The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Northern Ireland Protocol
Top of the morning to you, Mr Speaker.
The protocol is explicit in its respect for the UK’s territorial integrity, and the Government are committed to delivering it with as little impact on businesses and day-to-day lives as possible. The Government have set up the free-to-use trader support service to support businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland at a cost of £270 million and have made full use of provisions within the protocol to ensure that no tariffs are charged on internal UK trade.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Does the Minister accept that the protocol actually discriminates against British businesses trading between GB and Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and GB? It undermines trade, damages consumer opportunities and rights, and increases costs to both consumers and businesses on both sides of the channel. What action will the Government take, and indeed encourage others to take, to save British businesses and the economy from this economic discrimination? How long will businesses have to wait for a solution and what compensation has the Treasury calculated to cover the loss in trade, which, at present, is running at hundreds of millions of pounds?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. Of course, this follows a wide concern that he has put in front of the House on many previous occasions. I do not accept the characterisation that he has given of the situation in Northern Ireland, but I absolutely agree with him that the Government need to continue to press for the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented in a proportionate and pragmatic way. That is an important goal of the Government. He talks about the schemes in place. Let me remind him that, so far, the trader support service has processed something like, I think, 700,000 consignments, 59,000 traders have been registered, there is the Brexit support fund and there is the new movement assistance scheme, as he will know, for food and agriculture trade. We retain a focus on making those systems, rules and support work as effectively and as widely as possible.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 2MC.]
We are encouraging employers of all sizes to take on new apprentices through our hiring incentive. Employers who hire a new apprentice of any age until the end of September will receive £3,000 per apprentice. We are also continuing to improve the apprenticeship system for employers by introducing more flexible trading options, making the transfer of unspent levy funds to small businesses easier, and supporting apprenticeships in industries with flexible working patterns through the launch of portable apprenticeships.
The Government’s £3,000 initiative incentive for businesses to employ apprentices is welcome, with several companies in my constituency looking to apply, including Shackletons in Dewsbury, and John Cotton and Alexander’s Bar in Mirfield. There is no doubt that this initiative has been a great success in enabling young people to get on to the employment ladder. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consider an extension in funding for the scheme beyond the 30 September deadline?
I pay tribute to, I think it was Shackletons and John Cotton in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the example that they are setting, which I hope is emulated by employers across our country. The scheme, as he says, has been a success. More than 50,000 incentive payments were claimed by employers, 80% of which were for young apprentices between 18 and 24. We will of course keep this very successful scheme under review.
Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people to learn, earn and realise their potential, so much so that I have just advertised this week for one to join my team via Hopwood Hall College in my Heywood and Middleton constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses big and small can play their part in turbocharging our post-covid recovery by offering these fantastic opportunities?
I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is working with Hopwood Hall College in his constituency to hire an apprentice. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to meet them in the future. He is right about the ability of this scheme to support all types of employers. Small businesses in particular should know that the £3,000 equates to about a 35% wage subsidy for young apprentices and the Government pay 95% of all training costs, so there has never been a better time for employers to do as he says to help turbocharge our recovery and to hire an apprentice.
As with every economic crisis, it is Telford’s young people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Telford College is playing a vital role in working with employers across the region and securing 1,000 quality apprenticeships this year, helping young people to build their future. Will the Chancellor congratulate Telford College on its inspirational work, and will he commit to putting skills and opportunities for young people front and centre in his economic recovery plan?
I am delighted to hear that news from my hon. Friend. I am happy to congratulate Telford College on a fantastic performance in creating new apprenticeships and working with its local employers to provide those opportunities. She is absolutely right: young people have borne the brunt economically of this crisis. They comprise the majority of the job losses, so it is right that they are front and centre of our minds as we think about the recovery. That is why, whether it is the kickstart scheme, tripling the number of traineeships or the new lifetime skills guarantee, we are focused on providing them with the opportunities and support that they need.
It is clear that the pandemic has hit the youngest the hardest. Alongside apprenticeships, many businesses in my Eddisbury constituency, including Safety Shield in Winsford, have used the kickstart scheme in order to bring more good jobs to young people as part of our economic recovery. To that end, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what impact the roll-out of the kickstart scheme is having, and how more businesses that want to, and could, join that scheme and invest in young talents in their area are able to do so?
