Skip to main content

Covid-19: Support for Businesses

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (908544)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (908571)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on increasing support to businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (908572)

The Department has engaged regularly with the Chancellor and other partners across the devolved Governments, including in Scotland, since the beginning of the covid-19 outbreak to make sure that businesses have the right information, guidance and support that they need.

A pub owner in my constituency has seen his business severely impacted by covid-19 restrictions but has been unable to access a bounce back loan, as the bank where he has his business account is not part of the scheme and none of the accredited lenders are accepting new business accounts. Will the Secretary of State widen the number of banks eligible to provide these loans or ensure that the big lenders accept additional business customers, so that small businesses can access the support they need to get through this crisis?

Obviously, I am not familiar with the exact details that the hon. Lady refers to. What I can point out is that in her constituency of Central Ayrshire, banks have provided something like £37 million of business loans, but I would be very interested to hear the specifics of that case and to see what we can do to meet those concerns.

In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), the Secretary of State claimed that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not have the information necessary to distinguish between an active, working owner-director of a small business, and an absentee shareholder of a big business who contributes no part to the running of the business. HMRC may not have all that information, but Companies House definitely does and most of it is on public record, so can the Minister tell us what discussions his Department has had with Companies House in the last seven months with a view to using that information to identify the million or so small businesses that have been deliberately excluded from Government support up until now?

We are in constant contact with Companies House and other sources of information relating to businesses. With regard to the specifics, I am not as familiar with those charges as the hon. Gentleman, but again I point out that something like £30 million of loan money—of credit—has been supplied to companies in his constituency.

While I welcome the extension of the furlough, albeit belatedly, I would suggest the next step to repair mistakes made in handling the pandemic for businesses is to look at the failures within the business interruption loan schemes, which I outlined in a debate in this Chamber last week. Many companies are not taking on CBILs or BBLS loans, because having more debt around their necks is the last thing they need just now. Has the Minister carried out any analysis of the potential effects of offering businesses grants, rather than loans?

The provision of credit, as I have suggested to some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, has been very generous during this covid-19 period. Obviously, we can refine the process and we are very open to listening to ideas from hon. and right hon. Members about how we can do that. I would like to point out that, last year, in his constituency of Midlothian, we issued something like £49 million-worth of credit. Many of the companies in his constituency have been very grateful and very happy to receive that money.