I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to support businesses and individuals still struggling as a result of the coronavirus crisis in the forthcoming budget by extending business rates relief for at least another six months, extending the temporary 5 per cent reduced rate of VAT for three months after restrictions are lifted or for another six months, whichever is later, helping British businesses struggling under the burden of Government-guaranteed debt by ensuring that small businesses can defer paying loans back until they are growing again, extending and reforming the furlough scheme so that it lasts whilst restrictions are in place and demand is significantly reduced, immediately confirming that the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant will be set at 80 per cent of pre-coronavirus crisis profits and extending eligibility to that scheme to include anyone with a 2019-20 tax return and fixing the gaps in coronavirus support schemes to support those who have been excluded from the beginning of the crisis; and further calls on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a monthly oral statement to Parliament updating the House on these matters.
Today’s debate takes place almost a year after the first introduction of national lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic. We all know how trying events since then have been for families and businesses up and down our country, and now, thanks to the vaccine and the incredible work of NHS staff and volunteers, there is real hope that before long we can return to some semblance of normality. While there are grounds for optimism, however, we on the Labour Benches know that there are still deep worries among many businesses and working people about whether their firms and jobs will still be viable when the restrictions are lifted. So many people are concerned about whether they will have a job to return to, and millions of people who have gone for almost a year without support are questioning how they will manage to get by until our economy reopens.
What people want and need right now is clarity. They need a sign that the Government get it, and that they understand and can respond to the needs of businesses and workers who have been placed under such incredible pressure through no fault of their own. The Prime Minister’s road map provides tentative suggestions about when businesses may be able to reopen, but we did not hear how the Government will be able to help to tide them over until that time. As with almost every major announcement throughout this crisis, we have had an update on the restrictions but no update on the economic support. It is not even clear whether the Chancellor believes that there is a relationship between restrictions and additional support, or whether he believes that businesses and workers should simply be grateful for what they have got. He may not be here today—it is becoming clear that accountability is very much not part of his brand—but we should be in no doubt about the harm that this approach has caused. Our country has endured the worst economic crisis of any major economy. Throughout the crisis, Ministers have made the same mistakes time and again and been forced to play catch-up at every turn, long after the problems with support have become apparent.
Whether the Chancellor is being careless or negligent, his approach is the opposite of what businesses need, which is the provision of certainty and assurance so that they can plan ahead. Where issues exist, they expect Government action to address them; they do not expect problems to be dumped in the “too difficult” box. There are few more egregious examples of that than the Chancellor’s persistent failure to help the excluded—the people who fall into the gaps between Government schemes. These are people who have taken risks by starting their own businesses, or perhaps they were changing jobs, but through no fault of their own they have been denied support since the start of the pandemic.
For many months, Labour has called on the Government to fix these problems. At first, Ministers said that it was not practical to do so, and of course we accept that in those fast-moving few weeks right at the start, that was fair enough, but now, almost a year on since the start of restrictions, how can this possibly be justified when the solutions are in plain sight? I repeat my call to the Minister today: when are the Government going to do what is right and fix the gaps in their support schemes? Labour recognises the value that self-employed workers bring to our economy. We want to see people taking risks, becoming entrepreneurs and helping to build the fairest possible recovery and a dynamic economy. That is why we would help those who are excluded from support by extending eligibility for the self-employed income support scheme to anyone with a 2019-20 tax return, and it is why we are asking the Government today to confirm that the fourth self-employed income support scheme grant will be paid at 80% of pre-crisis profits.
Is the shadow Minister aware that those who are self-employed make up some 15% of our workforce? A survey that came out in September 2020 found that 64% of those self-employed people said that they were less likely to be, or unsure whether they wanted to be, self-employed or freelance workers in the future. Does that not tell us that we will be in deep trouble if we do not sort this out right now?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we start to emerge from the crisis phase of the pandemic, we want to encourage people to take that risk and start up their own business. The self-employed and people starting small businesses were central to driving the recovery post-2008, and we want them to be part of the answer right now, but that requires Government action to ensure that people can get through the difficult weeks and months that still lie ahead.
We would work within the parameters of the scheme that has been set out, with the extension around 2019-20. We understand that, at the start of the pandemic, when it was not possible to draw upon those tax returns, there was an argument, but the position has now changed and we are calling on Ministers to reflect and to reconsider their position in the interest of fairness, and also to ensure that self-employed people can keep their businesses going through this very difficult time for our economy.
It does rather disadvantage Members who are not here if I take further interventions, I am afraid.
It is not just the self-employed who need greater clarity at this time, but workers and businesses, large and small, right across our country. That is why what Labour is calling for is grounded in the concerns that we hear from them. I heard such concerns myself last week, when I met small business owners from Teesside in Cumbria, echoing those I have heard time and again from businesses right across our country. From the future of the furlough scheme to the considerable debt that many have accumulated since the start of the pandemic, there is huge worry about the decisions they will have to make over the coming months, and Government inaction is making those pressures worse. It is why the Labour party has set out the constructive steps that we would take to support businesses—steps like extending the scheme. We know that 4.6 million workers are still on furlough. Every day that passes without the Chancellor explaining how long it will last puts more of those jobs at risk, and that is why he should commit now to extending the scheme in line with the health restrictions remaining in place.
More than that: the Chancellor should undertake the common-sense reforms that we have called for, with new training to help furloughed workers improve their skills, alongside tough conditions on employers to stop abuse. We also want to see far more done to give businesses breathing space, by temporarily extending reduced VAT rates and also extending business rates relief for at least another six months.
The Government could do much worse than to learn from the example of the Labour-run Welsh Government. They have consistently offered more generous support for businesses through a more targeted and responsible approach, capping rates to free up extra money to support those who need it the most. It is a reminder of the values of Labour in government: prepared to take difficult but responsible decisions to support businesses properly throughout this crisis. Those values could not be further from the approach taken by this Government, who only next month will demand that businesses start paying back covid loans. These economically illiterate plans risk crushing British business and our recovery under a mountain of debt. Not only do hundreds of thousands of businesses risk going bust, but the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab if billions are lost in defaulted loans. The Government should heed our calls to ensure that smaller businesses start repaying bounce back loans only when they are growing again, to help secure jobs and our economic recovery.
Measures like these could have been announced long before now, and could be rolled out immediately if the Government had the political will. However, once again, businesses and workers are being forced to endure an excruciating and inexcusable wait so that the Chancellor can have his day in the sun at next month’s Budget—more proof, as if it were needed, that it feels sometimes that he is more interested in boosting his own brand than he is in supporting hard-pressed British businesses. It is a reminder of what Labour would do to secure our economy, compared with the Tory incompetence and indecision that risks derailing our recovery; a Labour party that is responsible and on the side of families and businesses compared to the Tory party that simply will not listen. Above all, we are a Labour party that believes that by working with business and trade unions, we can emerge from this crisis with a fairer and stronger economy and build a more prosperous future.
We have heard from the Labour party that, rather than look at the public finances as a whole, as the Chancellor is about to do in a week’s time in his considered response to the road map, they would act ad hoc. This Government believe that we should indeed look at the economy as a whole and at the businesses that need that support.
We resolved to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, and to support businesses and public services across the UK through the challenge of covid-19, and that is what we have done, with immediate support on a scale unmatched in recent history. To date, the Government have spent £280 billion more than that, providing certainty over the course of this pandemic, even as measures to prevent further spread of the virus have changed.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced our road map out of the current lockdown in England. Businesses have called for clarity and a road map to lead the country out of restrictions, and the Government have responded. The design of the road map has been informed by the latest scientific evidence. It seeks a balance between our key social and economic priorities while preserving the health and safety of the country. Every step to ease restrictions will be taken at the same time across England, in a national approach. The road map is yet another example of the support that this Government have provided, giving businesses and individuals up and down the country the clarity to plan ahead and manage everything from staff to supplies. In next week’s Budget, the Chancellor will set out the next phase in our economic support package to reflect the steps set out in the Prime Minister’s road map, including further detail on economic support to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK. As the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said previously, this Government are committed to doing whatever it takes to support our country throughout the covid pandemic, and that support will continue.
We have introduced an unprecedented package of support for businesses that have been severely affected by restrictions. Businesses that are legally required to close may be eligible for grants of up to £4,500 per six weeks of closure. The closed business lockdown payment has provided critical support to closed businesses during this difficult spring period, with additional grants of up to £9,000. Just for the period of national lockdown, the support for closed businesses will amount to more than £6 billion. Discretionary support has been made available to support those businesses that have not been mandated to close, but that have had their trade adversely affected by the restrictions.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) talked about the excluded. Does my hon. Friend agree that the discretionary grant is a fine example of how we can get funding to those who have fallen through the gaps? Does he also agree that councils should be urged to consider all businesses, including those that are home-based?
The discretionary grant is there to show flexibility. Local authorities have been charged to come up with their own plans to reflect their own local economies and their own needs in order to capture as many people and businesses as possible.
In January, the Chancellor announced that a further £500 million of discretionary funding was being made available to local authorities. That is in addition to £1.1 billion already allocated back in November 2020. That business grant scheme has continued to provide business with vital funding during both the national and local restrictions.
One way the Government could help the self-employed is to provide some help with low tax returns for 2019-20 to be included in the SEISS claims. Would the Government, or the Minister, consider that as a possible option to help those self-employed people who are under real pressure?
I have met representatives from ExcludedUK. We continue to talk to them, we continue to flex and we continue to work out what more we can do to help the economy and to help jobs and livelihoods. The Chancellor will set out his position next week.
In addition to the grant schemes, businesses have received £70 billion in loan guarantees as of 24 January. That has provided a lifeline to more than 1.5 million businesses across the nations and regions of the UK. We have extended the application deadline to apply for those loans to the end of March 2021.
Last year, we changed the bounce back loan scheme rules to allow those businesses that had originally borrowed less than their maximum to top up their existing loans. We also announced the pay as you grow measures, which give all businesses that borrowed under the bounce back loans the option to repay their loan over a period of up to 10 years and to access an additional six months repayment holiday as well as interest-only repayment periods.
On 8 February, we announced that these measures will be made more generous, removing the requirement to make six payments before accessing the six months repayment holiday. Businesses can use these options either individually or in combination with each other, and lenders have begun contacting borrowers to let them know how they can access the pay as you grow measures. These flexible repayment options will give businesses the time that they need to recover from the pandemic and the confidence to build back better.
The Chancellor has also announced our intention to allow lenders to extend the repayment for coronavirus business interruption loans where this is needed to a maximum of 10 years, and we have announced that more support will be available beyond March through a successor loan scheme, more details of which will be announced in due course.
From the outset of this pandemic, we have acted decisively to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods. The coronavirus job retention scheme, the first intervention of its kind in UK history, delivers country-wide support to protect millions of British workers. It has already helped 1.2 million employers across the UK furlough 9.9 million jobs. That scheme has been extended until the end of April 2021 for all parts of the UK, but the Chancellor has always been clear that the Government will keep the situation under review, adapting their approach as the context evolves. The Government will set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and to protect jobs at the Budget next week.
A healthy hospitality sector is critical for the UK economy. It not only accounts for 2.4 million jobs and generates more than £59 billion of economic benefit, but underpins other economic sectors, including tourism and, indeed, our high streets. It is also an important part of our society, supporting social cohesion, cultural integration and mental health. It is a gathering place for communities, and we must continue to support it. The pandemic has hit the hospitality sector hard. I have worked extremely closely with the sector since March 2020 to understand the issues as far as possible so that we can strike the right balance between restrictions and business support.
Not only have the Government provided over £280 billion to support businesses, including hospitality, but we have provided support for commercial rents and deregulated to allow the better use of public spaces for outdoor hospitality. We will continue to keep all that support under review. I want the sector to open up. I want businesses to start to recover and thrive, but it must be done safely, led by the data, as the Prime Minister outlined yesterday.
The retail sector is vital not only to the UK economy, but to the communities that it serves, and I am grateful for the continued efforts of those retail staff who have kept this crucial service going throughout. I recognise that the pandemic has impacted on the sector in different ways and brought significant challenges, but while we have seen a welcome boost in the food sector and online sales, we have also witnessed a more challenging outlook for those not permitted to open, and I appreciate that it has been a really uncertain time for many retail staff. Regrettably, we have seen the closure of some well-known household retail brands, with resulting job losses, impacting on young people and women in particular.
The Government have acted to support as many businesses and employees as possible with that economic package worth over £280 billion, and those measures are carefully designed to complement one another to ensure that we protect jobs and livelihoods. However, as I said, we cannot save every business or job and the support can in no way fully compensate businesses for the loss of trade as a result of the restrictions. Retailers, pubs and hotels have been able to benefit from 100% business rates relief, worth about £10 billion in total, and we have frozen the business rates multiplier for 2021-22, saving businesses in England £575 million over the next five years.
I know that many businesses are eager for an extension to the rates relief beyond the current financial year. The next round of covid-19 support measures will be set out in the Budget next week, but the Prime Minister has written to local authorities in the meantime advising them to delay issuing business rates bills until after the Budget, which, hopefully is good news for businesses.
I know that businesses may be disappointed by the decision to delay publication of the final report into the fundamental review of business rates until the autumn, but an interim report will be published on 23 March, and the final report will be published once there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and public finances. I encourage the sector to continue engaging with Government on these important issues.
Supporting people back into employment is also a key priority. Our plan for jobs includes a series of measures to protect, support and create jobs, and we are helping those who have lost jobs in the pandemic back into employment through our job entry targeted support programme. A £2 billion kickstart scheme has also been launched to create opportunities for young people, and we are taking action to help the high street to evolve. In September 2020, we brought forward over £80 million-worth of investment to support immediate improvements in 101 towns selected for deals to build back better in the wake of covid-19.
On 26 December 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government confirmed £255 million for 15 areas for the future high streets fund, with a further 57 areas receiving provisional funding offers totalling up to £576 million. We are also launching a £4 billion levelling-up fund, investing in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people and their communities and supporting economic recovery. We will publish a prospectus for that fund soon.