I congratulate Safety Shield in Winsford on embarking on taking on new kickstarters. This is central to our plan for the recovery in providing opportunity to young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others. I am pleased to say that over 31,000 kickstarters have started their jobs, with 10,000 more to come in the coming weeks and months. I would say to employers who are looking to take on a kickstarter: go online, talk to your local business organisations, whether it is the Federation of Small Businesses or the chamber of commerce, or apply directly to the Department for Work and Pensions to be accredited so that you can give a young person a fantastic opportunity as we go through the stages of our recovery.
Unemployment is now falling fast in west Berkshire, and that is in no small part thanks to the Treasury-backed apprenticeship scheme. However, Newbury College, our principal training provider, says that it is still the large employers that take the bulk of young apprentices, when it is small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of our local economy. Does my right hon. Friend think there is an opportunity to reallocate some of the surplus from the apprenticeship levy to encourage take-up among SMEs?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am proud that she is working with Newbury College in her constituency. She is right that SMEs are the backbone of west Berkshire and other local communities across our economy. On her particular point, I am pleased to tell her that, from August of this year, employers who pay the levy but have unspent levy funds will be able to use a new bulk transfer service to send that money to SMEs, combined with a new SME match function so that they can find the SMEs that are most appropriate to their business, supply chain or local area. I hope that is helpful to her and Newbury College. The plan is for the Department for Education to have that up and running in August.
Personal Credit: Self-employed People
The Government have put together an unprecedented package of support for the self-employed, including the self-employed income support scheme, the temporary £20 per week increase in the universal credit standard allowance, and temporarily suspending the minimum income floor. The self-employed are also able to access the restart grant, the recovery loan scheme and business rates relief.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. However, my experience with some self-employed people in my constituency is that, having been self-employed for several years and accepted support from the self-employed scheme, if they then try to get credit, they are told that because they were on that scheme they are no longer eligible for credit, even though there is no reason to suspect that they will not be able to carry on being a guitar teacher, or whatever it is that they do, after the crisis is over. What can he say to the banks to ensure that they take a sensible approach to these people, who have perfectly sustainable businesses that have been suspended temporarily because of the Government’s restrictions but are just as good a credit risk as they were three or four years ago?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible and worthwhile point on this matter. We are looking closely at the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey, which indicates the degree of liquidity that exists. I work closely with the lenders on affordability assessments for the self-employed. I am happy to commit to continue to keep this matter under review and to receive further representations from him.
Covid-19: Support for Culture and Arts Sector
In March 2021, the Chancellor announced a further £300 million to build on the existing £1.57 billion of culture recovery fund support to protect our cultural sector. To date, more than £1.2 billion in grants has been paid.
The Minister is right, of course, to point out the unprecedented sums that have been given to the arts sector, and that is very welcome, but does he recognise that, particularly for the performing arts, the further four-week delay is crippling their future plans? As all the leading producers both in the west end and throughout the country point out, it takes months to get a show going, and uncertainty cripples that planning. Will he at least consider the calls from throughout the industry for a Government-backed insurance scheme to deal with cancellations if there is further uncertainty? There is a precedent in film and TV production that could readily be adapted. This is about getting them back working, which is actually want they want, rather than simply being subject to grants all the time. They want to get back on stage.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success of the film insurance scheme, which has protected over 45,000 jobs and £1.6 billion of spend. On the specific issue he raises, that is exactly why my right hon Friend the Chancellor announced the additional £300 million of support at the Budget. He anticipated the fact, in going long with that support, that there would be the risk of further delays to the covid row-back, so that was part of the announcement of an additional £300 million that he set out at the Budget.
The live events sector continues to be hard hit by covid-19. UK Music and We Make Events have called for additional financial support, an extension of the VAT reduction and Government-backed covid-19 cancellation insurance. Just now, it is impossible for those running concerts and festivals to plan, and some, including Kendal Calling, have had to postpone again until 2022. Can the Minister tell me why the UK Government have left this sector and the many thousands who work in it without the additional support they are calling for?
