The First Reading of the Finance Bill back in March seems an age away; the country has been through so much since then. The world is now a very different place, and I fear that that change is not yet complete, nor has it been fully comprehended. In line with the medical advice and scientific data, entering into a lockdown was the only option available to protect the most vulnerable in our society and limit the spread of the silent and invisible enemy that is covid-19. That was possible only with the co-operation of the British public and, over the past few weeks, they have been nothing short of heroic.
There is a significant economic cost to covid-19, which has been much documented over the past few weeks. Indeed, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s analysis made for harrowing reading, with its published scenario predicting that the UK economy could fall by 35% by June, and recent analysis by KPMG predicted that the west midlands will be the hardest hit region of the United Kingdom. Given that Meriden is an economic hub in the west midlands, that concerns me deeply. I was, however, reassured by the OBR’s prediction that by the end of 2020 we would return to our pre-crisis growth trend, with an economic recovery under way in the three months to September.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in this House on
“this virus is the key challenge facing our country today, but it is not the only challenge.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 673, c. 278.]
He recognised that there will be a temporary disruption. Beyond that, the Bill secures our financial security and sets the foundation for our future recovery. If we are to embark on the route to recovery, the Bill will be central to achieving that.
When we read statistics, review economic analyses and read the headlines, it is easy to forget the real, hard-working individuals—the business owners, the wealth creators and the employees—who ensure our economic success and, in turn, drive our society forward. A number of measures in the Bill will help those who need our support and give us the tools to do exactly that. I commend in particular the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s measures to increase the national living wage by the end of the Parliament, and the increase in the minimum threshold for national insurance that will mean more money in the pockets of those who need it. I also endorse the increase in the research and development tax credit from 12% to 13%. That is an invaluable tool for many businesses and, as we look beyond the coronavirus, we must do absolutely everything we can to reward those who undertake research and development and innovate. If ever there was a time to reward those who undertake R&D and innovate, it is now.
I was also pleased to see the delay in the implementation of IR35 reforms to 2021. Our flexible workforce have seen serious strains in recent weeks and continue to experience significant difficulties, yet they remain an essential part of our economy. We do not yet know what the world will look like in 2021 or what the landscape for our flexible workforce will be, so it is sensible that we continue to monitor this area, ensuring that our flexible workforce is not left behind.
In the past few weeks there have been countless stories about our businesses and entrepreneurs stepping up in various ways to support the demands of the nation and our national health service. That reaffirms that the only way to succeed as a nation is by ensuring that we continue to encourage and nourish the entrepreneurial spirit that is the foundation of our society. In that vein, I commend the Chancellor for the announcements he made earlier today to make sure that our smallest businesses, the backbone of our economy, can get the funds they need to survive and thrive. In the coming months, the road ahead will be difficult; a lot of people will be worried about their uncertain future. I believe that this Bill sets the foundation to help grow the economy and give the people the security they need, and I am pleased to support it.