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Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 1:24 pm, 12th March 2020

I will talk about the discussions I have had with business groups and business representatives, including those from the aviation sector. The Chancellor was very clear yesterday that this is a start. We will keep the situation under constant review and where support is required, we will look to see what we are able to provide.

Returning to the business interruption loan scheme, this is a temporary scheme that will help small businesses to access much needed finance. Yesterday, the Chancellor also announced £2.2 billion of support for about 700,000 businesses which are in receipt of small business rate relief or rural business rate relief. We want to ensure that every single eligible business gets their £3,000 at the earliest opportunity. We will work with local authorities to make sure that that happens. We will also refund businesses with fewer than 250 employees which pay qualifying statutory sick pay to people who are absent from work due to self-isolating for up to two weeks. We are providing vital tax relief, temporarily abolishing business rates for retailers whose premises have a rateable value of less than £51,000 and expanding the discount to include leisure and hospitality businesses. From creating jobs to supporting communities, small businesses are absolutely the backbone of our economy and this Government will always stand by them.

Yesterday, my Ministry colleagues and I heard from the Bank of England’s chief economist, who stressed the vital action that the Bank is taking to help banks to provide additional credit to businesses. Banks must absolutely be part of the solution and we are already seeing signs of that. Earlier this week, NatWest and Lloyds launched funds of £5 billion and £2 billion respectively for small and medium-sized enterprises directly affected by the impact of covid-19. NatWest also pledged to defer customers’ mortgage and loan repayments for three months. I want to see more lenders stepping forward and supporting our businesses through these challenging times.

As Business Secretary, I regularly speak to the business community, and in the light of covid-19, I have ramped up that engagement. Last night, I spoke with business groups and trade associations, including those from the aviation sector, to discuss the measures in the Budget and to reassure them of the Government’s commitment to support them. As I said, we will keep our response under review as the situation develops, but let me be very clear: this Government will always be on the side of business, entrepreneurs and innovators, because they pay the taxes that fund our brilliant public services.

Although I started my remarks by discussing our short-term measures to fight covid-19, it is worth reflecting what Conservatives in Government have achieved with the economy since 2010—I know that the shadow Chancellor will want to hear this. Employment is at a record high. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since the 1970s. A record number of women and a record number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are in work. Over 1 million more people with health conditions and disabilities are in work now than five years ago, and youth unemployment has almost halved since 2010. Employment is higher in every nation and region of the United Kingdom than in 2010.