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Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:56 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 8:56 pm, 27th April 2020

As others have already highlighted, the economic backdrop to this debate is unrecognisable to that envisioned only a few months ago, and it is likely that the coming months will bring further significant social and economic challenges. Before discussing the challenges facing the economy of Ceredigion, I wish to speak briefly to some of the amendments. Amendment 1, which is tabled in my name, relates to the Government’s proposal to increase research and development expenditure credit from 12% to 13%. Under the proposal, tax relief would rise by a mere 0.81%, to only 10.5%. If the Government wish to increase productivity in a meaningful way, they should consider going further and increasing that credit to 15%. I would also be interested to learn what plans the Government have to redistribute funding beyond the golden triangle of south-east England.

I support the campaign by the Women Against State Pension Inequality, and in particular the calls for the introduction of emergency measures to support women born in the 1950s who are not only waiting for receipt of their state pension but who, due to the destruction caused by covid-19, are now in even greater financial difficulty. I support the amendments that would provide employees who are participating in employee share schemes with legal protection against abuse by trustees, as occurred in the Roadchef case, and I put on record my appreciation of the work done by Neil Gray on that issue. Although the amendments will not be pushed to a vote this evening, I hope the Government will consider these issues seriously and look to incorporate them in future measures.

The past few weeks have demonstrated the strength of society and its ability to respond to a crisis, but we have also seen that the impact of covid-19 will differ from person to person, between sectors of the economy, and between different countries and regions of the UK. I urge the Government to consider those differences as they formulate economic support measures.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has identified some sectors as being particularly vulnerable to job losses in the light of the response to covid-19. According to a business register and employment survey by the Office for National Statistics, in 2018, 24% of employees in Ceredigion worked in one of those vulnerable sectors. That compares with 18% of employees in the rest of the UK. That might seem surprising to those who have not had the fortune of visiting Ceredigion, but according to a 2018 report by Universities Wales, the higher education sector generates up to 2,900 full-time equivalent jobs in the county, representing around 7.5% of total local employment. The sector has already proposed a package of measures that will ensure its survival, and I hope that the Government will consider that seriously.

Agriculture, and particularly the dairy sector, has experienced incredible volatility in recent weeks, and the restrictions necessary to contain the spread of the virus have effectively closed the hospitality sector overnight. Existing processing and supply chains have unsurprisingly struggled to absorb such a significant and sudden shift in demand. The beef and lamb sector is not immune to those challenges either. There is widespread concern that unless the Government intervene to support processors and to stabilise the incomes of the worst-hit farmers, the next few weeks could inflict serious long-term damage to such a key sector in Ceredigion and Wales by dealing a heavy blow to its processing capacity, suffering just as much as the tourism and hospitality sector, which, understandably, was asked to close in order to help to contain the covid-19 outbreak.

A survey conducted by Visit Wales, of over 400 tourism businesses, identified a number of concerns that need to be looked at closely. Businesses conveyed concerns about fixed costs, from bills and interest on loans already taken out, to the issue of refunding deposits and balances to customers. As with agriculture, the tourism and hospitality sector can be typified as seasonal. In that regard, the lockdown could not have come at a worse time.

To conclude, these businesses face the terrible prospect of a three-winter scenario, whereby they are closed for the summer months when they typically make their year’s earnings, before being plunged into yet another winter. I hope the Government can offer this sector, along with Welsh agriculture and higher education, some reassurances that bespoke support measures will be forthcoming to enable them to weather the storm.