To date, we have provided the largest package of emergency support in post-war history. As highlighted by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England, without the action taken by the Government, the outlook could be so much worse. The co-ordinated approach of the UK’s authorities has also been praised internationally by the International Monetary Fund as one of the best examples of co-ordinated action globally that has helped to mitigate the damage, holding down unemployment and insolvencies. Given the current climate, it is right that we focus on supporting individuals and businesses through the pandemic. In the past, the Government have ensured that businesses and people have that certainty by extending the furlough and business grants. The announcements at the Budget will reflect the steps set out in the Prime Minister’s road map, ensuring that the next phase of our economic support package continues to deliver tailored support for individuals and businesses.
What businesses want now is that road map. They want to able to give a safe and warm welcome back to their customers, clients and people using their services, but in the meantime, as the Chancellor will set out next week, we will continue to work with businesses and individuals to protect jobs and livelihoods as we see the light at the end of the tunnel in this pandemic.
I am pleased to speak in this debate and to confirm that the Scottish National party will support the motion if it comes to a vote. I do not want to eat too much into the time available for the large number of Back Benchers who wish to speak, so I shall look in detail at only a small number of the items in the Labour motion. Given that so many of the main asks in the motion have been publicly supported by some highly influential Tory MPs, including a number of members of the Treasury Committee, I look forward to the Government’s supporting the motion if a vote is called later.
We support the call for business rates relief to be extended. Scotland’s Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, made a similar request in a letter to the Chancellor on 27 January, ahead of the Scottish Budget. The SNP Scottish Government have led the way in reducing the rates bills of businesses in key sectors and of small businesses in particular. For example, the small business bonus scheme meant that last year 117,000 business properties in Scotland were paying no rates at all. Some 95% of all Scottish business properties have a lower rate poundage than they would have anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In addition, the businesses worst affected by covid restrictions—those in retail, tourism, hospitality and aviation—will pay no rates at all during the next financial year.
Given that the leader of the Tory party in Scotland and his colleagues demanded, ahead of the Scottish Budget, that
“retail, hospitality and leisure businesses”
“certainty that they will not face full business rates in the next financial year”,
it is a wee bit disappointing that they do not seem so keen to speak up in this debate for hard-pressed businesses in other parts of this precious Union of theirs. I am sure they will do the decent thing and support the motion later.
We fully support the call to extend the 5% VAT rate, but I do not think it goes far enough, because if the sectors we are talking about currently have a 5% VAT rate, for all they know, their VAT bill could increase by 300% in just five weeks’ time. Nobody can run a business with that degree of uncertainty, so the Government need to make it clear tonight—not next week or in two or three weeks’ time—that that 5% VAT rate will be extended.
We need to start to take decisions now, based on the long-term interests of the economy, about the unprecedented levels of debt with which millions of businesses are saddled. They have had to borrow heavily, often through Government-backed schemes, to survive the first year of lockdown; they are not going to be in a position to repay those debts next year, or any time in the next two years.
In addition to supporting the call for small businesses to be allowed to defer the repayments on their loans, the SNP wants to go further. In the previous economic crisis, the Government spent huge amounts of our money on bailing out the self-same banks that were responsible for the problem; surely, it is not too much to ask that we should now give the same kind of support to the more than 5 million small businesses that have done nothing wrong and could play a vital part in our post-covid recovery. We therefore call on the Government to agree to write off the bounce back loan debts of small and medium-sized businesses and to look carefully at proposals from organisations such as TheCityUK that covid debts should be converted into equity or contingent tax liability, so that the public sector retains an interest in the business and the business is not forced to go to the wall because of a lack of cash.
My support, and that of my party, for the excluded 3 million is well documented, so I will not go into it in detail. All I will say is that, when I have raised the exclusion of those people with representatives of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs through the Public Accounts Committee, I have been given the excuse that it was not possible to set up a scheme quickly. It is now almost a year since the first lockdown was announced. The reason so many self-employed people and owners of small businesses are still excluded is nothing to do with the Government’s not being able to help them; it is to do with the Government’s not being prepared to help them. For the party that claims to be the party of small business, that is an absolute disgrace.
In the interests of brevity, I bring my remarks to a close with a final observation: the British Government are the only one of the four UK national Governments who have the full range of taxation and borrowing powers necessary to deliver on what the motion asks for. I cannot speak for the people of Wales or Northern Ireland, but I know that as far as my constituents and the people of Scotland are concerned, if the British Government are not prepared to use their powers to get Scotland’s businesses back on track and back into business, they should devolve those powers to a national Government who will.
I remind hon. Members that there is now a three-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. When that limit is in effect, a countdown clock is visible on the screens of hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For those participating physically in the Chamber, the usual clock will operate.
I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Now is not the time for tax rises. Now is the time to promote a vigorous recovery as soon as it is safe to do so. Yes, the deficit is far too large, but it is affordable as long as it is a one-off. The deficit is the product of sensible support for individuals and businesses when they were locked out or closed down, and it was sensible support for the economy as a whole at a time when tax revenues had fallen sharply because people were not allowed to go to work and businesses were not allowed to trade. The way out of all that is not tax rises that would sap confidence and undermine business cash flows even more. The way out is a vigorous recovery that will replace lost revenues, and reduce the need for the support that the Government have rightly produced for small businesses and individuals.
What businesses and individuals will need is turnover, orders and work. I ask all Government Departments—led, probably, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—to look at how the UK Government can make more work available. The Government have mighty procurement programmes, so when we are building great new railway lines, let us ensure that it is UK steel for the tracks and that it is UK-produced trains with plenty of components and value added, as well as the assembly work taking place in the United Kingdom.
As the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs designs new grants and loans schemes, it should be promoting British food and agriculture at the same time as taking care of environmental concerns. There is a great opportunity to reduce the amount of imported food and to substitute Great British food from our farms and fishing grounds.
BEIS itself leads on energy. Why are we importing so much energy through interconnectors? Can we not have another round of capacity procurement so that we have future electricity generation here in Britain? We have plenty of means of generating power; surely we can harness that. The Government should want to greatly expand the electricity output of this country because they want to unleash on us a great electric revolution in transport, space heating and powering our factories, so let us make the provision early. Let us invest now for the future so that we have that electric power when it comes to be needed.
A number of businesses have been very badly damaged by lockdown and shut-out, and I am glad that the Government are making some money available to them. I urge them to be generous. It was not those businesses’ fault and we need them to be there when we have recovery. Small businesses and the self-employed are mightily flexible, but they cannot survive on thin air, and they will need to repay their debts, so give them some turnover and some tax cuts.
The Government’s approach to business support through this latest lockdown does not match the scale of need. The hair and beauty industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Some parts of the industry were not able to open after the first lockdown, and businesses were operating at a significantly reduced capacity in order to adhere to covid-safe practices. Those that were eligible for grants and loans have found that they have not covered costs. Bills still need to be paid and, where rent is covered, energy bills, insurance, website costs, booking system costs, pay, national insurance and pension contributions are not.
The owner of Beauty of Bedford wrote to me, saying, “The hair and beauty industry contributes £9.2 billion annually to Britain’s economy, with a workforce of over 288,000. The beauty industry plays a big role in our high street.” To ensure the survival of SMEs, the Government must introduce targeted financial support packages for industries such as hair and beauty.
Business support should not be a postcode lottery, and the burden should not be placed on local authorities, whose pandemic costs have nowhere near been met by central Government. In Bedford and Kempston, for instance, businesses that do not have commercial premises have lost out on grants. That is hitting small businesses such as self-employed beauticians and others who have home offices or operate outside, such as self-employed taxi and private hire drivers. The self-employed—especially those who have yet to receive a penny of support from the Government—are facing ruin. Once upon a time, the Tories claimed to be the party of business, but they have left millions of self-employed people to rot. If these people are ignored again in the Budget, there is little hope left. Many of them cannot limp on until 12 April. Taxi drivers certainly cannot.
This week, taxi and private hire drivers in Bedford and Kempston had their licence fees waived by the council, but that is just a sticking plaster for most. It does not put money in their hands, which is what they need to look after their families. The additional restrictions grant system is just not working for them. Too many are falling through the gaps, and there is not a welfare safety net to catch them. What do the Government expect these people without income to do? They need help, and they need help now from this Government. The self-employed business owners I have spoken to are a resilient bunch. They have worked hard to get where they are. They really do not want to be reliant on the Government; they just need some support—
It is easy to forget the empty streets and people’s concern about not just their health and their families but their personal financial circumstances when coronavirus first arose. But when this generation’s political memoirs have been well and truly pulped and accurate history books are written, I think it will still be considered the Chancellor’s own personal achievement to have mobilised the economic resources of this country to stabilise the economic outlook.
Labour Members cry for certainty about future support, yet they would huff and puff if the Budget were leaked today. The PM was clear yesterday that the Government will not pull the plug on support. Surely no one can deny the extent to which the Government have taken extraordinary steps to protect jobs and livelihoods. The furlough scheme has protected some 10 million jobs to maintain that crucial link with employment and make sure it is not severed permanently. I do not accept that that is money wasted, as the shadow Foreign Secretary described it. I hope that some thought can be given to how a cliff edge in the furlough can be avoided, so that we can gradually reallocate the labour force to the most productive parts of the economy.
The necessary extension to the furlough should be made in lockstep with decisions relating to both levels of benefits and wider fiscal measures. We have seen a vital uplift in universal credit of £20 a week. I have frequently urged the Chancellor to extend that, and I do so again. But we run the risk of being beguiled into thinking that that is the sole weapon in the Government’s armoury to reduce the financial impact of covid and improve financial resilience. Critics seem to wholly overlook the relaxation of the universal credit minimum income floor for the self-employed, as well as the significant increase in local housing allowance.
The best help we can render right now is not so much retrospective help but ensuring that the economy is relaunched successfully, with no return to lockdown, so as to restart both cash flow and economic activity. More importantly, we need to think creatively of future fiscal measures to unleash the spirit of free enterprise in a post-covid economy. Representing an area dominated by the hospitality sector, where unemployment is currently at 9.1%, I naturally join the sector in exhorting the Chancellor to maintain the 5% VAT reduction to help repair balance sheets, as well as extending the business rates holiday.
The Government’s measures to support jobs and livelihoods have been broad and deep. We know that they cannot endure forever, so the question we must answer is about how we transition from financial decisions taken in the early stages of the pandemic to post-pandemic spending that does not have a detrimental impact on my constituents’ financial resilience in what will still be very difficult times.
Yesterday, I raised with the Prime Minister the shocking fact that more than a quarter of my constituents over 70 have yet to be vaccinated, and that for some ethnic minority groups the figure is more than half. I raised it with the Health Secretary today. I will go on doing so until there is some sign that the Government have a strategy for dealing with disparities in the roll-out of the vaccine. I made this point in the debate on the economic effects of the pandemic, because health and solvency are two sides of the same coin, and those most at risk from the virus are often those with the least financial security, including those running small businesses.
The greater caution and method in the Prime Minister’s road map is to be welcomed. It is a pity we did not see that as we emerged from the first lockdown, or even the second. Controlling the virus, saving lives and protecting vulnerable and at-risk people must be our priority and the “not before” dates and a more realistic timetable are a step forward, but—there is always a but—the corollary to this approach has to be a greater determination to protect individuals and businesses whose livelihoods are endangered by the virus and our steps to beat it. The fact that this crisis has run for almost a year and that there is now a timetable out of it makes it more, not less, necessary to offer practical financial support.
Furlough and other general relief schemes, cuts in VAT and business rates have been essential and must continue, but other steps have not followed. As a result, many businesses that were viable and are potentially viable will fail before lockdown ends unless Government help is maintained and extended. Some of those businesses have received little or no assistance thus far—I think of the events industry, weddings and hospitality, all over-represented in my constituency, but I also think of the businesses that supply those sectors and the freelancers and self-employed traders who work in them. Above all, I think of the 3 million excluded from relief by the Chancellor despite the overwhelming lobbying from Members from all parties.
I mention just a few examples from Hammersmith. I have businesses supplying desserts and linen to the hospitality and catering sector. I have people who run car washes who are not allowed to trade, when garages with car washes are. I have warehouses that are not classified as qualifying for support. I have travel agents who have had to pay back moneys given to them but who are not in a position to claim rates relief themselves. The Government are familiar with these examples. They know what needs to be done. Sadly, the response to my constituents has been slow and inadequate thus far. I ask the Government to, please, at this crucial point, hear the voice of those who will sustain this country’s economy going forward. Do not let us fail when the end may at last be in sight.
I begin by welcoming the road map set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday. It will unlock our economy. I believe this plan is a measured, sensible and constructive approach. It is good to know that the British Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and businesses across the country have all acknowledged that it provides much needed clarity going forward. The road map offers hope to the nation that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that businesses will acknowledge the progress on easing restrictions and I welcome the speech today from my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business, who I know speaks regularly to small and medium-sized enterprises. This is a pro-business Government and we are listening to their views.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on all his work and the measures that he has put in place over the last year to help individuals and businesses and to maintain jobs. The Government’s main focus over the year has been to control and defeat the virus and implement the necessary measures to keep people safe, protect our NHS and assist individuals and businesses to survive financially at this time, with one of the most generous and effective support packages in the world, amounting to £280 billion. It is very disappointing that the Opposition do not acknowledge that. The furlough scheme is being used by 1.2 million businesses and has saved almost 10 million jobs, at a cost of £46.4 billion. The Government have also provided £13 billion to support more than 2.6 million self-employed people so far, which is, again, one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages anywhere in the world.
I know from communications with businesses in my area that the Government’s support is much appreciated, particularly the coronavirus grant funding. It has been vital in keeping businesses from going under, especially when they have not been operational. In my constituency, in the main town of Bexleyheath, we are fortunate to have a fantastic business improvement district organisation headed by Carol Linyard, who does a great job with local businesses. Bexley council, too, has been proactive in supporting businesses, allocating funds from the additional restrictions grant provided from central Government. Of course, the hospitality industry remains suffering. I speak regularly with its members, including Pete Marshall, who is a local constituent, businessman and publican. He is grateful for the support that he has had from the Government, but feels more needs to be done.