I fear that the question came before my previous answer. I had just mentioned the £300 million of additional support, over and above the £1.57 billion of support that has been announced. Indeed, the hon. Member frequently raises the plight of those individuals who have been hit, and again that is something we very much recognise. Again, however, that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out the wider package of support, such as the time to pay arrangements, loans, business grants and the universal credit uplift. This is about looking at the totality of support within the £352 billion that my right hon. Friend has set out.
Stimulating business investment will be key for our economic recovery, and under the super deduction we announced at Budget 2021, for every £1 a company invests in qualifying plant and machinery, its taxes are cut by up to 25p. We have also just launched the UK Infrastructure Bank, which will partner with the private sector and local government, supporting more than £40 billion-worth of infrastructure investment overall.
My right hon. Friend will know that manufacturing and engineering companies are absolutely crucial to the economy in the Black Country and in Wolverhampton. Does he agree that companies feeling confident to make investments, with Government support and schemes like the super deduction, is key to really building back quickly and better, and to lowering unemployment in the Black Country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of manufacturing in particular to the Black Country. I am pleased to have received the representations from organisations such as Make UK that led to the creation of the super deduction, which, let us be clear, is all about jobs. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: by companies investing and unlocking the cash that is sitting on their balance sheets, we will create jobs to help drive our recovery and drive up our productivity in the process. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight it.
Investment in Green Industries
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution set out £12 billion of new investment in green industries and will crowd in three times as much private investment. Budget 2021 built on the 10-point plan by encouraging private investment, using the tax system and continuing with the direct Government support announced at the spending review. It also included announcements on offshore wind, energy innovation and hydrogen.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Since June 2020, the Government have spent £1.5 billion on supporting low-income households to improve energy efficiency and install clean heat. A number of subsidy schemes for heat pumps are available and in development. The sector expects to install 67,000 heat pumps in 2021, which is up considerably from the 35,000 installed in 2019. At Budget 2020 we extended the renewable heat incentive, and announced the clean heat grant. That will provide grants for all homeowners towards the cost of heat pumps from 2022. Further funding decisions will be announced at the spending review.
Between the end of January and the end of April, 1.5 million people left the furlough scheme. The most recent business survey from the Office for National Statistics estimates that the number of employees furloughed continued to decline after that point, to approximately 2 million at the end of May, which is the lowest level reported by the survey since June last year. At the same time, the number of payrolled employees has increased for six consecutive months. I believe that the coronavirus job retention scheme is striking the right balance between supporting the economy as it opens up, continuing to provide support and protect incomes, and ensuring that incentives are in place to get people back to work as demand returns.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The furlough scheme has supported more than 11.5 million jobs since the start of the pandemic, and she is right to say that at that point, forecasts suggested that unemployment would peak at around 12%. Those forecasts now show unemployment peaking at half that level, which means 2 million fewer people losing their jobs than previously feared. Our unemployment today is lower than that in Italy, France, Spain, Canada, the United States and Australia, and it shows that our plan for jobs is working.
The figures my right hon. Friend gave in his earlier answers are encouraging, but some employers in my constituency with employees still on furlough tell me that they are desperate to get those employees back to work, but the uncertainty over when restrictions will finally be lifted is holding them back. For example, in the events supply chain, the unwillingness of customers to pay deposits is holding those firms back. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to get the economy moving and get those employees back to work is for restrictions to be lifted by 19 July?
My hon. Friend is right, and my hope and expectation is that we lift those restrictions on 19 July. By that point, we will have done what we set out to do, which is to get extra jabs in more people’s arms to provide us with that extra level of protection. My hon. Friend is right: the only sustainable way to protect those jobs is to reopen the economy so that people can return to work and provide for their families, and move on to bright new opportunities.
Independent experts have told the Government 12 times that the failure to provide adequate financial support to people self-isolating has contributed to the spread of covid, endangering lives and livelihoods. We now know that the Treasury instructed Government officials actively to supress information about the furlough scheme that was to be used by employers to financially support people self-isolating. Will the Chancellor explain why that instruction was issued by the Treasury? Will he appear in front of the parliamentary Committee’s inquiry into covid to explain why the Government chose not to improve self-isolation support, despite repeated warnings?
