Skip to main content

Covid-19: Support for Businesses

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021

Throughout the pandemic, the Government have sought to support businesses across the UK. To do this, we have put in place a package of economic support for businesses and individuals worth £352 billion since the start of the pandemic. The Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England have highlighted that without this intervention the UK economy would be significantly worse than it is today.

What additional financial assistance can my hon. Friend give the all-important tourism sector in Cornwall to ensure that it is fully ready to greet the G7 in June?

Cornwall hosting the G7 is a fantastic opportunity. I know that my hon. Friend has welcomed this chance to showcase all that Cornwall has to offer. Many organisations in the broader tourism sector have benefited from business grants of over £34 million provided to her constituency of South East Cornwall, as well as business rates holidays and a temporary reduction in the rate of VAT. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has recently announced the £56 million welcome back fund to support safe local trade and tourism as economies reopen.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and particularly welcome the support being offered in the form of extended business rates relief. Looking to the future and with reform of business rates in the pipeline, what discussions have taken place with Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy colleagues about the potential to balance the need to secure the correct revenue to support vital local government services and boosting high streets like mine in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner through the reform of business rates?

My hon. Friend brings a great deal of expertise and experience to this matter. The Government have committed to over £16 billion in business rates support for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure property since April last year. When combined with small business rates relief, this means that three quarters of a million retail, hospitality and leisure properties in England will pay no business rates for the 15 months from 1 April last year. The Government are, however, undertaking a fundamental review of the business rates system and have invited stakeholders to contribute their views and ideas for reform. I know that my hon. Friend will also be very pleased to see the £16.9 million of business grants that his constituents have received.

Warren Buffett once said:

“What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.”

With a 50% rise in the number of companies in significant financial distress, to prevent repeating the historical mistakes of post the last financial crisis, inflicting all that scandalous treatment on SMEs, will my hon. Friend consider working with the banks to extend the very fair and sensible provisions of the pay as you grow scheme and bounce bank loans, and also transfer that into CBILS—coronavirus business interruption loan scheme—loans?

The Treasury has, as my hon. Friend will know, amended the CBILS rules to allow lenders to extend loan terms from six to a maximum of 10 years, and that would assist borrowers in that repayment. CBILS term extension will be offered at the discretion of lenders, unlike pay as you grow options for bounce back loans, because they are different in terms of the guarantees that the Government have offered. Extensions are limited to those borrowers that lenders assess are in difficulty and will benefit from that extension, and only for the duration required. That customised approach, as I am sure he would understand given his vast business experience, is appropriate given the nature and scale of that different intervention.

When Lex Greensill was given his No. 10 business card, he had no contract and no job description, and there have now been reports that during the pandemic, the financial empire that he built may have lent Government-backed money based on invoices to companies that had never done business with his client, GFG, some of which say they had no intention of doing so. Will the Minister look into the issue of how this financing was structured and ensure that hard-working British steelworkers do not pay the price for Greensill’s collapse?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I can assure him that this Government are fully committed to examining all those matters through the review process and complying with all requests for information in order to get to the bottom of this matter.