In conclusion, obviously we can now look to the future and begin to get the economy moving again. As the Prime Minister has said, we are all looking forward to the summer when we can enjoy hospitality, tourism, pubs and social opportunities, of which there are so many across my borough of Bexley. There are so many places to visit, places of entertainment, restaurants, pubs and historical sites that are all waiting for the lockdown to end. I look forward to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget next month, and I hope he will continue to give businesses the support they need until lockdown is over. Then it will be up to all of us to support, promote and encourage our local businesses so that they can thrive once again.
At least 3 million people have been excluded from covid support schemes. One constituent of mine ran a tourism business from home. She has no rateable business premises to qualify for grant funding, she cannot afford to repay business support loans, and the minimal furlough she receives does not even cover her rent. Her situation is desperate. Another constituent works as a freelance interior designer for the hospitality sector. He has received only 20% of his usual monthly income, and he says:
“I honestly don’t know how I can carry on for much longer”.
A personal trainer saving to set up her own studio found that she was ineligible for support schemes and, because of her savings, also ineligible for universal credit.
There are hundreds of stories like these in Salford. Many people may now lose their homes, and the impact on their mental health and that of their families is profound. Indeed, recently the mental health spokesperson for ExcludedUK said that the group has had 13 suicides to date and noted widespread mental anguish. Of one case, the spokesperson said:
“I had one woman who posted on our Facebook group asking for someone to come and collect her dogs because she couldn’t afford to feed them anymore. She herself had been eating dog food because that was the only thing she had left in her house”.
The Chancellor must do the right thing. He must provide an immediate emergency grant for those affected. He must install new monthly arrangements while restrictions remain in place, in complete parity with the extension of the CJRS and SEISS schemes, and remove hard edges to eligibility criteria. Finally, he must backdate payments for a full and final settlement to deliver parity and fairness for those excluded from meaningful support. If the Chancellor refuses to heed these proposals today not only will his promise to leave no one behind be worthless, but he will be responsible for the most glaring and deliberate orchestration of social injustice we have seen during this pandemic.
May I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the £280 billion package of financial support for businesses throughout the pandemic? I would like to offer my thanks on behalf of the 3,700 businesses in Beaconsfield that have benefited directly from Government loans throughout the pandemic. I also thank the Chancellor for protecting small businesses and hospitality. Small businesses have been the backbone of my constituency of Beaconsfield—we have more self-employed and entrepreneurs than anywhere in the country—and they want to get back to work and to be able to open up their businesses again. I believe, and may I suggest, that the best way to support our businesses post pandemic is with low taxation and a full lifting of restrictions so businesses, pubs and the local high street can get back to generating taxes and rebuilding our economy as quickly as we possibly can. May I also thank the Labour party for its support for such Conservative policies that even Thatcher would be proud of? Business rates relief and cutting VAT are wonderful Conservative policies, which I support so that we can give businesses a fighting chance to get back on their feet in the next year.
One of the most successful sorts of schemes that I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for are the grant schemes that councils have been administrating. Buckinghamshire Council has done an excellent job in getting this vital business support to our local businesses as quickly as possible; unlike some local authorities, it has given out all of its grant funding to small businesses. I ask Ministers for a commitment from the Government for further funding for councils such as Buckinghamshire Council to distribute to local businesses, which need that vital support in the coming months to make it to the end of lockdown. We just need a little bit more to get us over the line, to make sure that all of our businesses are able to open successfully and that we can see our economy restored.
Having heard the Chief Secretary to the Treasury talk earlier today about the apparent “sunny uplands” we have here in the UK, I fear that he has not been living in the same world as the rest of us. The Conservative party has been in government for 11 years—let us let that sink in. The Conservatives have had 11 years to make the changes needed to rebalance our economy and make our society more equal, but they have not done so. They have made things worse for hard-working families, children, old people, single parents and people with disabilities, and for those who are unable to work and the homeless they have made it much, much worse. When my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) takes over as Chief Secretary from the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), the note he leaves for her will undoubtedly read, “We’re doomed.”
Next week’s Budget needs to put people at the heart of the recovery. Big businesses undoubtedly need support, but it is our small and medium-sized businesses—our independent shops and our fantastic producers—that will drive the build-back from this crisis. My beautiful constituency’s unparalleled tourism and hospitality sector was thriving before the pandemic, but it has been hard hit by the restrictions in place. The excellent Cakes & Ale in Mumbles, the picturesque King’s Head Inn in Llangennith and so many other businesses across my constituency—too many to mention—have been badly affected. Like so many hospitality businesses, they have been open for only 14 weeks in the past year. One way to help hospitality businesses to recover from this crisis is to keep the current reduced VAT rate, which is what they are all asking for. I know many local hospitality businesses in Gower are proud to be supplied by local producers. Our agriculture and fishery sectors are also missing out on supplying those restaurants, cafés and hotels, and boosting the hospitality sector will mean passing the benefits on to them.
It is also worth noting the challenge faced in the pandemic by breweries, especially my local Gower Brewery. They, too, are desperate for the pubs and hotels to be open, so I would be grateful if the Chancellor would look at proposals on duty on alcohol to aid their recovery. At the end of December 2020, 4,000 people in Gower were still on furlough. That is 4,000 people to whom the Chancellor has given no certainty or reassurance, and we need that scheme to continue after April. We need our recovery to be faster, and this Government need to learn from the Welsh Labour Government.
Most of my constituents, regardless of party, are impressed by the generosity of the Government in meeting the costs of covid-19, but they would find it impossible, across the county, to congratulate Somerset County Council on anything at all. This dinosaur of a local authority has received tens of millions of pounds from the Government to help fight the pandemic but it cannot account for, has not accounted for and probably never will be able to account for every penny. I can forgive it for some of the stupid mistakes, but shelling out tens of millions of pounds to some very dodgy personal protective equipment salesmen is very hard to ignore, and it should not be ignored. I believe that funds were deliberately diverted and spent on things that have absolutely nothing to do with covid. We must remember that the council is trying to cover the tracks of its dismal stupidity and the management of its road contracts through Skanska. The position is so bad that the council has no idea how much public money has been wasted.
Somerset County Council is quite untrustworthy. It has even recruited a public relations team the size of which would make Rupert Murdoch jealous, and it has enough journalists to run several national newspapers. Why? There are more there than in No. 10. Somerset County Council has spent much time campaigning for its pipe dream of a single unitary authority—another three quarters of a million pounds has now been wasted. It was pure stubbornness on the part of the county council leader to push ahead with that idea just as the pandemic took hold. Wiser men than he would have put everything on hold, but not Somerset’s leader. He ploughed on with some of the most tasteless, time-consuming diversions while hundreds of Somerset folk fell ill.
Somerset boasted about how it was moving mountains to help people. Yes, many big, hardy people work for the county council, but I am sorry to say that it is run by overpaid idiots. The district councils have done the bulk of the hard work in the pandemic—those self-same districts that the county council leader wants to abolish, grabbing their reserves and thereby bolstering his crumbling empire.
This May, we were meant to be voting for a county council after four years of incompetence. I doubt whether the current lot would have survived a dose of real democracy. They will be doomed at the ballot box, but as of last night, those elections have been postponed until local government reform is settled. I say to colleagues of all parties: if you don’t represent Somerset, thank your lucky stars.
By my count, I make it 337 days without proper and sufficient support for those who make up Britain’s 3 million excluded and forgotten. On the reverse side of the coin, the taxpayer-funded gravy train goes full steam ahead, with billions of pounds in publicly funded contracts handed over to Tory donors. In every sense, and at whatever side of the coin one may look, it is a national disgrace.
Who are these excluded people? They are the people denied furlough; the newly self-employed and those with new start-ups; those who earn less than 50% from self-employment, and, perhaps most immorally of all, women on maternity, parental and/or adoption leave. For those 337 days, livelihoods have been at stake, businesses have been lost and too many have been forced to join the queue for universal credit. Constituents of mine, like Jayne Moore and Grahame Park, Neil McDonald and Claire Ryder, and outside my constituency, people like Tim Pravda, have had 337 days of anxiety and uncertainty about their future.
I had assumed that the excluded would be a natural constituency for the Tory party, but what shocked me, to say the least, was the outright belligerence and refusal to engage with just over 3 million people. That has undermined the increasingly hollow soundbite of doing “whatever it takes”. However, the excluded are not going away. Their persistence is testament to their resolve and I am pleased to play my small part in speaking up for them today.
Throughout the pandemic, the Conservative modus operandi of dither and delay has compounded the uncertainties and anxieties. Worse, the Government have at times sought to add insult to injury. One example is dropping the self-employment income support scheme to 20% of profits before realising the error of their ways. We know too many who are excluded altogether from that scheme. One minute, the spending taps are on, the next the Government turn into the mate who has bolted from the bar to the toilet when they know their round is next. Only when they are metaphorically dragged out of the loo do they buy a round, basking in the glory of it all before doing a runner when they are next up. But the excluded are never truly given a seat at the table.
If the Government act quickly, they can get ahead of the curve instead of bending it, and be proactive rather than reactive. I implore them to hear the stories of the excluded 3 million, work with them to plug the gaps in support and put right the wrongs. Let us also significantly extend furlough alongside the self-employment income support scheme, extend business rates relief, continue VAT reductions and keep the eviction ban in place. That means providing reassurance and acting now, not waiting until the March Budget. Our short, medium and long-term recovery depends on it.
Listening to young people here in my constituency of Ynys Môn, they tell me that they want a future here on the Isle of Anglesey. They want to work here, buy a home here, raise their families here, stay in their community and keep our Welsh culture and language alive. They want quality jobs and they want a pro-business Government who will enable them to have a good job.
The past year under the shadow of coronavirus has had a major impact on everyone, but especially our young people. Their education has been impacted, and they have spent months isolated from friends and extended family. The UK Government have supported them and their families with practical measures to keep jobs and businesses going, with the introduction of schemes such as kickstart, which has already seen new jobs created here on Anglesey. The Chancellor’s innovative schemes have offered a lifeline to thousands of people here on Ynys Môn, with more than £7 million in CBILS loans, just under £37 million in bounce back loans, 3,400 employee jobs furloughed, 2,000 claims made under the self-employment income support scheme and nearly £1 million claimed on the eat out to help out scheme.
My constituency has seen underinvestment and the loss of major employers for decades, and I will be fighting to ensure that all my constituents have a future and are a major beneficiary of the UK Government’s key manifesto commitments to level up the social and economic playing field across the UK. Ynys Môn can play a key role in the build back better recovery of the UK by embracing the UK Government’s levelling up agenda.
Anglesey’s bid for freeport status would create a hub of enterprise across the island, fanning out from the port of Holyhead. As the only bid in north Wales, and the only bid in Wales to include a university, the freeport would attract major new employers, bringing permanent employment and boosting the supply chain across the whole of north Wales. Our island’s natural resources can play a significant role in helping to make net zero a reality. We have wind, wave, tide and solar, as well as one of the best potential nuclear sites in the UK at Wylfa Newydd. Businesses such as Morlais and Minesto offer huge opportunities to harness green energy locally, as well as providing exciting, new, high-quality jobs.
By investing in homegrown innovative businesses, such as Diagnostig and Virustatic, which are based in the Menai science park, we can encourage our young people to visualise their futures here on the island through initiatives such as my innovation jobs fair, which will be opened by the Science, Research and Innovation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), in July.
I want to see our young people in a position where their hope for good employment does not mean they have to leave our island. I want them to be able to stay here, buy their own homes, raise their own families and live in the communities they love. Levelling up is not about handouts, but the country working in partnership with this Conservative Government to bring about regional as well as national prosperity. On behalf of Anglesey, I am grabbing it with both hands.
Nearly a year has gone by without support for the 3 million workers and self-employed people who have been excluded. Thousands of businesses have been forgotten during this pandemic. A year on, the Government cannot pretend they have not heard the calls of the excluded, so it is now either sheer incompetence or a deliberate choice to leave millions of workers unsupported. Time and time again, we hear Ministers give their big total figures, but that means nothing to the people who have had nothing. We need to see support for workers and businesses not just extended, but targeted, and the criteria for applications widened.
I have met with fantastic businesses in Luton North that have received little to nothing at all from the Chancellor. Creative8 and Purple Creative Events are just two such businesses. Both are fantastic companies based in my constituency, and they are more than viable. Outside of a pandemic, they thrive and provide skilled work, but crucially, they are part of the business-generating events industry. They are a vital cog in our local and national economy, and their events generate more business. If we want an economic road map out of this mess, the events industry must be part of the answer.
Where this Government turn a blind eye, other countries are acting. Germany has already secured the future of its own live events industry, underwriting events with a “go live” date. Austria and Norway have also done the same. If the Minister does not act now, he risks losing jobs, an entire industry and its supply chain.
There are few events as personally significant as a wedding. I have had constituents contact me who are unable to get on with the next chapter of their lives, and that is not to mention the photographers, venues, caterers and other small businesses within this important industry. It is another business-generating industry, and if it is allowed to fall, that will not only have a terrible personal impact on those hoping to get married, but a devastating economic impact. The sector has lost out on more than £430 million due to cancelled or postponed weddings, and it is the small businesses, the wedding venues, the self-employed photographer and the families who have borne the brunt of that cost, with little support from the Government.
I want to turn to another group of people all too forgotten in this crisis. Pregnant Then Screwed has rightly highlighted the discrimination faced by working mums, as the self-employment income support scheme has seen tens of thousands of women receive lower payments than those who had not taken maternity leave. It is not a small group of people affected; close to 70,000 women have been left out of pocket. I ask the Minister, are working mums worth less in the eyes of the Government, and if not, when and how will they put right this inequality? When it comes to economic support, when will Ministers stop prioritising their mates and start prioritising hard-working people in places such as Luton North?