The hon. Lady is wrong, because the Government did no such thing. Indeed, guidance on usage of the furlough scheme was there in black and white—I am looking at it—and plain for everyone to see from the start. At the beginning of this crisis we improved the way that statutory sick pay works to deal with self-isolation. That was one of the earliest steps we took. We then introduced a rebate scheme for small and medium-sized businesses, to claim back the cost of statutory sick pay for isolating employees from the Government. We also introduced a £500 self-isolation payment, which once the isolation period reduced from 14 to 10 days increased in value by 30% and is now worth at least the national living wage to a worker, if not 20% or 30% more, depending on how many days they isolate for. That shows that the Government are supporting those who need to self-isolate. They did so at the beginning of this crisis, and they will continue to do so until the end.
Given the rapid pace of our economic recovery and the plans for the further reopening of the economy, I support my right hon. Friend’s decision to phase out furlough by the end of September. However, does he accept that a small number of sectors are likely to require yet further support after that time—not least the travel sector, whose revenues, according to evidence received by the Treasury Committee, have suffered a 90% fall during the crisis?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the difficult circumstances facing that sector, which is why I think in aggregate more than £7 billion of support has been provided to the sector through various means. He will know that there are some particularly large companies that talk to the Government on a bilateral basis. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on those conversations, but he will of course be aware of the support we have put in place, for example, for regional airports, the vast majority of which are paying no business rates for the first half of this year. As he would expect, we keep everything under review.
Financial Services Sector
The Chancellor set out the Government’s strategy on financial services to the House in November—a vision of a sector that is more open, more technologically advanced and a world leader in the use of green finance, serving the communities and citizens of this country. Since then, we passed the Financial Services Act 2021 in April to begin the necessary reforms to our framework, and we have agreed text with the EU for a regulatory co-operation forum.
There is no doubt that all should be done to support British businesses to export, no more so than in my constituency of Wrexham, which houses one of the largest trading estates in the UK. Businesses are keen to grasp these opportunities—none more so than Matclad, a specialist clay brick slip manufacturer, which is already reaping the benefits of exporting. Does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as the parliamentary export programme, which I recently took part in, are an excellent opportunity?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I experienced that myself with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray). The parliamentary export programme is an excellent way of getting that ambition to export out across the country, and it is just another example of this Government’s commitment to grow exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) may also be interested to know that I shall be visiting Cardiff tomorrow to meet the first cohort of FinTech Wales’s FinTech Foundry, a new accelerator programme that will support firms as they seek to build their footprint.
My hon. Friend knows of my concern about the protectionist attitude towards financial services that the European Union has shown over the past few months, and the risks to the City that result from it. We have President Macron hosting people from Wall Street next week, and we have the unlocking of travel in the European Union, which will help the financial services sector there. I hope that the Chancellor and the Minister will do everything they can to encourage ministerial colleagues to do the same here, but will the Minister take whatever responsible steps are necessary in modifying our regulations to ensure that the City and our financial services sector have a strong, competitive future regardless of the behaviour of the European Union?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his representations on this matter, and I heartily agree with him. We are promoting the international role of the sector and developing ambitious trade and regulatory relationships with other jurisdictions. We keep all these matters under review. We have taken on board the work of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, and just after Question Time, the Chancellor and I will be meeting representatives of banks as we seek to work with them to make those interventions that our financial services sector needs.
Financial services were not even part of the Brexit agreement that the Government negotiated, because they never made them a priority. Equivalence arrangements are nowhere in sight, £1 trillion-worth of assets have been moved abroad, and now food and drink exports to the EU have fallen by 47% in the first three months of the year. The Government estimate their new trade deal will add just 0.02% to our GDP. Is the sight of Ministers doing a lap of honour for that trade deal not the equivalent of asking our export industries to give thanks for losing a pound and finding a penny? When will the Government actually help our industries with the red tape that is baked into the agreement that they negotiated?
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of where we are. On financial services, as I hope he knows by now, we have deep dialogue across a number of jurisdictions. That is an ongoing process. If I think about the work we are doing with Brazil, India and China and the dialogues we are having with Switzerland, there is no end to this Government’s ambition to improve our financial services’ relationships and deepen the opportunities that Brexit has given us.
Plan for Growth Sector Visions
The details of the sector visions will be set out by the relevant Departments in the coming months. In developing the visions, the Government will consider the role of the state in supporting high-growth sectors that have the potential to build a globally competitive advantage, as well as how the sectors can also be used to support wider objectives, for example levelling up or enabling a transition to net zero.
