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Covid-19: Business Support

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 25 May 2021

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (900509)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (900524)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented to Parliament the Budget, which sets out an additional £65 billion to support people and businesses. We have hit every road map commitment at every stage so far, and no one can doubt that we are leading in our support to businesses. We have even taken the total cumulative cost of support to £352 billion.

ExcludedUK is set to reach its first birthday soon, which must be a bittersweet moment for many of my constituents. It is frankly a disgrace that the campaign has had to continue in the face of the Government rejecting the calls to support the 3 million who have been ignored and denied covid support. Does the Minister not agree that the self-employed and others denied support now deserve to have funds backdated so that they can rescue their livelihoods and contribute to the economic recovery, rather than simply adding to online dole queues?

Throughout the covid-19 pandemic the Government have supported people and businesses across the whole of the United Kingdom. The Budget extends the UK job retention and self-employment income support schemes and the VAT cut to support the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors. To date, businesses in Midlothian have benefited from more than 1,500 loans and £56 million, with more than 16,000 jobs supported through furlough.

I recently introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on making mental health, or psychological, first aid a legislative requirement for workplace first aid, going beyond its recent positive inclusion in Health and Safety Executive guidelines. Will my hon. Friend please meet me to explore my proposals, which make a very small change to make a very big difference?

I know how passionate my hon. Friend is about mental health and this campaign. I myself am dedicated to supporting campaigning and advocating for mental health, and I care passionately about mental health in the workplace. Indeed, we are working on a people and culture strategy for research and development. We will ensure that my hon. Friend has the opportunity to discuss the matter further with relevant Ministers.

The Chancellor has announced that the job retention scheme must end in September, yet thousands of workers in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill remain on furlough, with their industries required still to close. While the vaccine roll-out gives us real optimism, the world remains firmly in the grip of this pandemic. It is unacceptable to leave workers and businesses with only four months before they face this cliff edge and are cut off from this vital lifeline. Other European nations, such as Germany, have already committed to continue with their equivalent scheme until 2022. With that in mind, will the Minister join me in imploring the Chancellor to do the right thing for workers and businesses in my constituency and across the UK by extending the retention scheme for as long as it is required?

The Government have provided unprecedented support to business sectors throughout the pandemic, including the hospitality and retail sectors. In addition to the job retention scheme and cuts to business rates and VAT, we have provided one-off restart grants of up to £18,000, which are available to businesses in the non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and personal sectors to support them to reopen as restrictions are relaxed. To date, businesses in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill have benefited from more than 1,500 loans and £59 million, with 70,800 jobs supported through furlough.

This week marks English Tourism Week, but the UK’s tourist destinations have been hit hard, with a much higher than average increase in people who are now out of work, including in places such as Scarborough and Whitby. Many tourism businesses, such as hotels and cafés, have taken on debt to stay afloat, and one in five hospitality businesses now says that it is at moderate risk of insolvency. Yet the Government’s pay as you grow scheme does nothing to solve the underlying long-term issue of business debt, which means that businesses will have to repay whether or not they are making a profit. Does the Minister agree that, if we want to give businesses the time to build up their trade and resilience, and also protect jobs and not let debt stifle the recovery, we need a genuinely flexible repayment scheme such as the one Labour has called for.

We care passionately about businesses in this Government, and our support package includes the job retention scheme, generous grants and cuts to business rates. Pay as you grow measures will allow 1.5 million bounce back loan borrowers to extend payment terms and to benefit from a further repayment holiday. Our plans to support economic recovery and pursue growth through significant investment in infrastructure skills and innovation will help us to build back better and level up across the United Kingdom.