Having heard yesterday the Prime Minister’s road map for exiting lockdown, I am sure that everyone in England is delighted to know the route out of this most difficult of chapters. However, with the Welsh Government unable to explain the Welsh exit plan, many of my constituents can only hope that a similar plan will one day be put in place for us.
Across the UK, we have all made incredible sacrifices over the past 12 months, such as missing out on seeing friends and family, losing the ability to travel, and even losing the simple pleasure of going out for dinner. With hospitality at the heart of my constituency, many thriving businesses have been forced to temporarily close in the name of public health. Some have been able to continue their businesses by offering takeaway services or meal kits, providing a real treat for many of us on a lonely lockdown evening. I could easily use up all my time talking about HILLS in Brecon and how incredible its home burger kits are.
However, getting back to a normal way of life must be our imperative. As lockdown is eased, it is vital that the both UK and Welsh Governments work together to support businesses in my constituency. So I hope that the Welsh Government will be watching next week’s Budget closely, and will instantly match any decisions taken by the UK Government.
From the very beginning, the Chancellor acknowledged that he would not be able to save each and every job, but it is undeniable that his £280 billion economic package has ensured that millions of people have been given peace of mind, and that businesses have been provided with a financial lifeline. That economic package has included almost £6 billion for the Welsh Government. Last year, Cardiff University estimated that £800 million of that money had yet to be spent. That was before last week’s announcement of a further £655 billion. So it is disappointing, and sadly predictable, that the Labour party would rather spend its time prejudging next week’s Budget than asking its own First Minister in Wales, “Where is the money?”
Countless businesses across Brecon and Radnorshire could benefit from the funding that the Welsh Government are sitting on, not least the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are vital to the rural economy. Throughout the pandemic I have met and heard from countless small, often family-run businesses, who are incredibly grateful for the support offered, but rightly question how the Welsh Government can justify keeping such a large amount of money back when those individuals are wondering how to pay their bills each month.
I am concerned that the Welsh Labour Government will hold on to that money as long as they can, only to hand it out to their Labour heartlands just weeks before the Senedd elections in May. Rather than claim that the UK Government have not gone far enough, I want Labour Members to first challenge their colleagues in the Senedd over that incredible injustice and demand that that money is given to those most in need before it is too late, and above all that rural Wales is not ignored again, as it has been so many times by the callous Government in Wales.
I am extremely grateful to be able to participate in this important Opposition day debate on supporting businesses and individuals through the coronavirus crisis.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, those who have been financially impacted by coronavirus have sadly been at the mercy of the Government’s incompetent and delayed decision making. Almost a year on, it seems that little has changed. While the public health road map announced yesterday by the Prime Minister is welcome news to us all, the absence of an economic support plan alongside it was alarming. Previously, the Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s dithering resulted in job losses and mass redundancies. Now it looks like history could well repeat itself. Slough has sadly suffered with both our public health and our local economy as a result of the pandemic. My constituency is a proud, huge business hub, with the highest concentration of global corporate headquarters in the UK outside London, a significant number of workers in the airline industry, and usually a very healthy employment rate. So the impact of covid on local people’s lives and livelihoods has been devastating —14,500 constituents are still furloughed this month, while claims for universal credit have skyrocketed. All are doing their best in circumstances beyond their control. My office has been inundated by local businesses, employees, the self-employed, freelancers, food and drink wholesalers, our local football team, private hire taxi drivers, local media outlets, events employees from live music to weddings and theatres, early years providers and childminders, and those working for airports and airlines. A clear comprehensive plan is all they have wanted for the past year.
Even now, businesses are waiting between yesterday’s announcement and the Budget, left in limbo yet again. The Government should be doing all they can to get as many people as possible through the crisis and to ensure that we build a brighter economic future by tackling inequality, building up businesses and supporting job creation. Instead, they seem intent on raising council tax, freezing key worker pay, cutting universal credit and keeping businesses in the dark. We all know that targeted economic measures that support businesses and protect family finances will be key to rebuilding our economy and boosting employment, including a smart furlough scheme, a covid debt plan for businesses, a six-month extension of business rate relief for retail, hospitality and leisure, and an extension of the 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors. Businesses and families need urgent action and support, not the characteristic dither and delay we have come to expect from this Tory Government.
Before I became an MP in 2010, I ran my own business. Like hundreds of thousands of others, we were hit hard by the global financial crisis. I know that for many small businesses, the past year of this pandemic has been darker than the darkest days of 2008.
An estimated 3 million people—British taxpayers—have been without work and without support during the pandemic. That is about 10% of the UK workforce. At the same time, billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money has been wasted on crony Conservative contracts that often failed to deliver. Some have even been ruled unlawful and others, like Serco Test and Trace, have been hopelessly wasteful. That is money that could have been spent supporting self-employed workers, owner-managers and employees who were denied furlough, denied self-employed income support and even denied universal credit.
In two days’ time, I will host a virtual town hall event with constituents who have been excluded during the pandemic. They will want to know why Ministers lined the pockets of donors to the ruling party at their expense. They will want to know why 2019-20 tax returns still cannot be used for applications for self-employed income support. They will want to know why owner-managers are not eligible for support. They will want to know why so many working people have been left behind.
Take the example of Alison Powell, a taxpayer for more than 40 years. Alison is a self-employed sole trader teaching foreign languages in school clubs. Her tax return showed that she was paid £10 more for her earnings as an employee than her earnings in self-employment. As a result, she did not qualify for any financial support and still does not—not a single penny. She has been hung out to dry by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Last week, we saw the grotesque example of the Chancellor video calling a millionaire celebrity chef who at the outset of the pandemic sacked hundreds of his own staff via email. Instead of organising fluffy photo ops with celebrity chefs, he should be out there meeting business owners who are struggling to survive—those who have been impacted most by his failed policies. What Alison Powell and the rest of my excluded constituents need to hear from the Chancellor is a change of heart. It is not too late for genuine targeted support for the 3 million who are yet to receive any support whatsoever from this Government.
I want to start by commending the Government for the sheer amount of work they have done to safeguard as many businesses and as many people’s jobs over the past 12 months. Yet while the title of this motion may be “Supporting business and individuals through the coronavirus crisis”, there is the obvious question of what happens next. This is particularly relevant as the vaccine continues to be rolled out and the spring Budget comes closer and closer.
In my view, the best way we can support businesses and people in the short to medium term is by pushing forward with the levelling-up agenda, keeping taxes low, and promoting the growth of small, innovative companies. The Government should also help businesses by removing red tape and promoting job creation through initiatives like free ports. As I have made clear time and again, nothing would help Don Valley more than a free port adjacent to our very own Doncaster Sheffield airport and iPort. Furthermore, the UK needs multinational companies like Apple and Tesla to invest in places like Don Valley—a view that I have proudly championed. However, as good as investment from multinational firms would be as we recover from this terrible pandemic, the UK should also recognise the need to create its own Tesla and its own Apple. We must strive to be the world’s workshop yet again. After all, I am sure that Members from across the House will agree that the UK can only move forward if it has world-leading homegrown businesses. I am pleased that this Government share that view. Their recent announcement that they will be founding the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, with a generous budget of £800 million, will ensure that the UK becomes the place for the advancement of cutting-edge research and technology.
In addition to maintaining low taxation and supporting research and innovation, the Government should also encourage businesses to make efficiencies. Unfortunately for Labour Members, I am afraid that this means facilitating a free market and allowing healthy economic competition, for if we are to make the UK economy more innovative, dynamic and resilient, casting away old business practices and embracing new ones must be at the core of our economic recovery. Let us not forget that it was the drive for efficiencies that gave us cars that do 100 miles to the gallon, lights that use a tenth of the power, and boilers that use less and less fossil fuels. All these efficiencies have helped people, the economy and the environment.
Low taxes and business incentives and efficiencies are the way forward out of this difficult economic situation, and there is no better Government to do that than this Conservative Government.
It has now been almost a year since lockdown measures were first introduced to contain the virus and financial support was brought forward to help the businesses and livelihoods affected, yet this Government are still letting millions of people down and we find ourselves still having to make the case to the Government to do the right thing. We must continue to voice the concerns of those who have been excluded from support, as this issue will not go away until the Government act.
The Government have had many chances to put this right. I and hon. Members from across the House have given countless examples and evidence from people in so many different professions and situations who have been left out of support through no fault of their own and in many cases simply cannot make ends meet. We all remember that the Chancellor insisted at the start of the pandemic that the Government would do “whatever it takes” to ensure that people have the support they need to get through this crisis—a message the Prime Minister repeated only yesterday. In some cases, people have been forced to give up careers and retrain, relying on universal credit on an inadequate system of support. Now it seems that the Government are intent on cutting the lifeline of support even further by going ahead with the callous decision to cut universal credit by £20 a week.
In stark contrast to this Conservative Government, the Welsh Labour Government have been much more allied to the needs of businesses and communities in Wales and have tried to ensure that they have what they need to get through a hugely challenging period. In Wales we have recognised the gaps in support left by this Government’s measures and have made further support available to those who need it, such as through the freelancer fund, which has helped thousands of freelancers across heritage, the arts and other sectors who have been excluded from support by this Government. The Welsh Government have also continued to work closely with local government, the third sector and others to ensure a joined-up approach with a shared interest in providing support to all those who need it right across Wales. That is the difference a Labour Government can make.
The success of the vaccination programme means that a return to normality is in sight, but we know that for many businesses the opportunity to reopen or resume trading is still weeks, if not months, away, and many who have been left out of Government support remain desperate for assistance to get them through this time. Recently, I was contacted by a taxi driver in my constituency who has been self-employed since December 2018. He was ineligible for the self-employed support scheme because he started just a week too late to provide the required tax return. He, like many others, is struggling to pay his mortgage and feed his family, and faces many more difficult times ahead while a return to regular trading remains some months away, all because the Government have refused to give even a slight degree of flexibility in their schemes, leaving him, and so many others, feeling they have nowhere to turn to.
I urge the Minister in his response today to give millions of people across the country the assurances they need that they will not continue to be excluded from vital support simply because they started a new job a week too late or their trading profits are a pound over the eligibility cap. We need the Government to act.
I have spoken to many small businesses in my constituency that have endured the challenges thrown at them by the pandemic with incredible resolve and an even greater generosity of spirit. Despite their own challenges, many have gone out of their way to help others in the community facing very different struggles from their own.
Small businesses are an integral part of the social fabric of our communities; they are certainly the lifeblood of Hertford and Stortford, providing incomes for families, populating our villages, towns and high streets, and providing a service to people that often goes beyond their customers. In my constituency, Home Instead in Sawbridgeworth created the “Be a helper to a senior” initiative to deliver supplies to elderly people and provide company over the phone to those left isolated by lockdown measures. In Hertford, McMullen brewery has supported its tenants and served our community in a multitude of ways. There are literally hundreds of examples like this.
The good that such businesses do for communities is just one reason why the numerous Treasury interventions over the last 12 months have, as well as being crucial to their survival, will be crucial to our recovery. The furlough scheme alone, which supported 10 million people, has been a colossal undertaking and has protected livelihoods across the country.
Generating creative ideas at haste is a complicated business, but the many robustly dynamic schemes are designed to support businesses at every stage of their evolution. Where current profits or revenue amounts were issues for CBILS, the Chancellor introduced the future fund, for example, and for businesses needing more than a loan, grants and rates relief often kept them going.
That is not to claim that these initiatives have been able to save every business or job or that the struggle is over. Just this week I have been speaking to great local businesses in the hospitality and travel sectors that have made use of Government support, but they still face extremely uncertain futures. The road map announced on Monday provides a really helpful base to plan from, but we cannot understate the challenges they have endured and still face.
This is a marathon, not a sprint, but I know that this Government will support businesses large and small, seize the opportunity to build a truly transformative recovery strategy, and truly build back better.
Our country’s ability to support families through the covid crisis was fundamentally weak at the very outset. Indeed, a report by the Money Charity found that we entered the covid crisis with 10 million households in Britain having no savings and another 3 million having savings of less than £1,500. Years of pay restraint and insecure employment have left many living off debt, and indeed many businesses and individuals, including the over 3 million excluded, have found themselves unable to claim any Government support specifically intended to relieve the consequences of covid. Among those self-employed groups are taxi drivers, driving instructors, entertainers, performers, small brewers and many freelancers in the hospitality and catering trades.
The Trades Union Congress has found that households owe an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders. Over the last decade, public spending cuts have led to higher costs for families at a time when wages have stagnated or been cut in real terms. Even as we speak, members of my own union, Unite, are resisting unscrupulous employers, including the French-owned bus company RATP, which is using covid as a smokescreen to implement pay policies that could see some bus drivers lose up to £2,500 a year. Ministers have created a gig economy that traps people between a rock and a hard place—between low pay and destitution, with the social security safety net being cut away. The £20 universal credit supplement is due to be cut, and we are waiting to hear what the outcome is in the Budget. Again, my own union, Unite, is campaigning alongside charities and civil society for the uplift to be consolidated, not cut.
Despite the speeches from hon. Members on the Government Benches, the Government have created an economy that does not make work pay for all. We have endemic in-work poverty, systemic child poverty and an economy that cannot house and feed all of our people. There have been more than 120,000 deaths as a consequence of covid, but it does not have to be like this. There are numerous examples around the world of how things could be done differently. We need only to look at New Zealand as an example. I hope that, moving forward, we can secure a Government who will look on the economy as a partnership between public and private, not as a clash of two competing forces.
This motion feels like an attempt by the Opposition to grab some headlines in the run-up to the Budget on 3 March. They chuck in a raft of policy proposals to second-guess the Chancellor, and if they guess right, they can claim the credit. If they guess wrong, they can claim moral outrage. But what is interesting is not so much what is in the motion as what is not in it. Labour Members have been reduced to calling for an extension of existing schemes by a few months and for widening access to the self-employment scheme, although I note that they do not explain how we can do that without exposing the Treasury and the taxpayer to massive fraud. What they have been unable to do is to come up with any significant critique of the Government’s support for business and employment in response to the pandemic.