I am very grateful to the Financial Secretary for his response. He heard the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), mention the tourism and travel sectors, and I encourage him to look on them favourably, but from my perspective, aerospace remains the No. 1 private employer in my constituency and across Northern Ireland. It employs more than 6,500 people. Last year was a difficult year for aerospace and still it turned over £1.4 billion. It has high-end and high-level manufacturing skills that we cannot lose. I hope the sector will feature in the plans that are brought forward.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the comments he makes. I share his view that aerospace is a very important strategic industry for the country as a whole and, of course, particularly for Northern Ireland and his constituency. Let me reassure him that the sector visions we are discussing will be guided by considerations of comparative advantage—we have a considerable comparative advantage in many areas of aerospace—and future growth potential—I do not think anyone doubts that that is an area. He will know that we are investing very heavily in supporting that sector in the transition to net zero, with green fuels and electric flights, and also supporting levelling up. Those all play into a very positive story for Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK.
The Government are committed to helping people own their own home. Our new mortgage guarantee scheme is increasing the availability of mortgages for credit-worthy households who only have a 5% deposit, helping them realise their dream of home ownership. The lifetime ISA provides a bonus to those under 40 saving towards a home, worth up to £450,000.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last week, The Sunday Times detailed the colossal sums imposed on ordinary people by rapacious freeholders and reckless developers. Why should anyone risk purchasing a lease on a residential flat if we fail as a Government to protect innocent leaseholders from bearing the costs of defective extra storeys or defective extra cladding forced on them by those who are actually responsible for such terrible defects?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The Government are investing more than £5 billion in building safety, including an additional £3.5 billion announced this year for the remediation of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders living in high-rise residential buildings. We are also introducing a new tax on the UK residential property development sector and a new levy on developers of certain high-rise buildings to help pay for cladding remediation costs.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the scheme has been up and running—as he says, it has been a matter of only a few weeks—we have seen the provision of 95% mortgages expand from just five to 192. This is a significant change, and I am grateful to the industry for the moves that it has made, with Government support.
Educational Catch-up Provision Funding
We are providing a further £1.4 billion over the next three academic years for education recovery. This is on top of the £1.7 billion provided for academic year 2020-21.
It has been widely reported that it was the Chancellor who refused by a 90% margin to find the funding recommended by Sir Kevan Collins to help our nation’s children to catch up on their education after the pandemic. The Chancellor has benefited from a first-class private education, so will he take this opportunity to apologise to the generation of children he is letting down as the Tories refuse to invest in our children’s and our country’s future?
There was a striking omission from that question. There was no reference at all to the additional £2.2 billion of core school funding, over and above which there is the £1.4 billion announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Of course, the House would expect proposals to be evidence-led, deliverable and provide value for money, and we will work with Department for Education colleagues on that, but there was no mention in the hon. Gentleman’s question of the additional £2.2 billion of core school spending uplift this year.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that the significant long-term cost to our economy from the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children and young people is as much as £350 billion in lost earnings. Has the Treasury done its own assessment and will the Minister have the decency to publish it?
As I said in my last answer, we will have a review to inform the question in terms of the impact on time. Most of the debates that we have had in this House have focused on teacher quality as the biggest driver of outcomes for children, so we need to see the evidence of it. For example, if we look at Finland, we see that Finland has a shorter school day but a higher PISA—programme for international student assessment—result. If we look at the USA, we see that it has a longer school day but a lower PISA result. So it is right that we look at the evidence, but teacher quality is usually seen as the bigger driver and that is why we have funded the tuition in the way that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has.
With this Government, it seems that it is a case of “don’t know, don’t care”. The reality is that the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children’s future is the very definition of a false economy. The Chancellor recently said that he could not say yes to everyone. He seemed to have no problem saying yes to the friends and donors of the Conservative party, but it is a no to the children who urgently need support to catch up after the biggest disruption to their education for a generation. Is the Minister really proud of that?
