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Covid-19: Business Support

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2020

The Government recognise the extreme disruption that the pandemic has caused businesses, which is why we have delivered a generous and comprehensive package of support, in line with best practices globally, totalling more than £190 billion. That has included grants, loans, the furlough scheme, the self-employment income support scheme, deferred VAT payments, business rate reliefs and protections for commercial tenants.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he and the Treasury consider reviewing the rules of the furlough scheme to deal with cases where some small businesses, particularly one in my constituency, missed out on that scheme through administrative error and, in effect, paid staff when that could have been done through the furlough? Will he discuss that with me separately to see whether we could review the rules to deal with that sort of administrative mistake?

Obviously, the scheme has helped 1.2 million employers, and that involves 9.6 million jobs. I am happy to engage with my hon. Friend on the specific example he raises. No appeal process is available for those who have made administrative errors, but if a mistake has been made by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, a complaints procedure can be followed. I will follow up on this with him personally.

This Government’s support for businesses throughout the pandemic has been wide-ranging and delivered at speed. Without the real-time information held by HMRC, it would have taken significantly longer for those grants to reach employers and many more jobs would have been lost. Digital tax administration not only helps HMRC, but cuts costs to businesses, so what is the Treasury doing to build on those successes and make the UK one of the most digitally advanced places in the world to run a business?

My hon. Friend is right; it is incumbent on the Government, in all Departments, to look at how we can refine the way we operate, to be more effective. That is why in July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor published a 10-year tax administration strategy, setting out our vision for a modern system, which will involve extending making tax digital to more taxpayers. That is a first step, and we hope it will bring us to a world-leading situation in this country.

I have been told by businesses in my constituency that the hospitality VAT cut was a lifeline to them and helped them to continue. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that VAT cut beyond January next year, to help those businesses with that recovery?

Clearly, every intervention has a cost, and that measure provided support for 150,000 businesses, protecting 2.4 million jobs. As we approach future fiscal events, all contributions and businesses cases for changes will be looked at carefully by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I am sure that he has heard my hon. Friend’s representations today.