Why has Labour’s attack been reduced to carping around the edges? It is because the Government’s support for businesses and employment has been truly massive. They have used the hard-won financial credibility of the whole of the United Kingdom, which was painfully recovered after Labour’s last spendthrift Government, and used it to inject more than £280 billion of financial support right across our economy. They have been supporting jobs through the furlough scheme, with £46 billion; through the self-employment scheme, with £5.4 billion; and through the kickstart scheme, with £2 billion. They have been supporting businesses through the bounce back loan scheme, with £45 billion; through the CBILS, with £21 billion; through the large company loan scheme, with £5 billion; and through business rates relief and grants to companies that have been forced to close, with over £1 billion every month. The list could go on. There is barely a company in the whole of the United Kingdom that has not benefited in some way from the Government’s support, and as a former businessman myself, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The Government have succeeded in keeping businesses afloat through the pandemic so that they will be in a position to bounce back as the lockdown eases. These are the businesses that will create the employment and generate the growth and then the tax revenues to pay back the enormous investment that the Government have made. Today’s employment figures show that businesses have already started to hire again, with employment having risen in each of the last two months and redundancy notices falling. With huge investment in the productivity-enhancing infrastructure of the whole United Kingdom still to come, and the implementation of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green recovery, there are huge grounds for optimism as we come out of lockdown, and I commend the Government for their herculean efforts.
As we are debating support for businesses and individuals through the covid crisis, I want to tell the story of one of my constituents, a recently self-employed person called Peter. He started trading in 2019, so he cannot claim on the self-employment income support scheme. He also cannot claim universal credit because his wife earns just a little too much, but not enough to cover all the bills. His life has been turned upside down, and he has been forced to borrow money from friends and family. Desperately looking for help, he telephoned Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and was told by the call handler, “I am sorry, but that is just the way it is.” Madam Deputy Speaker, the way it is is not good enough. Peter is one of more than 3 million people whom the Government have failed to support in this public health crisis.
In my constituency, that inaction is hitting young people the hardest. It is young people who were disproportionately in the low-paid, insecure, zero-hour jobs that were the first to go when the crisis hit. Last year, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Sheffield increased by 158%. For 16 to 24-year-olds, that number increased by a staggering 300%. Many were made redundant because the Government told employers that the furlough scheme would stop, or change, on 31 October. The mixed messages of the past year have not been business friendly. Indeed, in many cases, they have been business ending, with sectors such as small breweries seeing two breweries close a week and changes to the small brewers’ relief looming.
Ministers were dragged kicking and screaming into extending the furlough scheme, but I wonder how many of those unemployed people would have kept their jobs had the Government communicated this decision sooner. Now, like Groundhog Day, we are going through the same process again. The Chancellor was too slow to act before and we ended up with record redundancies. With 4.6 million people still furloughed, he is in danger of doing it all over again. Rather than wait a month and put those jobs at risk, workers need guarantees next week that they will continue to receive support.
Time and again, the Government have refused to learn the lessons of the past year. The Chancellor must close the gaps in support systems and provide the clarity that workers and business owners alike urgently need to plan ahead. The mistakes of the previous year need to be fixed so that no one is left behind. Our recovery depends on it.
When the Labour party talks about business, we could be forgiven for thinking that every company is some kind of evil, global mega-corporation and that every employer is a cross between Gordon Gekko and that bloke with the top hat from the Monopoly board. Perhaps every employee is some sort of downtrodden Dickensian character bound into servitude by wicked capitalists. The reality, however, is very different. Our small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of our economy—99.9% of the 6 million businesses in the UK, and they account for three fifths of all the employment and more than half the turnover in the UK private sector. Total employment is 16.8 million, while total turnover is estimated at £2.3 trillion.
We on the Conservative Benches get that business means jobs, that jobs mean security, livelihoods, the certainty of a wage and being able to provide for our family. That is why our £280 billion financial support package is one of the most generous and effective in the world. That is why our furlough scheme has protected almost 10 million jobs, and that is why our business support schemes have delivered almost 1.6 million loans worth more than £70 billion.
I know that this support is welcomed by the 8,700 businesses in Milton Keynes North and I know how frustrating it is when businesses find it hard to access this support that the Government have allocated for them. That is why it is so important that councils release the additional restrictions grant to support local businesses in these tough times. I am ambitious for Milton Keynes; indeed, I am ambitious for Britain. Towns and cities across our four nations should be grasping the opportunities presented by the free trade deals that this Government are securing. Projects such as global MK, proposed by Conservative councillors in Milton Keynes, can drive inward investment into exciting new industries and help our local economic recovery to support those jobs. Global MK will be a two-year inward investment programme aimed at bringing international businesses to Milton Keynes, as the UK begins our post-Brexit journey. With trade deals being struck around the world, Milton Keynes is uniquely positioned to attract inward investment in areas such as logistics, FinTech, finance, artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, digital services and sport.
This Conservative Government are throwing the kitchen sink at supporting our businesses during the pandemic, but we should not stop at keeping the show on the road; we need to take the show on a world tour. Global MK can be the centre of global Britain.
Many businesses in Vauxhall will be feeling cautiously optimistic after hearing yesterday’s plan for reopening the economy. Here in Vauxhall, our economy is dependent on the hospitality, tourism and entertainment sectors, and is supported by many small, independent businesses that provide auxiliary services to residents and the millions of visitors we normally welcome every year. From this afternoon’s contributions, we have heard that this pandemic has created winners and losers. Vauxhall has been hit particularly hard because of the nature of our economy and the supporting workforce. The gradual lifting of restrictions will not see an immediate return to business as usual. It will take time for tourists to come back along the south bank, to Brixton, to Stockwell and to Oval, and for local people to feel 100% comfortable about socialising in public again. But Vauxhall’s businesses do not have time. They are struggling to stay afloat after a year of stop-start lockdowns and gaps in Government support.
As we look ahead to next week’s Budget, I urge the Chancellor not to withdraw support too quickly and not to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. It makes no economic sense for businesses to be supported all the way through lockdown only to have that support withdrawn once restrictions are lifted. I call on the Chancellor to make sure that this support is sector-specific and tailored to meet the needs of each and every one of our businesses to ensure that we have a fair and resilient national economic lockdown.
For almost a year now, this Government have been providing an unprecedented level of support to the individuals and businesses of our country. I want to highlight some of the ways in which businesses in Stourbridge have benefited from the measures put in place by this Government, and some of our share of the £280 billion package of support for people and businesses.
I turn first to the business loans scheme. Over 1,500 loans were offered to Stourbridge businesses to a total value of over £60 million. We received help for self-employed people to the value of almost £25 million. For our hospitality industry, there was the “eat out to help out” scheme; 127,000 meals were served in Stourbridge’s excellent pubs and restaurants. For Stourbridge workers, we have the furlough scheme—one of the most generous in the world. Of course, yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined our way out, with a cautious and prudent plan culminating in a return to normal by the end of June. No other similar country has a route as detailed and as clear as was outlined this week. At the start of the pandemic, we made a promise to support businesses and workers to protect them from the very worst. We have delivered on that promise with an effective and generous financial support package that has undoubtedly been a lifeline to many.
We should not forget that, despite the gloom of this pandemic, businesses are still growing, hiring and expanding. I have Pegasus Grab Hire, a multimillion-pound business, adding 30 new jobs to the 180 people already employed at the company; the Imperial Works estate has been earmarked for renovation and refurbishment, with investors putting in more than £200,000; and Andyfreight, a logistics company after my own heart, has just completed a £1.5 million expansion project, having started 35 years ago from just a single van.
If all that and more can happen during the worst crisis in living memory, think of the opportunities that will come from all the energy that is waiting to be unleashed when the UK reopens over the next few months. Now is the time to begin our journey back to growth and to a recovery that must be jobs-led. Coupled with the Prime Minister’s road map, we really can build back better. The economic foundations that this Government have put in mean that we can get on with the job of promoting global Britain as a beacon of prosperity and optimism.
The Government have been bold and visionary and I think will be transformational—a Government who make decisions in the national interest, with no rhetoric, only sound and prudent financial management, as they put people and jobs at the heart of policy making. Ministers are of course more than welcome to come and visit my local success stories.
Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate, in which we have heard a surprising amount of consensus from both sides—in between a few rhetorical flourishes.
Plaid Cymru would welcome the extension of the 5% reduced rate of VAT, but believes that the measure should be extended for the entirety of the forthcoming financial year. Members will of course be familiar with the dreaded three-winters scenario that many in the hospitality sector have suffered. Although the vaccination programme’s progress to date is very promising, we remain in its early stages. At this point, it is difficult to predict how things will develop in the coming months, so extending the VAT reduction for the entire financial year would offer welcome certainty, as well as boosting the sector and helping businesses to get back to their feet. That is particularly pertinent in the economically marginalised areas that are less likely to benefit from large-scale public projects. In Ceredigion, for instance, the hospitality sector employs approximately 4,500 workers, or 16% of the local workforce. Just as important, of course, are our high streets, which deserve and should get our support, so I hope the Chancellor will consider extending the business rates relief package when he unveils the Budget next week.
There is also an urgent need for the Government to look again at the framework for the repayment of Government-guaranteed debt. UKHospitality has estimated that the sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans. It is therefore important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so—in other words, when they have bounced back from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would help to protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery and the integrity of our financial system. I hope the Chancellor will recognise that in his Budget.
Finally, I urge the Government to maintain the furlough scheme, to give employees and employers security as our economy adjusts. The scheme should be phased out only once both the pandemic and the prevailing economic conditions have stabilised; to do otherwise would risk undermining its very success in having protected jobs and risk stifling any nascent economic recovery. I also add my voice to those calling for an extension of the self-employed income support scheme, including the expansion of the eligibility criteria called for in the motion, and for an equivalent director support scheme so as to offer support to those who have thus far not received a penny.
Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away vast amounts of taxpayers’ money and potentially our economic recovery.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for his work so far in addressing the pandemic’s economic impact on business and jobs throughout the country. The Government have provided a financial support package of approximately £280 billion at present, making it one of the most generous and effective in the world. It includes the furlough scheme, which has protected almost 10 million jobs.
My local authority in Bury has been provided with £107 million in extra funding for this financial year to cover covid-related costs and support local business. Bury Metropolitan Borough Council will receive a further £5.3 million in additional funding for the first three months of new financial year. The Government have provided nearly £50 million in direct grant funding to support businesses, retail outlets, the self-employed and sole traders in the last 12 months, to be distributed locally by my council. On top of that, businesses that are being required to close under the current restrictions continue to receive monthly payments through the local restrictions grant.
With the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of the road map out lockdown, I have been contacted by a number of businesses across my constituency towns of Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington that will be among the last to open. Even with the generous support package that I have outlined, many businesses need further financial help to survive the next months and benefit from the positive trading conditions that I am sure will result when lockdown ends. Under step two of the road map, hospitality will be able to operate indoor services in 83 days’ time at the earliest. Therefore, this sector, which has been so badly impacted by the pandemic, needs help now. In my constituency of Bury North, there are a number of businesses, such as the absolutely fantastic Leckenby’s tearoom, that simply do not have outside space. They must not be left to struggle while other business that are fortunate enough to have outdoor seating are able to operate. I hope that will be addressed now that the road map has been announced.
Further to that, I turn to the distribution of already assigned support. I came together with colleagues from across the House to welcome the support provided through the additional restrictions grants, which have been made available for distribution at the discretion of local councils. The fund has already helped many businesses that might not otherwise have been eligible for grants. Again, I welcome that. However, while some councils had great success with the distribution of these funds, others have not. In my constituency, many businesses are struggling to access the funding, and Bury Council still holds an estimated £5 million from the ARG fund. The road map is conditional on the tests set out by the Prime Minister, but we must support those businesses both nationally and locally to ensure that they benefit when lockdown comes to an end.
I am grateful to be able to speak in today’s debate on behalf of the many people in Pontypridd who are still struggling as a result of the pandemic. They and people and businesses across the country desperately need clarity on what support will be available to them in the weeks and months ahead.
I am hugely proud of the way that people across Pontypridd and Rhondda Cynon Taf have come together this past year. They have donated to the Pontypridd and Taff-Ely food banks, they have volunteered their time, and they have helped elderly friends and neighbours to get their shopping and prescriptions safely. Unfortunately, while those in my community in Pontypridd have supported each other through the pandemic, I cannot say the same for this Tory Government. Their insistence on a one-size-fits-all approach to economic support has had a devastating impact on the aviation and coach industries in my area. Fantastic local businesses such as Edwards Coaches and Ferris Coach Holidays face ruin without targeted financial support. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods after redundancies at GE Aviation and British Airways, and there are still far too many people who have been excluded from support by the Government altogether through absolutely no fault of their own.
The ExcludedUK campaign has been doing a fantastic job drawing attention to the 3 million-plus people left behind by the Government. What will it take for the Government to act? I have heard from so many people in my constituency who have been excluded and forgotten by this UK Government. They do not want arms around them; they need financial help and they need it now.
Freelance musicians have also been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with many having been out of work for almost a year now. The fantastic Musicians Union, of which I am a proud member, has found that some 65% of musicians are currently facing financial hardship. They are soon to be hit again by unnecessary and extremely costly admin fees that make travelling to EU states to tour or perform virtually impossible. It is essential that the Government act to support musicians through the pandemic and beyond, so that fantastic community groups such as the award-winning Cory Band from RCT can recover properly.