I am very proud that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has committed an additional £7.1 billion over three years to increase the school uplift, with £2.2 billion this year alone. I am very proud that he announced £1.7 billion of additional recovery funding. I am proud that he announced a further £1.4 billion, but again, the hon. Lady appears to have written her question before hearing the answer. The answer was that we will of course look as part of our review at the effectiveness of the additional time. I have cited some of the international evidence that we will look at, but teacher quality is usually the bigger driver and that is why we have focused on teacher training but also on the tuition programme, so that we are training an additional 500,000 teachers and rolling out 6 million tuition courses to get that targeted learning support to children across the country.
I was pleased to announce the location of eight new English freeports at the Budget in March. The next phase of delivery for freeports is being led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is working with the eight freeports to help them to establish the appropriate governance structures and develop their investment proposals. The Government will then review their proposals for investment and the deployment of the tax and customs reliefs later this year.
I welcome the news that we have a freeport in neighbouring Plymouth. Will the Chancellor’s Department please work with the Department for Transport to ensure that we have quick, flowing transport links across the Tamar to make the most of these opportunities for my constituents?
I am delighted for Plymouth and its surrounding communities that it has received freeport status. As my hon. Friend says, this is a fantastic opportunity to drive investment and create jobs. I will, of course, work with the Department for Transport on improving transport links across the south-west. She previously welcomed the £2.5 billion upgrade of vital road connections such as the A303, the A30 and the A358, as well as the replacement of the vital Dawlish sea wall, which will improve rail connectivity in the region.
Immigration: Sharing of Data between HMRC and Home Office
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has a strict duty of confidentiality in relation to information it holds on taxpayers. HMRC will share information on individuals or employers with the Home Office for immigration purposes only where a clear legal basis exists, and it will share or disclose only the information that is necessary and proportionate to the intended purpose through strict adherence to data protection principles, including the UK general data protection regulation. Personal data that is disclosed is minimised where it can be and strictly governed and subject to audit.
It is not necessary and proportionate in the cases I have been hearing about. In one case, someone who had been here as a highly skilled migrant for 10 years was refused the right to remain because he had miscalculated his tax by £1.20 years previously. What global talent does the Minister think will want to take the risk of uprooting their families to another country that may well kick them out for something HMRC previously said was a minor issue?
For reasons that I have described, I cannot comment on individual cases. However, the hon. Lady is welcome to raise them with HMRC on behalf of her constituents. I can tell her that legislation provides very specific, well-designed information-sharing gateways under an umbrella memorandum of understanding governing all data sharing between the two sides, and all of that is grounded in strict obedience with the law.
The Treasury carefully considers the equality impact of both individual measures and fiscal events on those sharing protected characteristics, including gender, in line with both its legal obligations and its strong commitment to promoting fairness.
I thank the Minister for that response, but there are glaring gaps. For instance, on women’s pensions, my constituent Kay cannot understand why she has to suffer because of the accelerated timetable for increases in women’s state pension age. What does the Minister say to her and to the Women Against State Pension Inequality who wonder why the Government have not undertaken an impact assessment of the detriment they have all faced?
The Treasury complies with its public sector equality duty and takes into account all sorts of circumstances that need to be considered before putting forward any policies. We have had numerous debates about WASPI pensions over the last four years, and I am afraid this issue is settled. If the hon. Lady has specific issues with a particular constituent, I encourage her to take those up with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Access to Cash
The Government recognise that cash is crucial to the daily lives of millions of individuals and businesses across the UK, and we have committed to legislate to protect access to cash. The Government made legislative changes to support the widespread offering of cashback without a purchase by shops and other businesses in the recent Financial Services Act 2021 and this summer we will consult on further legislative proposals for protecting cash for the long term.
I welcome the announcement that there will be further consultation, but will the Minister confirm that any legislation introduced post consultation will include a requirement on banks to provide adequate access to cash withdrawals that are free at the point of service and meet the needs of local communities in both urban and rural areas?
I can commit that we will look very carefully at the evidence on the best possible interventions to make. I am pleased that, as of March 2020, 98% of the population could access free cash within 3 km, but we have to come to terms with the fact that from 2009, when 56% of transactions were by cash, we were down to 17% by last year. We have to come up with appropriate legislation to meet that change.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
More than 1 million people still use only cash, and approximately 4 million use cash regularly, so it is vital that they have access to it. This is now the second consultation that the Treasury is going through, but as the PAC has seen, all the distribution of cash is in the hands of private providers. Can the Economic Secretary give any indication of the type of legislation that he can introduce to ensure that if people are very poor, they can get cash? That does not mean going to the supermarket and getting it out when they do not even know what is in their own account.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her recent elevation. I take her points on board, but this is a complex area. There will need to be a range of interventions from industry, working with regulators. The LINK scheme already has a £5 million fund to help areas of great deprivation and provide extra access points for cash, but we need to recognise that technology will have to play a significant role. We will also use the extensive network of 11,500 post offices to make good on our pledge to ensure that access to cash remains available across the country.
