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Financial and Social Emergency Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:46 pm, 25th March 2020

To put it simply, none of those individuals ought to be going to work at this time; the Government would stand with anyone who refused to go to work because they need to be shielded, and we will stand up for them if any employer is so foolish as to try to press that point.

Those who are being shielded will benefit from a website and a telephone helpline, both of which are now fully operational. We are working with all partners—councils, the food industry, local resilience and emergency partners and voluntary groups—to ensure that essential items can be delivered as soon as possible to those who need them. Deliveries of food will start this week, medicines will be delivered by community pharmacies, and groceries and essential household items will be delivered by local councils and food distributors working with supermarkets to ensure that no one needs to worry about getting the food they need. Parcels will be left on the doorstep.

The Government, the food industry, community pharmacies, councils and emergency services are working around the clock to get this scheme off the ground. I pay tribute to the civil servants who have been working tirelessly throughout this period. I am enormously impressed by the dedication and resolve that they have shown. I can also confirm that, from today, we have deployed military planners to every area of the country to help to co-ordinate this work. We pay tribute also to our armed forces and the role that they will play in this effort.

As Members have highlighted, it is not only the incredibly hard-working medical professionals on the frontline against coronavirus who are under immense pressure. We in my Department know that local authorities, which are essential to the running of this country, are feeling the pressure too. We have already announced £3.4 billion to alleviate that pressure, comprising £1.6 billion of covid-19 pressures funding and the initial £1.8 billion grant for business rates relief measures. We know that immediate pressures require immediate cash, so we can now confirm that the funding will be with every local authority, in its bank account, by Friday. We have said that we will do everything we can to support the sector, and this is us doing it.

When it comes to grants for businesses, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has now issued guidance to all local authorities, and we will provide the full £13 billion of funding for the business grant support scheme at the beginning of April. We must acknowledge that the crisis will not just burden our social care system and affect our most vulnerable; it will also affect our local economies, so local authorities should be confident about contacting businesses in their patch and making arrangements for the grants to be paid as quickly as possible. Time really is a vital factor here.

Further to the targeted funding, we have set out detailed guidance for local authorities on the 100% business rates discount for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, which was published by my Department this week. Today, we have announced a further expansion to the discount to remove some of the previous exclusions from the relief, to ensure that businesses that are now required to close—including estate agents, letting agents and bingo halls—will pay no business rates this coming year. My Department will amend guidance as necessary this week. We will, of course, fully compensate local authorities for the costs of this measure.

More broadly, I acknowledge that asking businesses to close their doors is a huge ask—those businesses have often been built up over many years of hard work and sacrifice—but it is only through such measures that we will ensure public safety. By the action that the Government are taking, we will mitigate the effects of the crisis so that once it is over, businesses can bounce back and renew our economy.

The Government’s measures not only are targeted at our businesses and public sectors but will support citizens at an individual level, too. We are working to support those who, through no fault of their own, are facing a sudden drop in income. The Chancellor has announced unprecedented measures to support people by making funding available to cover up to 80% of wages. In response to a point raised by the shadow Chancellor in his speech, I can confirm that apprentices will qualify for that if they are on PAYE. I will write to him on that point, but it is certain that they are included.