Pregnant women and new mothers have also faced unprecedented challenges during this crisis and have been left high and dry by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has been doing fantastic work with the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign, and she is right to say that it is mams who are bearing the brunt of the unemployment. Mams are much more likely to have been furloughed and are therefore much more likely to face redundancy. The Government urgently need to do more to halt the unequal impact of their policies and to avoid backsliding on the progress that women have made in the workplace. They urgently need to provide greater clarity to my constituents and theirs. My constituents have come together to support each other during the pandemic, and they deserve a Government who will do the same.
This is a debate of two halves: we have the doom, gloom and naysaying from those on the Opposition Benches, and on the Government Benches we have optimism. We have a route map out of these restrictions. We have light at the end of the tunnel, and now we know how long that tunnel is. We have the additional restrictions grants, business and hospitality support grants, self-employed support schemes, business rates relief and discretionary funding. We should be immensely proud of all those measures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) said, roughly £280 billion has been invested to support businesses and individuals, and we should rightly be proud of that.
There are the excluded, and as I said earlier to the Minister, the discretionary funding that has been brought forward is a prime example of how to tackle that. I say again to the Opposition, to the Mayor of Greater Manchester and to my local council that if they are serious about tackling these cohorts, they should speak to their councils and tell them to open up that discretionary funding for these businesses. [Interruption.] The discretionary funding is available for all. We are hearing, “We want action now,” but it is not right to take these decisions in isolation; we should be taking them in a wider context, as part of the Budget. It will give the Opposition their attack ads today and the ability to create a story that is almost non-existent, but we will see a truly all-encompassing approach next week in the Budget, and that is the right thing to do. It will give the Opposition another week to see which Conservative policies they like and want to try to adopt as their own for another week.
As we come out of these restrictions, we have the ability to build back better, build back fairer and build back greener. The “Skills for Jobs” White Paper has been published, and we should be proud of it. It talks about institutes of technology, which will make sure that our skills force of the future is trained for the jobs that are coming. Businesses—and in particular those in the hospitality supply chain, weddings and events—not only need a date for when they can reopen, but they need to know whether they will be opening with covid-secure measures or no restrictions whatsoever. They need to know that early, so that they can plan for all eventualities. While most businesses in the travel industry will be able to reopen and hopefully reopen fully, the sector will be heavily dependent on global restrictions, so we may need to look at further assistance for it. I hope the Minister will be able to address that.
We are effectively a year on, and solutions for the 3 million excluded still have not been found, so we know that this is a Government choice. Excuses about quick implementation, complexities and the risk of fraud no longer stand up to scrutiny as an excuse for doing nothing.
Let us look at the limited company director issue. First, it is absurd to still be going on about being unable to distinguish between earned income and unearned income from dividends. It is quite clear that the majority of these sole traders are not exactly living it large from a portfolio of other investments, and HMRC has access to their tax returns. There is a solution available: the directors income support scheme, which is supported by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, ForgottenLtd and the Federation of Small Businesses. This award would be based on the trading profits of a company. Maximum thresholds could be applied, and the Government could even look at rates being based on the living wage, but there seems to be a dogged determination that nothing is possible.
Let us also look at the lack of targeted sectoral support that has been announced. The Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations have responded much better in this regard. In Scotland, for example, there has been food wholesaler funding, given that these major suppliers were excluded from hospitality sector support. The UK Government need to do likewise, given the extended lockdown we are still in. They also need to copy the bus, coach, taxi and private hire funding packages, among other things. Now is the time for the UK Government to look forward by investing in battery and hydrogen-powered buses. It is an ideal time to support manufacturers in a way that will grow businesses as well as provide short-term support.
Where is the support for the wedding industry and the travel industry? The latter is even more crucial, given the restrictions that will be in place for a long period. The Scottish Government have announced a further rates relief extension for airports and a travel agent support scheme. Surely the UK Government could do likewise, which would create further Barnett consequentials.
We know that freelancers in the creative industry have been completely hung out to dry. To make matters worse, Brexit and the lack of visa-free travel has taken away further work opportunities, which is completely crazy.
If we look at the hospitality and leisure industry, we see that the Scottish Government have just committed to rates relief for the next year, which goes beyond Labour’s call for six months. In this period, we should also look at extending the temporary VAT level of 5% for the full year, considering the latest road maps we have, where some businesses could be looking effectively at a five-winter scenario. This ties in with the need to start looking at converting these loans to equity or grants. When the loan schemes were first devised, it was not envisioned that we would still be in restrictions a full year later, so clearly, the terms of these loans need to be reassessed.
Going forward, there is going to be a massive debate about what an independent Scotland could do to recover better, and I look forward to that as well.
We have another Opposition day debate that presents a fantastic opportunity to highlight all that has been done by this Government. There has been incredible support for people and businesses in Darlington. The coronavirus job retention scheme has supported over 12,300 people. The self-employed income scheme has been accessed by over 3,200 people. Put together, that is more than 15,000 families in my constituency who have continued to put a roof over their heads and feed their families from these two schemes alone.
There are business owners, too, who have accessed grants, loans, VAT reductions and specialised grants. Through Darlington Borough Council, grants have been distributed to businesses quickly, from our large hospitality businesses in our town centre to one-man bands operating from home. Indeed, our Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, has provided much support to our businesses, too. There are many who have, sadly, lost their jobs, and the robustness of the universal credit system has coped magnificently with the increased demand upon it. So whether someone is employed, unemployed or an employer, there has been support throughout this unprecedented global pandemic.
This Conservative Government have delivered over £280 billion of financial support, protecting millions of jobs and businesses, so that, as we embark on the road to recovery, these businesses can bounce back and these employees can return to work, and if they have, sadly, lost their jobs, they can access training and support to reskill. If they are a young person entering the world of work, there is support in the form of the kickstart scheme and apprenticeships. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that he could not “save every job”, but he has done a pretty fine job of reaching every corner of our economy and, indeed, responding with changes as the pandemic has unfolded.
Earlier today, I outlined the fantastic investment that Darlington has had with our train station, our towns funding and, we hope, in the near future, with a freeport and Treasury jobs relocated to the Tees Valley, but I really must place on record my sincere thanks to Government for the millions of pounds in support for Darlington’s residents—the shopkeepers, the business owners, the furloughed staff and the council as it has responded at a local level to our specific needs, tailoring the discretionary grants to reach even more in our community.
As we unlock our economy and build back better, following the road map to recovery, I am heartened that it was this Conservative Government at the helm, supporting those in need and setting our course on the vaccination programme, and not the gloom-mongering party opposite.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. Today, I will focus much of my contribution on those who have fallen through the gaps in support—commonly known as the excluded.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, there are still 3 million people missing out on meaningful financial support. They are people who have lost homes, possessions and have had to close businesses or saddle themselves with a frightening amount of debt just to keep going during the pandemic, an event not of their making. This has inevitably led to an increase in destitution in our country. It will not have escaped the Minister’s attention that a report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research found that, by the end of 2020, there were 220,000 more households living in destitution than at the start of the year. Destitution is defined as a two-adult household living on less than £100 a week and a single-adult household living on less than £70 a week, after housing costs. That worrying trend will continue, unless we direct urgent and significant support to the excluded.
There is a regional aspect, too. The Office for National Statistics has revealed that redundancies in Yorkshire have reached a five-year high, with 18,000 people being made redundant in the last three months of 2020—a 63% increase on the same time in the previous year. The all-party parliamentary group, Gaps in Support, has tried to help. We have offered schemes to the Treasury to bring the newly self-employed into eligibility for SEISS, a directors income support scheme, a targeted income support scheme and a one-off, taxable grant. They are not exclusive demands and we are certainly open to any fixes that the Treasury would like to propose.
I would like to focus on one group of people who have significantly missed out—pregnant women and new mothers. Women who were on maternity allowance throughout the period 20 March to 30 October will not have submitted a PAYE real-time information submission, which is required by the scheme, meaning they could miss out on furlough. That really needs to be rectified. The Government should also provide a system to backdate furlough payments to new mothers who have missed out due to insufficient government guidance.
We must also examine the proposals supported by the TUC for a temporary right to shared furlough, which would bring the commendable principles of shared parental leave into the furlough scheme, allowing families to make decisions based on what works for them and their children, because it is frankly absurd that self-employed mothers have no ability to discount their maternity leave from SEISS payments. Tens of thousands of women have been discriminated against and are out of pocket, against a background where women’s wages have already dropped 12%, double that of men; 48% of women have seen their disposable income fall; and women in the 25-34 age bracket are twice as likely to be made redundant.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Treasury has taken unprecedented action. The support provided by Her Majesty’s Government to aid businesses and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary. More than 10 million workers have been supported through furlough schemes, ensuring that bills and expenses can be paid. Thus far, 1.6 million businesses have received loans totalling more than £70 billion. For most people and businesses, money was received in a timely manner and proved to be vital in preventing businesses from going under, protecting employees and employers.
For those on low incomes, additional support mechanisms have also been implemented, with a £500 test and trace support payment for those who cannot work from home and have been asked to self-isolate. Some businesses have repaid the support, totalling £1.8 billion, provided to them by the Government through a business rates holiday, including Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Aldi and Morrisons.
These support measures have been critical in shielding our economy during lockdown. This is the essence of conservatism—rather than seek to dominate and direct businesses, we seek to protect and support them. These measures are temporary and do not reflect a permanent transition towards increased Government intervention. The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday outlined the road map out of lockdown and a return to normality. It does not, however, spell the immediate end of support measures that businesses still need.
This Conservative Government have outlined further measures that will aid in rebuilding Britain and encouraging economic growth, such as the £5 billion of capital investment projects, which include the rebuilding of schools and maintenance of hospitals. Opposition Members may not be able to control their knee-jerk reaction to attack the Government for their handling of the pandemic, but without the schemes implemented by the Chancellor, businesses, individuals and local government would not have received the support they so desperately needed when, or in the quantity, required. I look forward to the Chancellor’s Budget statement next week and will carefully listen to his comments on the support measures available to businesses, including what additional provisions will be implemented to support and encourage the United Kingdom’s recovery.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for sticking precisely to the three-minute time limit and not being distracted by the fact that the clock was not working. That is quite the opposite of what we have seen from so many colleagues who pretend the clock is not there. I am sure that will not happen when we go to Sheffield—to Paul Blomfield.
I am sure it will not, Madam Deputy Speaker, and can I thank you for giving me this opportunity?
Hospitality and particularly the night-time economy provide thousands of jobs in my constituency: restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, live music venues—brave businesses making a vibrant city, but hit hardest over the last year. Too many who work within them have fallen through the gaps in the support schemes: new businesses ineligible for it because of administrative deadlines, self-employed who have missed out and workers who had moved employer at the wrong time. So it is no surprise that, according to figures announced this morning, the number of claimants in my constituency has doubled over the last year.
Next week’s Budget must address these issues and provide the flexible help the hospitality sector needs as we navigate the road map out of restrictions and ensure that businesses do not fall at the first hurdle. Support is essential not only for businesses that will remain closed, but for those that will initially only be able to open partially, with outside-only service. Crucially, it must extend to their supply chains. Continuing VAT and business rates relief will help, and so will a smart furlough scheme that does not abandon those who can only open in a limited way. Dropping support too quickly or too crudely will fail jobs and businesses.
Another group who are key to my local economy are students. They have been hard hit by the pandemic, and not just in terms of education. With maintenance loans not even covering rents for many, part-time work provides vital income to sustain many students at university. Jobs they depend on in hospitality and retail have disappeared in the pandemic. Income lost through the absence of those jobs has had a huge impact. As students, they have not been eligible for the support that is available to others, although they have still been required to pay rent for accommodation that they have not been allowed to use. That is why the all-party parliamentary group on students, which I chair, has asked for substantial additional hardship support from Government, as well as support for universities to address lost learning—practical recommendations on which the Government have fallen short.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister confirmed that many students will not be allowed back to campus until after Easter, and the jobs on which they rely are not returning any time soon either. This morning, the Minister for Universities wrote an open letter to students, highlighting the £70 million of hardship support that has been provided. It is worth just £36 per student in England: equivalent to the wages of a short bar shift—barely a sticking plaster—and much less than the £80 in Scotland, £300 in Wales and £500 in Northern Ireland. This generation of students will be paying for the pandemic longer than the rest of us, and they deserve our support now.
I draw the House’s attention to my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who spoke about hospitality, which I will come to later as well.
First, I would like to speak about the road map, which was published yesterday and announced by the Prime Minister to the nation. Like the British Chambers of Commerce, like the CBI, like the Institute of Directors, like the Federation of Small Businesses, I absolutely welcome this road map. I welcome the hope and the clarity it provides for businesses and the people of this country as we get back towards normality. The single best thing Government can do for businesses and for their employees is to enable them to reopen. Businesses need customers, they need visitors, they need audiences, they need orders and they need turnover, and the road map offers us a route for that.
The road map, of course, is only possible because of our brilliant scientists, because of our pharmaceutical businesses—the party opposite would have broken them up had it won the last election—and because of the foresight of the vaccine taskforce. I do hope Labour will withdraw its totally unwarranted criticism of Kate Bingham, who last year did a marvellous job, for which we should all be grateful. The portfolio she got us has been rolled out splendidly, thanks to the hard work throughout the NHS and to the leadership from the Department of Health and Social Care, the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment and his team. Because of our foresight, because of our scientists and because of the success of the roll-out, British businesses are now better placed than those in our closest international competitors, so we have a lot to be hopeful for. The road map is the right strategy, guided as it is by science, but I wonder whether the steps are the right distance apart. The lesson of last year is that scheduling the path of the virus three months into the future is a fool’s errand. So if on 5 April, at the first review of step one, the science thinks that things are going better than expected—we did have great data about the vaccine programme and its effectiveness this week—I hope we will be able to look again at the later dates, for the sake of our businesses.
As we build back better from the pandemic and help people back into jobs, I look forward to the Budget next week, when I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will build on the schemes already announced: the £2 billion already announced for kickstart, helping 200,000 young people get into work; the £2.9 billion for the UK-wide restart programme for universal credit recipients out of work for 12 months or more; and an expansion of apprenticeships that is music to the ears not only of young people in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but of our training providers, such as the excellent Newcastle College and PM Training.