As we have reopened our economy since the last lockdown, we have continued to provide extensive support through our £400 billion plan for jobs, protecting businesses, families and individuals. I am pleased to say that the early data on household incomes, employment, corporate insolvencies and consumer and business confidence all show that our plan for jobs is working.
Following the Treasury’s announcement of compensation to cover up to 80% of the losses of holders of mini-bonds with London Capital & Finance, will the Chancellor now also act to provide full compensation to the victims of another scandal, the collapse of Equitable Life? The vast majority have received just 22% of their losses.
I can assure not just my hon. Friend, but Keith and Dave from the Titanic brewery, that we have consulted industry on the prospect of such a lower rate as part of our ongoing alcohol duty review. The team and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary are working closely with HMRC to further understand the practicalities and the cost of the proposals; we will provide further updates in due course. My hon. Friend is right about securing hospitality in the meantime. The temporary VAT cut, the business rates holiday and, indeed, freezing beer duty at the last two Budgets are all helping in the short term.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Whether on social care, on Northern Powerhouse Rail or on tackling climate breakdown, there is a growing gap with this Government between what is promised and what is actually delivered. The Treasury’s response to the net zero review was first due to be published in autumn last year, yet it is nowhere to be seen. The COP26 climate summit begins in November. While the UK is hosting, the Government cannot lead with authority, because the fact is that we cannot have a climate strategy without a sustainable economic plan behind it. Will the Chancellor please tell the House on what date he will publish the final report of the net zero review?
The net zero report will of course be published imminently, but the hon. Lady talked about last autumn. Last autumn, the Prime Minister published the green 10-point plan, perhaps the most comprehensive plan from any Government anywhere in the world, on how we will meet our net zero ambitions. Contained within that plan was £12 billion of new investment, creating probably a quarter of a million jobs when all is said and done, ensuring our leadership in industries such as offshore wind and creating jobs in places such as Teesside and Humberside, which is important to the future prosperity of this country, so I think we are doing a great job of getting on with meeting our climate ambitions and demonstrating leadership to the world.
Then why not publish the net zero review, Chancellor? When it comes to this Government’s net zero strategy, tomorrow never comes. There is no time to waste, because it is the responsibility of all of us to hand on to our children and grandchildren a more sustainable planet, creating new opportunities for our pioneering British industries and investing today in the jobs of the future, whether in hydrogen, tidal energy or electric vehicles, to ensure the fair and just transition that we need to see. So, as the Chancellor still cannot give a date, months after the event, for when he will publish his final report on the net zero review, will he commit to ensuring that our net zero carbon targets are hard-wired through the forthcoming spending review, as I would do as Chancellor?
Meeting our climate ambitions is obviously at the heart of everything that the Government are doing. The hon. Lady talked about sectors where we should show leadership: I have just talked about offshore wind, and we can keep going, with electric vehicles. This country now has more rapid charging points per mile than any country in Europe other than Norway, and we are doing more.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 3MC.] She talked about showing leadership: as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) reminds me, we recently published the Dasgupta review, which is a groundbreaking piece of work on tackling biodiversity. She talked about infrastructure: we launched the UK Infrastructure Bank just last week, not a million miles away from her in Leeds, the home of the infrastructure revolution. And at the G7 summit that I recently hosted, we reached a landmark global agreement to get the G7 to agree to mandatory climate disclosures, because, much as she would like us to, this Government alone cannot solve all these problems. The private sector will have to play its part, which is why climate disclosures across the world would help to unlock billions in private capital to help us to meet our climate ambitions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I briefly pay tribute to him for his work last week on tech net zero. We launched the UK Infrastructure Bank last week in Leeds. Capitalised with £12 billion from the Government, it will unlock £40 billion of investment into tackling both levelling up and our net zero ambitions, and the team there are fantastic. I want to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to Chris Grigg for his superb leadership. It is brilliant that we can attract people of his calibre to lead these organisations, and I feel very confident about the UK Infrastructure Bank’s future progress.
