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Economic Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:17 pm on 17th March 2020.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak The Chancellor of the Exchequer 7:17 pm, 17th March 2020

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the constructive attitude with which he approaches some of these issues. I very much welcome his desire to work with me to try to solve some of the pressing issues that face our nation.

I will try to answer as many of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions as possible, starting with financial security for our most vulnerable people. I wholeheartedly agree that this is a priority and should be a priority, which is why, in the Budget, we made significant changes to the operation of statutory sick pay, universal credit, and employment and support allowance to ensure that people had quicker and more generous access to a support system for them and their families. We have already invested £1 billion to provide that extra security, but of course we keep all these things under review. As I said, the next step of our plan is to focus on providing support to people, their incomes and their jobs over the coming days.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about insurance for the leisure sector. I can confirm that, after extensive meetings today between my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the insurance industry, the insurance industry will honour insurance contracts that would have been triggered if the advice had been to ban certain things, rather than it being advisory not to do them. That has been agreed and negotiated by my hon. Friend. I thank him for those efforts, and I thank the insurance industry for doing the right thing.

The shadow Chancellor asked, rightly, about renters. Of course, I announced measures today on mortgages. He is absolutely right that the biggest fixed cost that many families face will be their rent payment, and it is right that we have regard to that. I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary will, in the coming days, make a statement with further measures to protect renters through these difficult times.

The shadow Chancellor asked about other countries and their experience, and about global leadership. He mentioned some specific examples of schemes. I can assure him that I am in touch with my counterparts across the G7 and the G20 to understand how schemes in other countries work. He mentioned, for example, employment support schemes in both Germany and Denmark. I say to him and to the House that, whatever package or scheme we come up with that we believe will provide the appropriate support, it is important that we can operationalise that at speed. The difference between our system and that of many other countries is that they have these systems already in place, so it is far easier for them to step them up quickly. We need to make sure we come up with a solution that can be delivered so that it makes a difference to people quickly, which is why I am happy to work closely with unions and business groups to see what will make the most sense.

On international leadership, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it was widely noticed by other countries that last week, in this country, we saw both monetary and fiscal policy—the Government and the Bank of England working independently but in a co-ordinated fashion to provide significant support and confidence to the economy. That was acknowledged by people, including the International Monetary Fund, which noticed what happened here and pointed at it as an example for others to follow.

On the scale of our response, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the analysis comparing the scale of the fiscal support that various different countries are providing. Again, I think he will find that the package of measures announced both last week and today shows that we have one of the strongest responses of anybody in the G7 as a percentage of GDP to the significant challenge that we face.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the delivery of the loan scheme and it is right to focus on how it will be delivered. We have been working at pace over the past week to make sure that the loans can be delivered not by the British Business Bank, but by individual retail banks on high streets up and down the country. Again, because of the work of the Economic Secretary, that will happen by early next week: businesses will be able to walk into their local branches and request a business interruption loan that has been backed by the Government on these attractive terms. Again, we have to work with the systems that we have. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good because we want to be able to deliver these schemes as quickly as possible to businesses up and down the country.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about support for a variety of sectors. I can tell him that I have urgently asked my Cabinet colleagues to convene roundtables and engagement with their particular industries to understand if there are specific measures we should be looking at, on top of the measures for airlines and airports that we can look to address in the coming days. All the sectors he mentioned will be covered by that.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: when it comes to providing support to larger companies, if the taxpayer is going to be put at risk in supporting those companies, it is right that the taxpayer is rewarded on the other side. That is a principle with which we also wholeheartedly agree. He can rest assured that, as we negotiate those situations, we will always protect the interests of taxpayers.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly asked about public services. Our No. 1 priority is to ensure that the NHS has everything it needs to get through this period. I made that commitment last week. I re-echo that commitment today.

On the Barnett consequentials, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen this week that we released the full amount of the Barnett consequentials resulting from the Budget package in advance to all devolved authorities. Today, I announced the overall quantum. Again, we will quickly release those, in advance of those payments being released in England, to the devolved authorities, so they can plan appropriately.

The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that all the specific public service issues he mentioned, whether school meals, schools and social care, are under active and urgent consideration.

I will end on this point. Our public servants, in particular those working hardest in our NHS right now, deserve nothing but our support at this difficult time. I want them to know, and I want the country to know, that we will do whatever it takes to get through this.