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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 2:08 pm, 25th March 2020

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for registering that point and putting it on the record. I will come to the question of communications, and perhaps I can include that point when I do.

As I have said, we stand ready to do whatever it takes to protect our society and economy. The first task has been to buttress our frontline public services. In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a package of support for the public sector—notably a £5 billion covid-19 response fund. Those investments will save lives here and now, and will also fund the research, diagnostic testing and surveillance that will bring the virus to heel over the longer term.

Meanwhile, the Government are working with the business community to bring our nation’s scientific, industrial and commercial expertise to bear behind the public health effort. We are seeing examples of this “can do” attitude all the time, as red tape is slashed, timeframes are condensed, and the public and private sectors pull together as one. Let me give one example. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is fast-tracking applications to authorise the production and use of denatured alcohol. That means that Scottish distilleries and others can turn the ethanol that they have over to the production of alcohol-based hand sanitiser. The usual turnaround time for such requests is 45 days. Since the beginning of March, HMRC has cut that to five days. This has resulted in an additional 2.5 million litres of alcohol for sanitiser being authorised in the last three weeks. We have now gone even further; as announced on 23 March, licensed distillers and gin producers operating in excise warehouses may now use their stocks to produce hand sanitiser without HMRC approval, provided that it is made to World Health Organisation standards or the alcohol used is denatured to the prescribed formulations.

Here, as elsewhere, we see a common approach: decisive action as soon as we can take it; feedback, often from colleagues across Parliament; and improvements as we go. We now have excellent consolidated information on coronavirus available through a single link on gov.uk, and there is specific guidance for businesses from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a new web page. I had a text message myself from the Government yesterday and the Prime Minister’s broadcast was watched by 27 million people, so I think it is fair to say that the message is getting out there. We have even had Ministers leaving behind their red boxes in order to work online. We know that we must be in the grip of a national crisis when Ministers leave behind their red boxes.