union chooses to divide up its structural funds to support local communities, not to the way that this Government can. Fortunately, as a result of leaving the European Union we can make our own decisions in the weeks and months ahead.
My hon. Friend has already secured, as he says, the town deal for Ashfield, and the good news over the Christmas period is that it will also benefit from the high streets fund. We have been supporting Eastwood under this Government. The redevelopment of Mushroom Farm has received £160,000 for new commercial space for small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs in his constituency, but I would be very happy to meet him and see what more we might be able to do, so that all the investment that we have brought to Ashfield is also spread to Eastwood.
We have been very clear that the further work that we are doing now, building on the hugely successful Everyone In scheme, will be available to all individuals. Councils need to apply the law and that means making an individual assessment, but the unique circumstances of winter and the pandemic will mean that councils will use that to support more people off the streets and, importantly, to view this as a moment not just to support them now, but to get them GP-registered so that, in due course, they can be vaccinated, so we lead the world in supporting this vulnerable group and ensuring that they are fully vaccinated.
I do remember that visit to Dinnington when my hon. Friend was a candidate, and I was delighted that he was later elected. He has assiduously made the point that we need to think about smaller towns and larger villages in the preparation of our plans, whether that is the levelling-up fund or the UK shared prosperity fund. I appreciate that in places such as south Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, there are small communities, perhaps ex-steel and ex-coalfield communities, where the need is great and where we need to ensure that investment arrives. That will very much be in our minds as we prepare the prospectus for the levelling-up fund.
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she campaigns hard for her constituents on this issue. On 21 January—in a little under two weeks’ time—we will be able to release the latest figures on the remediation of aluminium composite material cladding. We believe that, by that time, we should show that around 95% of the buildings identified at the start of last year—having such safety defects—will have had their work either completed or it will be under way. We are absolutely committed to resolving this issue for leaseholders. That is why we are accelerating the work to find a package that will ensure that they are not left disadvantaged.
My hon. Friend is one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful Members of the House on this subject, which he and I have discussed many times. Fewer than one in five children from a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller background meets the expected standard for English and maths at GCSE. I am firmly committed to delivering a cross-Government strategy to improve life chances in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and, as my hon. Friend says, to encourage greater integration, particularly in education. In the depths of the pandemic, my Department has invested £400,000 in education and training programmes for GRT children, so that they can receive extra tuition and catch up on lost learning.
The hon. Lady misrepresents even what the Public Accounts Committee had to say about the towns fund; I urge her to re-read what it said and not to be so liberal with her language. I can assure her that the high streets fund used a 100% competitive process, and Ministers had no say in choosing the places selected.
If fault lies anywhere, I am afraid it lies with the hon. Lady’s local council, because despite our giving it hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce plans, and despite the no doubt great need in the community, it failed to put forward proposals that met the Treasury’s basic benefit-cost ratio value-for-money standard. That is a great pity. The people of her local community have missed out, but if the blame lies anywhere, it lies with her local council.
Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have a short statement to make about the events at the Capitol in Washington DC last Wednesday and Thursday. Like many hon. Members, I was shocked and dismayed by the events that took place. I wrote a personal letter to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to offer my solidarity—not least at the trashing and occupation of her office. Since I wrote the letter, we have learned of the very sad death of Officer Brian D. Sicknick. Elected representatives in the House and the Senate, and the staff who support them, showed great courage in ensuring that the democratic process was delayed but not stalled. I am sure I speak for all hon. Members in passing on our best wishes to them all and our condolences to the family and colleagues of Officer Sicknick.
Before I bring in the Chancellor, I just mention that Chorley had a great win, by the way.
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?