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Covid-19: Financial Support

Volume 682: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial support for people in Wales affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (907297)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial support for people in Wales affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (907301)

I have regular discussions with the Chancellor, and we spoke only last week. He has since announced a significant package of further job support and an additional £400 million of funding for the Welsh Government.

Tourism and hospitality is the backbone of the economy of the Gower peninsula. My constituent Lara Joslin runs the Kings Head in Llangennith. She is fighting to keep her family businesses alive. Lara runs a popular rural pub with accommodation, which, like many others in Gower, provides vital part-time jobs for local people. Why is the Secretary of State not banging on the door of the Treasury to right the wrong of the job support scheme failing to support independent hospitality businesses such as Lara’s?

The hon. Lady and I have a similar dependence on tourism in our constituencies, so I understand absolutely the argument she makes about its value, but I remind her that so far UK taxpayers have contributed £1.1 billion by way of bounce back loans; £490 million in self-employed income support; £303 million in coronavirus business interruption loans; £30 million-worth of eat out to help out; future funding of £7 million—I would carry on, Mr Speaker, if only you would let me—and that is not to mention the 401,000 employees on furlough. The Treasury has gone above and beyond the international average and tried to get to every single business in every single area of the UK, and that includes Gower just as much as anywhere else.

For those who are able to access the Government’s new job support scheme—many are locked out or deemed by the Government to be in unviable jobs—a cut of a third of wages for the low paid makes it extremely hard to pay bills and feed families. Does the Secretary of State really get this? If so, will Wales Office Ministers fight to get a better scheme?

Often in this questions session we have talked about the fact that there will always be those in all our constituencies who do not quite fit every single one of the intervention measures that the Chancellor has announced over the past few months. In those circumstances, of course we want to be as flexible as possible and to try to find ways, through either the intervention schemes or universal credit, to support the hardest-hit families as best we can. If the hon. Lady brings to my attention individual examples of those gaps, I will of course do my best to address them.

Throughout this pandemic, Welsh businesses have done all they can to stay open and stay trading, with so many drawing on the support grants and loans that have been so important in keeping them afloat. But as more areas of the country come under local restrictions, with trading halted or severely limited, and amid fears about public confidence, many businesses feel that they have absolutely maxed out on their borrowing and are worried about the future. What plan do the Government have to support businesses that are now heavily in debt, to make sure that the burden of repayments in the coming months does not mean that they go under?

I start by expressing some confusion: on the one hand, Opposition Members are articulating a Welsh Government view that the existing interventions are not strict enough, but on the other, the hon. Lady gets to her feet and says that the interventions are almost imposing undue hardship. It is quite difficult to know exactly where the Opposition stand on getting the balance right between disease control and the maintaining of a vibrant economy. At each and every stage of this process, the Chancellor has been flexible and adaptable and has recognised that the situation is changing, often by the hour, let alone by the day or week. The financial interventions, which up to now have been about £4.4 billion by way of Barnettised contributions to the Welsh Government—and we could probably double that for the other interventions, which are more direct—have supported business in Wales. But of course, as the circumstances change and our reaction changes, so we will remain flexible.

Indeed, we have always said that any restrictions need to be backed up with proper financial support measures for business. To reduce the spread of the virus it is also vital that workers who are unwell or asked to self-isolate do actually stay off work, but as hours are reduced in sectors such as hospitality, an increasing number of Welsh workers will find themselves falling below the minimum weekly earnings threshold needed to qualify for statutory sick pay. To expect them to live off nothing for a fortnight is totally unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor to do the decent thing and extend the statutory sick pay scheme to all workers?

I know from my personal contact with the Chancellor over the past few weeks that he is looking at all these options. That is why the winter resilience measures were brought in a week or so ago, on top of all the other measures he has introduced, which recognise the very difficult situation in which so many people find themselves. I am not going to stand here and say that we are never going to consider another option; of course we will. We will always look at the individual circumstances, particularly of those who are hardest hit.

Further to our recent meeting, with the various covid funding measures being announced by the Government sometimes seeming haphazardly and causing some confusion—the bid for football here, the bid for the arts there and now, apparently, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy funding for universities in Wales even though the matter is devolved—will the Minister consider publishing a regular simple table of the Government’s covid funding with the consequential amounts for Wales if there are such?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about universities. Of course, that is a devolved matter and yet hugely dependent on the Union effort. In answer to his very direct question, I can give him a very direct yes.