Speaking specifically about Newcastle-under-Lyme, I was glad to hear the Minister talk a lot about hospitality in his opening remarks, because our hospitality and live entertainment businesses are a key part of our economy in the town centre, especially given the systemic weakness we have in the retail sector, which covid has exacerbated. I have spoken up many times in this House and in Westminster Hall for these businesses in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The grants, loans, rates holidays and tax deferrals we have offered them so far have been extremely welcome, but we need to do more just for these last few months. I know that the Chancellor will hear what I am saying today, and what colleagues have said, and will help these businesses survive for these last few months, as we all begin to emerge from this coronavirus nightmare and get our lives back to normal.
While all nations have grappled with how to respond to the pandemic, our Government’s slowness to react has had a devastating impact on businesses and left many on the brink of financial ruin. The Government’s financial support for businesses has been patchy at best, and non-existent for freelancers and some limited companies. In Enfield, Southgate, we are lucky to have many excellent family-run businesses, such as Perry’s The Wedding Company in Winchmore Hill, which I know was pleased to hear the road map out of lockdown and what it means for the wedding industry.
Just over a week ago, I started a survey of local small businesses in Enfield, Southgate. I asked them what their experience of the Government’s support was and what they felt their prospects were for the future if they did not receive urgent help. A hair salon owner said,
“It’s all about surviving month by month from now on”.
A local popular family restaurant owner said:
“We have had to go into our savings as we are still paying rent and utilities etc even though the business is closed; in our 43 years there we have never experienced anything like this. Hopefully we can save the business.”
A local well-loved family pub will most likely have to close as a result of the lack of Government support. A local café owner said,
“We have had no help to keep us afloat... It’s been awful. We will need rents paid and business rates paid to help us for the next year.”
A local start-up business sole trader said,
“I have had no company income for 7 of the previous 11 months. Business is still solvent, but all reserves built up used”.
Those are comments from real businesses that are all struggling and in urgent need of help.
The Government’s announcements on lockdown measures have always failed to take into account the impact on small businesses, and any financial support has lagged behind. It is as though it has been an afterthought, and yesterday’s announcement of the road map out of lockdown was no exception. As we wait for the Chancellor to make his announcement about the financial support in next week’s Budget, I can tell him what local small businesses are thinking. Although they welcome the Government’s recently announced options on how to pay back the business loans, the reality of struggling for years is devastating for them. Overwhelmingly, they told me that they need to take the option of paying back their loan over 10 years. They are also calling on the Government to extend the business rates holiday, to ensure their survival, and there are other measures that could be taken, including the extension of the furlough scheme and the availability of grants until businesses are able to open, as per the milestones stated in the road map out of lockdown. Small businesses have taken a huge knock over the past 12 months due to the Government’s slow reaction to the pandemic. The Government have been found wanting in their support for small businesses and they will not be forgiven if they fail again to give the support for small businesses in next week’s Budget.
There is surely no more important debate at the moment than how we support businesses and individuals through the pandemic. Just last week, it was confirmed that the UK economy has suffered its worst slump in any year since we began recording gross domestic product after the second world war. This morning, we learned that the unemployment rate is 5.1% and that in my constituency of Edinburgh West, a relatively affluent area of Scotland, it is 4%, having increased by more than a third since this time last year. We have all the evidence we need that businesses and individuals need support.
For most people, businesses are about the individuals. The troubles we are going through will come as no surprise to thousands of shops, households, small businesses, retailers at airports, taxi drivers, cafés, pubs and restaurants—they are all suffering and they need our support. That is why we are all watching very carefully for what the Chancellor says next week. We are hoping—and trying to persuade him—that there will be a further extension of furlough. The summer is not enough; it needs to go at least until the end of the year. We need to give businesses time to recover and we need to give people certainty. We need to give them reassurance that the safety net will not disappear right away. The vaccine will need time to be effective and we will need time to recover. The Chancellor should bear that in mind next week.
I think we have all felt the impact through our constituents and the daily calls we receive. We know that there is nothing more important than supporting businesses and individuals through the recovery. That should be the first thing we think about every day: putting the recovery first. Sadly in Scotland, we have a devolved Administration who are not doing that. They are focusing on an independence debate that many of us feel is inappropriate at this time. We need the strength of the UK economy and we need the ability to work together. For example, we need the strength that comes from our tourism industry: 80% of tourists in Scotland come from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Businesses all need our support, they need certainty and they need the strength of the United Kingdom. That is what I hope the Chancellor and the Government will provide next week. I also hope that they will think about relief from business rates and VAT for small businesses that are losing money and going out of business through no fault of their own, because they are following the rules. We need to put their recovery and our recovery first.
We were going to go to Stoke-on-Trent, but the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) has to be dressed as if he were here in the Chamber. We will try to come back to Mr Gullis in due course, but we will go now to Chesterfield and Toby Perkins.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to see that I have all my clothes on.
This is an important debate as we head towards the Budget. As somebody who was formerly self-employed, I think it is incredibly important to recognise not only the importance of the self-employment scheme, but all the people who have been excluded from it. We need to recognise that people do not go into self-employment expecting to rely on the Government for help; they do it because they are willing to focus on their own abilities and to bring about the best outcomes for themselves. When self-employed people are left having to rely on Government, it comes very unnaturally to them.
We should remember that the majority of self-employed people were asked by the Government back in March to stay at home and not to go to work. They were told that there would be a self-employment scheme to support them. It has become transparently clear that so many of them have been missed out, while, simultaneously, other people who have continued to work have still been able to claim via the scheme. Just this week, I spoke to a constituent who has been excluded because, over the course of the three years, he has had periods when he has been employed; and he took a pension when he first became self-employed, to get him through. As a result he is unable to demonstrate, according to the Chancellor’s very arbitrary 50% of income rules, that he is self-employed. He has had almost 11 months during the vast majority of which he has been unable to work and unable to be supported by the scheme. At the same time, he has been working on building sites for people who have worked all the way through—have hardly missed a day—and have said, “This is wonderful: the Government are giving me money, even though I am carrying on.” We have schemes that have not worked as they should.
Directors of small businesses who have paid themselves through dividends have been excluded, and I am afraid that throughout the life of the scheme, too many people have been missed out. That was understandable back in March, as the scheme was being put together in a rush, but there really has been enough time to sort this out now, and the Government should get to getting it sorted out.
We are now going back to Stoke-on-Trent, where I observe that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) is now properly dressed. Lest anyone should be confused, when people are participating virtually they are appearing in this Chamber, the Chamber of the House of Commons, and therefore it is absolutely imperative that everybody taking part in these debates should be dressed in the way that they would be in the House of Commons.
There you are, Madam Deputy Speaker: the jacket is now on. Apologies.
I thank the Labour party for giving me the opportunity to outline the tens of millions that have been poured into Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke since the start of the global health pandemic: 81 coronavirus business interruption loan schemes, worth £15.2 million; 1,408 bounce back loans, worth £41 million; 5,000 people on the furlough scheme; and £23 million given out over tranches 1 to 3 of the self-employment income support scheme. In total, that has seen the Government give out just over £79 million to businesses and individuals in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, excluding the cost of furlough.
There was also the eat out to help out scheme, something which time and again some Labour Members, either in the Chamber or the media, moan and groan about, showing how out of touch the Labour party is with us Stokies. Locally, 23 local restaurants and cafés in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, such as the Teapot At Milton, took part in that, and in total we saw 51,000 meals claimed for. But it is not just the front end of hospitality that benefited, but the supply chains that serve them, like the world-beating ceramic tableware that can be found only in the Potteries. It saw a big increase in sales—so good that they told me they want it back at Westminster’s hottest all-party parliamentary group, the APPG for ceramics.
Imagination and creativity will be needed to help our brewers too. Burslem-based Titanic Brewery on my patch, co-owned and founded by Keith and Dave Bott, shared an idea with me. If a temporary rate of duty for draught beer could be set at a significantly lower rate for the finest beer sold in containers over 20 litres in size, it would reduce the price gap between cheap supermarket booze and a beer drunk in the safe, supervised environment of a pub, like the Bull’s Head in Burslem. I will leave that brainstorming in the hands of Ministers, for them to come back to Keith, Dave and me on. I look forward to hearing whether such a scheme is practicable.
When I speak to stallholders at Tunstall indoor market or individuals at the vaccine centres in Birchenwood in Kidsgrove, or Goldenhill medical centre, I find people are aware that the Government are doing their utmost, but they are also aware that these are unprecedented times, with no playbook to work from. The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke respect the honesty of the Chancellor when he said:
“Sadly, we…will not be able to save every job and every business”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 23.]
However, with the excellent progress of the excellent UK vaccine roll-out, light is now at the end of the tunnel for individuals and businesses, and support will continue to be in place as life returns to normal.
Nearly a year into the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, people are still falling through the cracks. After that length of time, they are no longer cracks: they are chasms that have been deliberately left open by the Government with millions trapped in them, like the women on maternity leave told by this Government that leave was in fact a holiday—a horrible piece of discrimination that could only have happened with our male Chancellor and male Prime Minister—or employees like the 80 staff of the Erskine Bridge hotel in my constituency who are relying on food banks and the kindness of their local community to make ends meet after they were all TUPE-ed but the HMRC report went through a day after the retrospective and arbitrary deadline for furlough.
Firing and rehiring has been almost endemic during this pandemic, which Minister after Minister has called unacceptable while refusing to act. That is unacceptable. Even in the middle of a pandemic, the Tory addiction to means testing and separating out the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor still carries on apace. Just as there are millions of people left with nothing or claiming universal credit, itself due to be slashed by over £1,000 next month, there are industries and businesses that appear to be favoured a lot. A lot of companies have made a lot of money from Government contracts in the past year. Those in the aviation sector are still waiting on the promises made by the Chancellor nearly a year ago when he spoke of a support package for airlines and airports. The reality is that we faced a potential collapse of many aviation businesses, with the loss of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs, if that support was not forthcoming. At the very least, and for a start, it is time for the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government, again, and confirm 100% rates relief for aviation, in addition to all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, for the next financial year. The level of indebtedness in the sector, particularly given the likely slow recovery to 2019 levels, is dangerous, and any further support simply cannot and must not be loans.
We will need that growth desperately if the first weeks of Brexit are anything to go by. Over recent weeks I have spoken to road hauliers and logistics businesses and their customers, some of whom need to fill in and process 35 separate documents to facilitate export to Europe when before they needed just one. Hauliers are seeing their vehicles returned to the UK empty and are now considering downsizing and letting drivers go. Scotland’s high-value and high-quality food and drink industry is also suffering. James Withers of Scotland Food and Drink said:
“What I do know is we sell £1.2bn of Scottish food into the European Union every year and that has got an awful lot more difficult, an awful lot more expensive and an awful lot slower.”
Other countries across Europe have managed to support their workers without the red tape and testing beloved of this Government. It is time that we followed their lead as we move out of this pandemic.
In the past few days, Governments across the UK have outlined the first tentative steps out of lockdown and towards the reopening of our economy, but this will clearly not happen overnight, so the Government must avoid cliff edges and must also help businesses and individuals to get back on their feet. That is why Labour’s British recovery bond proposal is so crucial.
The hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit by this crisis. Speaking to pubs and restaurants in my Aberavon constituency, they tell me that the uncertainty over future economic support packages is making a difficult situation intolerable. They do not know whether they will have the money to pay bills and they cannot give their employees assurances over whether they will be furloughed because they are waiting for the UK Government to decide. The UK Government need to provide businesses and employees with clarity by extending and reforming the furlough scheme so that it lasts for as long as restrictions are in place and while demand is significantly reduced. Pubs and restaurants have not been able to take advantage of the reduced VAT rate, as for large parts of the year they have been shut, and when they have been able to operate, it has been at reduced capacity. Decisive action by the UK Government is therefore needed. Extending the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors would allow businesses to plan for survival and invest in safeguarding jobs.
The UK Government also desperately need to address the gaps in support schemes. It is a travesty that after almost a year the Government continue to ignore the plight of so many who have been excluded from the support schemes and have not received support they desperately need. My Aberavon constituency is a hotbed of creative talent, following in the footsteps of Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen and Richard Burton. For many in the creative arts industry, it has been horrendous: their industry is closed down, their work has dried up, their income has fallen off a cliff and because of the nature of their employment, they have not qualified for any of the support schemes and their savings preclude them from universal credit.
Others outside the creative industries have also found themselves in difficult positions, for example, a driving instructor in my constituency, who was not eligible for any of the self-employment support schemes, received support through furlough, which only managed to cover his national insurance contributions.
The UK Government have been consistently slow in responding to the crisis and have failed to provide the long-term clarity about economic support that is required. We need to do the right thing, plug the gaps in the schemes and support hard-working people in Aberavon and across the country.
Before the pandemic, a decade of austerity left far too many trapped in low-paid, insecure work and consistently failed by the social security system. The failing economic system has been further exposed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which produced a policy that led to 3 million people being left out of economic support. That is simply unacceptable.
We are at a critical juncture in the pandemic and the Government’s stop-start approach has meant that many businesses are now being forced to make tough decisions about their future. In my constituency, Chrisp Street market, Watney market and surrounding businesses are key to our local economy. Indeed, given the close proximity in which they operate, their sustainability is tied together. Despite that, market traders were slow to receive any support from the Government in the last financial year. To make matters worse, many small and independent businesses could not access grants and relief measures because of the premises criterion, whereby because they did not pay business relief directly, they were left out of support. It took months for the Government to begin to address that.
Conservative Members are quick to claim that every single business has had some form of support in the pandemic, but that is simply not true, and too many have spent 2020 in turmoil. Perhaps the Minister can today outline how markets, traders and small independent businesses will be supported towards long-term and sustainable economic recovery.
