I wanted to have more time to be able to say what a great job the Government have been doing: a 43-year low for unemployment rates, 1,000 jobs a day created and bringing in the personal allowance upgrade even earlier. We do not have time to go through all that, but I believe that getting people into work and out of poverty is the way forward for many families.
The Government were absolutely right to target business rates as a way of helping the high street and small businesses, with a cut of 33% in rates for businesses with a rateable value of under £51,000. In areas like mine with high property values, however, it is not having the impact the Chancellor might have hoped. The new rate simply provides a cliff edge that penalises successful businesses in areas that are plagued by high property values. We must devise a system that helps small businesses and pubs to thrive, not just those with a low retail value. I recently met pub owners in my constituency who have been hit extremely hard by business rates. I have cut out an awful lot of my speech, but I am pleased to say that I have secured a Westminster Hall debate on this matter next Tuesday. I look forward to exploring the matter further with a Minister. Pubs in areas such as St Albans are seeing massive hikes in business rates, not the help that was intended.
Time is pressing, but I want to touch on new clause 26 tabled by Sir Edward Davey. I have serious concerns about the retrospective nature of the tax being collected. Several of my constituents have raised cases with me and I am extremely concerned about how the process has been handled. Many make the case that this was not illegal tax evasion; they were advised to use the scheme as a way of keeping more of their own money. It is worth remembering that these people are not employees. They take on more risk, with no sick pay, maternity pay or other forms of support offered to an employee. I want to give a couple of personal examples, because I think that is key and we have so little time.
One of my constituents, who worked as an IT professional in the FinTech industries, is being pursued for £900,000 by HMRC for the loan charge. He is extremely worried—many are on the brink emotionally—and this has put him and his family under considerable stress. He had been advised that what he had done was lawful and he considered it to be so. He told me, worryingly, that he tried to settle the case with HMRC for about £700,000, but that that had been rejected. Many people who find themselves in tax difficulties manage to make negotiated settlements with HMRC. It appears that this particular group of people are being treated very unfairly and are being left in the very difficult situation of not knowing exactly how much they owe or how quickly they have to pay.