Concerns have been raised that the narrow criteria of the Business Banking Resolution Service have left far too many ineligible, and also that not enough banks are participating in the scheme. With many businesses now at risk with covid-19 debt, can the Minister tell me what he intends to do about the situation?
The hon. Lady is right in the sense that many businesses have taken on debt to get through the crisis, which is why we have implemented something called Pay as You Grow. More than 1 million businesses took bounce back loans, and they now have the ability, at their option, to turn those loans instantly into 10-year loans, doubling the term and reducing their monthly payments by around half, and to take further six-months holidays or interest-only repayment periods. They can take any of those options and it will not have any impact on their credit score, because we recognise the burdens on cash flow and we want to do our bit to ease them and support our recovery.
Of course, local taxation in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government. The UK Government’s primary focus, as my hon. Friend will be aware, has been on supporting recovery from the pandemic, and we recognise that the tourism sector has been particularly hard hit. That is exactly why we have provided more than £7 billion so far through the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality, accommodation and attraction industries across the UK; it is why we have extended the reduced rate until 30 September 2021; and it is why we have put in place a much wider array of support as we come out and play it long in relation to the pandemic.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the youth investment fund. It was a manifesto commitment and it is due to launch in the coming months. He will recall that at the spending review 2020 we allocated some funding to inform pilots, as we shape that launch.
The hon. Gentleman will know, as we have discussed it on many occasions, how we have absolutely bent over backwards to attempt to include as many people as possible and have leant into considerable discussion, both with excluded groups and with other related groups. As he will know, it is not a single picture; different groups are not included for different reasons. As a result, we have in part been able to evolve and extend the programmes, and he will be aware that we did so in the last iteration of the self-employed scheme.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Government will need to ensure that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with the change away from petrol and diesel vehicles so that we can continue to fund infrastructure such as the A3, which she mentions. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for Transport can speak about her petition specifically, but I would like to reassure her and her constituents that this Government will continue to focus on record, unprecedented investment in the strategic roads network over this Parliament, through the £27.5 billion road investment strategy, which will deliver about 70 major upgrades.
It is absolutely clear that there are significant lessons for the FCA to learn from the Gloster review, and I have regular conversations, including just last week, with the new chief executive on the transformation programme. He has employed five new senior executives to drive that programme forward urgently, and I look forward to seeing the results of that intervention.
My hon. Friend rightly recognises the value of the TIGRR report, which we received last week, and we will be looking very carefully at those recommendations. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor chairs the better regulation committee, which has been established to drive forward a new strategy to deliver better regulation outside the EU. There is a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have made available to local authorities, initially at least, £1.5 billion and a further top-up sum, in order precisely to meet hard cases that may fall between the cracks of the very wide-ranging support that we have given otherwise. I strongly encourage her constituent to talk to her local authority about that funding.
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. He will know from the announcement at the Budget that the prospectus set out the process, the types of projects, and indeed how bids will be assessed. To reassure him, there will be further opportunities for local authorities to submit bids to the fund. One of the things that we are encouraging those local authorities to do is to work with elected Members of Parliament in the shaping of those bids, and I hope that they will now take the opportunity to do so.
The hon. Lady talked about outcomes in the labour market. She will know that we have now had six consecutive months of more people in work, which is something to be celebrated. Vacancies are now running higher than they were at the start of the pandemic, which is a fantastic sign of things to come. The unemployment rate, as I highlighted earlier, is now half what was forecast: 2 million fewer people are forecast to lose their jobs, which is lower than most of our major competitor countries. She is right to highlight, as we have discussed previously, the plight of young people. Our interventions, such as the kickstart scheme and the apprenticeship incentive, will continue to provide opportunity for them up and down the country.
I congratulate Elddis, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving Elddis profile, on fighting the campaign that he has, and on the outcome and its very successful results in this case. I have it on very good authority that the Chancellor would be delighted to visit Elddis, so I am in a position to make a binding commitment from the Government side, and I am sure that he looks forward to it very much.