Economic measures are vital for businesses, but they are also vital to protect individuals. Under this Government, in the pandemic, unemployment is spiralling out of control. Just today, Office for National Statistics figures confirmed yet again that the economic impact of the pandemic continues to feed on inequality, with people living in more deprived areas experiencing mortality rates more than double those in less deprived areas. Unemployment is higher among ethnic minority communities: 13.8% among black people compared with 4.5% among their white counterparts; and 10.6% for ethnic minority women.
If the Government’s economic support measures are sufficient, why are there such glaring disparities in pandemic unemployment? If the economic measures are so satisfactory, why does there need to be 18 food banks—18—in my borough, trying to keep households afloat with the bare necessities? The answer is simple. The Government’s support measures are insufficient, unfair and inconsistent. At this critical juncture, the Government must do better.
The past year has been terrible for so many people and disastrous for innumerable business sectors, but as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs, I want to speak for those iconic small businesses, whose livelihoods have been shuttered by the Government for months through no fault of their own. An industry of 900,000 jobs contributes £23.6 billion to the UK economy annually and its venues are the lifeblood of our communities.
Pubs in my constituency of Warrington North, including the Station House in Padgate and The Albion and The Hawthorne in Orford, have gone above and beyond to support our community throughout the pandemic, providing free school lunches, a food bank and an online community to keep regulars connected, but they have been left without support.
Many publicans were looking to the Prime Minister’s announcement in the hope of refreshing news, but they remain mostly parched. Few industries have tried harder to comply with changing Government rules than pubs. Landlords spent thousands of pounds on adjustments to make their venues covid-secure, imposed unpopular and unscientific curfews, invested in tech like apps for ordering drinks, reconfigured their spaces to allow for social distancing, and even tried to unravel the esoteric substantial meal or scotch egg requirement. Yet not only did their revenues collapse, but they invested in perishable stock only to be shut in a trice because the Government had failed to limit transmission rates, spending the year doing the hokey cokey, bouncing in and out of rolling regional closures at little or no notice. So, compared to their existential crisis, last night’s road map was small beer indeed.
Pubs will look forward to reopening outdoors in April and indoors in May, assuming they can survive that long. The Chancellor’s grants of up to £9,000 have hardly made up for the shortfalls of the past year, and the whole pub industry will be looking for additional support in his Budget.
The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that 60% of pubs will not be able to open during step 2 of the road map and that many of those that can open will struggle to operate viably. That cannot be considered a proper reopening, and these pubs and landlords will still be hit hard by these requirements. Financial support will still be needed until all pubs can open fully, so Ministers should know that the Campaign for Real Ale is calling for an extension to the VAT cut and for it to apply to alcohol sales, the cancellation of business rates for another year, and furlough to be extended until every pub is properly open again, as well as a lower rate of duty on draught beer to encourage people back into pubs when they reopen.
With summer days ahead, the Government must not permit the Royal Oak to be felled and the Red Lion to be shot. These are the cornerstones of our communities, giving employment, communal spirit and mental health to so many people, and they must be supported through these dark days so that we can come together in our pubs to celebrate their end.
A number of Members have mentioned the gaps in support, and for the record I was the first chairman of the all-party group on gaps in support and now I am co-chair, and I want to put a couple of facts on the record.
I have been absolutely delighted by the cross-party support this APPG has received, and we are in constructive discussions with the Treasury as I speak. In fact this evening we had a meeting with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and the whole point is that there is good will and we are working together to try to identify solutions to the terrible situation many Members have pointed out this evening.
I have three quick points to make. It is very pleasing that the targeted income grant scheme is under consideration by the Treasury; I believe it would be easy to administer, fraud resistant and would offer long-term economic benefits for the country as a whole, and could support as many as 2.9 million UK taxpayers. We believe the Government should aim to allow pay-as-you-earn workers and freelancers to claim support based on their total income, including their trading and non-trading income. Finally, for those refused furlough by their employers, we strongly recommend that the Government pursue solutions and investigate employee rights, and this could include an appeals process.
Those are only three examples of the work we are doing, but it is important that the House understands that this is ongoing, and I am going to repeat myself by saying I am deeply grateful to Members from all parties who have been supporting these endeavours.
In the short time left I simply want to echo a point made very eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine). The hospitality and tourism industry is fundamental to the economic wellbeing of my far, far away, far north constituency and it is very important that the businesses are protected so that the seedcorn is ready to flourish and grow when the pandemic recedes and visitors can return. As my hon. Friend said, yes, we are one UK economy, and 80% of the rest of the UK comes to my constituency to enjoy the beauty of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. They will be very welcome when they come, and they will be very welcome to come within one United Kingdom.
We have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) and from Members up and down the country about the very real difficulties that so many businesses are facing, the despair felt by so many of our constituents at the prospect of their job disappearing or their businesses failing, and the desperate need for the Government not to wait another few days, but to set out clearly now the package of support they have in mind for businesses and families in the months ahead.
I begin by thanking Members for speaking very passionately in this debate. Many shared heartfelt stories about the issues facing businesses and individuals during the covid pandemic. I am afraid I cannot mention by name all the Members who have participated in this debate, but it is very clear that many constituents have been excluded.
We heard from my neighbour, the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett), about Pete Marshall the publican, who said that the Government must do more to prevent our treasured pubs from going under. That point was echoed eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols). We heard the sobering contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who relayed that ExcludedUK has reported 13 suicides during this crisis. I am sure I speak for all Members when I send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those families who have been impacted by such a tragic and life-changing loss.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), who powerfully advocated for the health and beauty industry, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who celebrated local artisan producers, acknowledging that they would drive the economic recovery. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) talked about how his survey of local businesses showed that lockdown measures failed to take account of their impact on small businesses.
What all these interventions have in common is the need for the Government to ensure what we on this side of the House have called for time and time again—for economic support to go hand-in-hand with the restrictions in place on public health grounds. We called for that as the pandemic began. We called for that month in, month out last year, and we call for it now, as we have a clear hope and expectation that the restrictions will soon be over.
The roll-out of the vaccine is good news for our country and good news for our economy. For much of the past 11 months, good news has been too elusive, and there now seems to be a way out and a way forward. For people in insecure jobs or whose employment has been severely affected by the pandemic or by the restrictions brought in to control it, the optimism brought by the vaccine is sadly tempered with concerns.
We have heard so many moving stories today about the concerns that firms have, that unions have and that families and individuals in every part of our country have. Those are concerns that my own constituents share, including Phoenix Tours, a family-run coach company that is concerned about paying its mounting rent arrears, business rates, wages, finance and insurance. Those concerns are shared by my constituent Anneke Scott, a world-renowned classical musician, whose self-employed musician colleagues trained tirelessly for years to master their trade and are now facing debt and depression.
This country is concerned about the debts that companies and individuals have built up and about paying them off over a sensible timeframe. They are concerned about meeting the full costs of business rates before turnover and profits are back to what they were before, and they are concerned about the level of trade they can expect if they have to hike up prices again before demand picks up. Individuals are concerned that their employer will not be able to keep them on without a furlough scheme that tides them through, even though the businesses will soon be running again. The self-employed are concerned that they still have not heard from the Government about the fourth self-employment income support scheme grant. People are concerned that those who work hard, play by the rules and have submitted a 2019-20 tax return still do not know whether that will make them eligible for support. There are concerns about the millions of excluded who fall through the gaps in the Government’s support schemes—they are still forgotten, still not supported and still excluded.
Today we ask the Government to act responsibly and take the right decisions that will secure our economy and rebuild our future. Our country has seen the worst excess death rate and the worst economic crisis of any major economy. That was not inevitable; nor is it inevitable that people should be worried about their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures. This Government should be taking decisions now with a relentless focus on jobs and growth, not putting them off for another week or longer. These are decisions that the Chancellor should have taken, should be taking and should be prepared to go on taking, and the failure to take them is itself a decision that the Chancellor should be here defending today. It is a pleasure to see the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) in his place today, but this crisis was made not on Victoria Street but on Great George Street, and it is extraordinary that the Chancellor is not here today.
In closing, I ask the Government again to remember that not every individual has savings, not every business has reserves and not every family has more than one earner. Not everyone can wait for the Chancellor to come to Parliament. It is past time for him and the Treasury to rise to this challenge and to set out a clear package of economic support for businesses and families, driven, as the Prime Minister might say, by data not dates, and to recognise that every day of delay causes more unaffordable hardship for people in all our constituencies. The Chancellor must do the right thing and act now.
[Interruption.] My apologies for the cough, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to thank hon. and right hon. Members for raising so many important points here today. I should confess that this is the first debate I have ever had the pleasure of closing, and it has been wonderful to be able to sit and hear properly from all parts of the House—and indeed all parts of our virtual country—some of the really important messages that colleagues wanted to share. We have heard some really powerful and passionate speeches, and I am grateful to everyone who has been able to contribute today.
Let me address some of the important issues that have been raised by our colleagues. The business grant scheme has continued to provide support to businesses across England during the periods of national and local restrictions. I do not think that any of us underestimate the challenges, particularly for many of our small businesses, as a result of these changes, but they have been incredibly resilient and the Chancellor has continued to provide the support that was needed. The Government have introduced unprecedented packages of support to assist those businesses that have been mandated to close, as well as those that have been severely affected by the restrictions. Indeed, many colleagues have highlighted their own constituency business situations, from Darlington to Brecon and Radnorshire and from Stourbridge to Stoke-on-Trent, once my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) was correctly dressed.
The depth of support and continuing commitment from the £280 billion that the Treasury has found has been extraordinary. It is the largest package of emergency support in post-war history, of which the loan guarantee schemes are an important and successful part because they have protected, created and supported jobs. We are committed to protecting those jobs, and we have extended the coronavirus job retention scheme until the end of April. The Chancellor will set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and protect jobs at the Budget next week. It would be remiss of me not to say that it is well beyond my pay grade to even begin to guess what he might have prepared for us. That is a question that we would all like an answer to. It has been asked many times today, not unreasonably, but the Chancellor will be here next week, when he will give us a plethora of solutions, I am sure.
Retailers have a history of responding to change. They are continually innovating and adapting to market pressures. That is what they do. That is the art of the retailer, and much of that dynamism has had to play out under the pressures of the last year, but we absolutely recognise the challenging environment that this sector has been operating in. Retail will always be a vital part of our local communities, and I want it to be at the heart of our high streets where our constituents live, shop, use those services and spend their leisure time as we return to normal. Traditionally, the hospitality sector has been the first to recover from an economic downturn, helping to drive our economic recovery more generally. As a result, it is more important than ever that the hospitality sector is able to play a leading role in our post-covid-19 recovery, not only economically but for the health and wellbeing of their customers, too. We all know and understand—indeed we have seen it for ourselves—that too many of our constituents are really struggling with the mental health pressures: the challenges of having to work from home; of having to teach their children at home, and of having to worry about the state of their finances. There are so many pressures, and, quite genuinely, the hospitality industry is part of the recovery not only of the sector itself but of all of us.
We will continue to work very closely with the sector. I would like to put it on record, and I know that the sector and colleagues will support me, that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) has been incredibly committed throughout this period, working with the sector and really trying to support it, and providing a constant voice and listening ear to make sure that he can do the best he can for it. I know that all those hospitality businesses are ready and waiting to recover quickly as soon as it is safe to open fully. They are ready to bounce back stronger and greener.
The roadmap sets it out very clearly, as the Prime Minister has done as well, that we will open safely and steadily, making sure that we do not have to return to any kind of lockdown. We want to go at the right speed and steadily to make sure that we can get there.
Let me return now to my green point. When discussing support for individuals and businesses across our constituencies, we must touch on our plans to build back greener, supporting those green jobs, accelerating to net zero and creating that long-term advantage in low-carbon sectors, such as nuclear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) highlighted earlier in her speech. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment to unlock three times as much in private sector investment by 2030. This will help to level up regions across the UK, supporting up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs. That will include quadrupling our offshore wind capacity to 40 GW by 2030, committing £500 million for low-carbon hydrogen production across the decade and investing £1 billion to make our homes, our schools and our hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient—an area of policy that I consider to be extremely important. The 10-point plan will be driving a revolution in electric vehicles and hydrogen buses, and enabling all of us to change how we live our lives in a way that is genuinely sustainable. Our businesses will have opportunities across so many sectors to drive to net zero.
We cannot avoid the fact that coronavirus is indeed one of the greatest challenges that the UK, and, indeed, all across our planet, have faced this past year. The Government recognise the significant disruption that individuals, businesses and public services have experienced as a result of the steps that have had to be taken to manage it and to protect our citizens.
To protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, the Government have provided immediate support on a scale unmatched in recent history, but as restrictions ease and the economy is gradually and safely reopened, the Government will carefully tailor the level of support to individuals and businesses to reflect the changing circumstances. The Prime Minister’s road map will set out our commitment to give businesses large and small the support and clarity required to plan ahead and manage everything from staff to supplies. Indeed, it will help businesses such as Leckenby’s tearoom in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) to be able to open safely for customers once again.
We will build on our short-term response to ensure long-term economic growth, working towards our longer-term objectives, boosting productivity and giving businesses throughout the country the confidence to invest as we put them at the forefront of new opportunities. The Government stand—
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Main Question accordingly put.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
That this House calls on the Government to support businesses and individuals still struggling as a result of the coronavirus crisis in the forthcoming budget by extending business rates relief for at least another six months, extending the temporary 5 per cent reduced rate of VAT for three months after restrictions are lifted or for another six months, whichever is later, helping British businesses struggling under the burden of Government-guaranteed debt by ensuring that small businesses can defer paying loans back until they are growing again, extending and reforming the furlough scheme so that it lasts whilst restrictions are in place and demand is significantly reduced, immediately confirming that the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant will be set at 80 per cent of pre-coronavirus crisis profits and extending eligibility to that scheme to include anyone with a 2019-20 tax return and fixing the gaps in coronavirus support schemes to support those who have been excluded from the beginning of the crisis; and further calls on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a monthly oral statement to Parliament updating the House on these matters.