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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 4:11 pm, 25th March 2020

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I have been raising this issue for the past week, as I know other colleagues have. The Federation of Small Businesses, for example, has been lobbying not only us but the Government, asking them to do something urgently about this.

Another key point is that some individuals, if they are not supported now, will not be in business after the crisis is over. All our communities need the services that those businesses supply. It is about not only supporting individuals, but supporting those businesses in our local communities. I urge the Government, as I have been doing for the last week, to do something about that urgently. I hope that that comes in.

When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury opened the debate, he talked about communications, which the Government have not got right. Chris Stephens mentioned companies that are still asking people to go to work. It is okay for the Prime Minister to go on television and say, “This is what you can do,” but this morning I received telephone calls from individuals who have been told by their employer that they must go to work in their local engineering company or they will not be paid.

That is fine for people who have great savings or access to a trust fund, or for those who are independently wealthy, but some people need that money to survive. The messaging is okay when it is said, but turning that into action is another thing altogether. As Richard Thomson said, some companies know that their workers are not needed with regard to the criteria that have been laid out. They are putting not just those individuals at risk, but the rest of us as well.

The other issue is the support that has already been given to business. I welcomed the comprehensive package that was introduced last week for business but, again, communication is an issue, and the Government need to look at that. As the debate started, I received an email from Scott Hawthorne, who runs a waste disposal company in my constituency. He asked whether it would be possible to get clarification on the announcement on furlough funding, because he wants to keep people on. However, he cannot do so, since he cannot explain the basic, simple messages to people because he does not have the information about what the deal is. His finance director cannot make an assessment regarding cash flow, who they can keep on, and whether they will get the money in time.

Earlier in the week, that waste disposal company offered its services to the local county council. The company wants to do good, but the messaging has to get out. I know the people at this company; if they are having difficulty interpreting the Government’s scheme, I am sure that others will be in a similar situation. That is leading to a lot of uncertainty on behalf not only of companies, but the individuals they employ. There are companies that want to do the right thing by their employees, and we should support them. I urge the Minister to ensure that that advice is put up on Government websites and reaches such companies as a matter of urgency.

In Durham, we have a number of prisons and a lot of prison officers live in my constituency. There is an issue for prison officers regarding exposure to the virus in prisons. The Government need to take some steps as a matter of urgency to ensure that those prison officers and other people working in prisons have protective equipment. I think the Government will also have to make the decision to release individuals to take pressure off those hard-working staff.

On communication, Sir David Amess mentioned MPs having hotlines. If those hotlines are anything like the one that the Foreign Office set up, do not bother, because it did not work. We have people abroad. The message has been put out: “Please return home from overseas.” However, if people do not have the means of doing so, that needs to be put right straightaway. In Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend John Spellar raised the issue of leasing aircraft. That needs to be done as a matter of urgency, to get those people home.

I will finish on the issue of community support. These are dark times but there is a lot of good will out there. I have been humbled by the great work being done in my constituency. People have been coming forward to help Pact House, a community charity in Stanley in my constituency that is delivering meals and support to local people. Local people want to do the right thing, but they need to know how to do it. I congratulate Stanley Town Council, which yesterday provided £63,000 to a number of community groups, to support their efforts in these difficult times.

The Government need to address the point made by my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh. We supported charities in 2008—I can remember doing it. Without direct financial support, some of these charities—we need them now and we will also need them in the future—will go under. It is important that that is also done as a matter of urgency. There are demands on their services now and we are going to need them in the future. Without them, we will find it very difficult.

Finally, I wish you and your family all the best, Madam Deputy Speaker, in staying safe in the coming weeks and months. I also extend those wishes not only to all right hon. and hon. Members of this House, but to the hard-working staff who have worked really hard over the past few weeks to keep us going. Let us think about them in the coming weeks and months.