The Government recognise the significant impact of coronavirus on businesses across every region and nation of the United Kingdom, and that is why we have put in place an unprecedented series of measures to provide support, whether that is through the coronavirus job retention scheme, tax cuts, tax deferrals, Government-backed loans or cash grants.
Business support that was originally designed for three months is now wholly inadequate for 12 or 18 months. Business debts and deferrals are mounting and now have to start being repaid, and the holidays are coming to an end, all at one big danger point in April. Cash grants are worth less and many still do not qualify for them. While the Chancellor might pat himself on the back, reports out this week show that nearly 250,000 businesses are likely to go bust this year, taking many jobs with them. Does he recognise that he cannot pull the plug all in one go in April, given that many businesses will not even have reopened at that point, and that with the effects of the vaccine around the corner, it makes no economic sense to allow businesses to go bust at this critical point, having supported them for so long?
No one, least of all me, is patting themselves on the back while hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs and many businesses are seeing extreme dislocation as a result of what is happening in our economy. I have put in place a series of measures, but I have always said that we cannot protect or save every job and every business. The hon. Lady makes a fair point, which is why we have said that we will review all our economic measures to support people through coronavirus at the upcoming Budget, in the first week of March.
Many female business owners have found themselves working full-time jobs at home while bearing full-time responsibility for childcare and home schooling, all at the same time. May I thank my right hon. Friend for all the steps he is taking to alleviate the difficulties experienced by mothers who just want to work and contribute to the economy with their children safely back in school?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we owe mums everywhere an enormous debt of thanks for doing the enormously difficult job of juggling childcare and work at this tricky time. I know she will join me in being happy that early years settings have been open for a while, but she is right to say that the only way to sustainably solve this challenge is safely to reopen our schools as quickly as we can.
I have long believed that there was a compelling case for reducing VAT for the hospitality sector, and the pandemic-inspired cut helped to save the season between lockdowns. May I ask that my right hon. Friend, when he is looking at his Budget, considers making the cut permanent, to power the recovery across the UK, including in my destination town of Eastbourne, where one in four jobs depends on tourism?
My hon. Friend is rightly a champion for her local tourism and hospitality businesses, and she is not alone; across the country, hundreds of thousands of these businesses employ 2 million people. Those businesses are particularly vital in constituencies such as hers, which is why we reduced the rate of VAT—it runs all the way through to the end of March. She will know that we have an upcoming Budget, where we plan to review all our measures of support.
As you know, Mr Speaker, many of our manufacturers here in Lancashire have worked through the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate businesses such as J & J Ormerod plc, James Killelea and Co Ltd, WEC Group and Perspex, who not only have worked through the pandemic, but show that high-value manufacturing and the real economy need to be things the Chancellor fosters and supports in his forthcoming Budget?
I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the businesses he mentioned. We know that many manufacturers, especially those in his area, have worked very hard, particularly with regard to ventilators and personal protective equipment at a time of this country’s need. He is right to say that that should play a part in our recovery. One initiative I would point to, which I believe will be in and around his area, is the Made Smarter partnership between Government and high-value manufacturing, which seeks to foster innovation, digital adoption and the latest and greatest management processes. It seems to be working very well and I look forward to learning more about that initiative.
Cheadle businesses that faced fines for failing to submit self-assessment returns by the end of this month will be relieved by yesterday’s announcement of an extension until the end of February, as that will remove a great deal of worry and anxiety from business owners who are already under great pressure. With the original deadline only a week away, what steps will the Department take to ensure that all businesses are aware of these changes?
As an accountant herself, my hon. Friend knows all too well the fantastic job that these people are doing, under enormous strain, at this current time. I know that, as she said, she warmly welcomes the announcement yesterday by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to waive penalties until the end of February for late filers. She is right to say that we must make sure that everyone is aware of this, and we are doing everything we can, on all our channels of communication, to get this news to businesses. I ask other colleagues across this House to do exactly the same in their constituencies.
There is a looming bloodbath for many businesses at the end of March, when the moratorium on commercial landlords taking action against tenants in arrears comes to an end. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that acute danger? What action might he consider taking to avoid it?
My right hon. Friend knows that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is engaged with that issue and has worked with the industry to put in place various codes of practice to encourage good and constructive dialogue between landlords and tenants throughout a difficult situation. There are promising signs that that is happening.