Economic Outlook and Furlough Scheme Changes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:39 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 12:39 pm, 16th June 2020

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and comments. Of course, the issues that she highlights are of great importance and receive an enormous amount of attention in the Government and in the Treasury, but I am a little surprised by some of the things that she said. I remind her that the OECD report, in addition to forecasting the strongest recovery, also highlighted the quick and comprehensive response that the Government put in place to deal with covid. It also noted the relative robustness of the UK’s public finances relative to those of other countries. Colleagues are entitled to decide whether they accept what the OECD says, but they cannot discount the bits they do not like and accept the bits that they do.

The hon. Lady refers to the Government’s response as “slow and confused”, but I find that very odd. She said to the CBI in April that “this scheme was about preventing mass unemployment”, and “undoubtedly it has prevented a worse situation, there’s no question about that”. She congratulated the Government, business and trade unions, and said that we saw with the job retention scheme “an excellent example of tripartite working”. I think she is right about that, but I do not think she can take the line she takes now and disavow those other things that she said, when Labour was being a bit more bipartisan than it is at the moment, in praise of the Government’s schemes.

Finally, the hon. Lady talks about the Government adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, but I would remind her of what she said in The Guardian on 20 May 2020:

“A more differentiated approach”— that is, not a one-size-fits-all approach—

“would, admittedly, pose challenges for the government. Hard choices would need to be made, including how to deal with difficult boundary issues”.

She is right. It is also true that the Government have adopted a more differentiated approach than she gives us credit for, as witness all the work we have done with the hospitality and leisure industries.

So I am a little confused, but I do think it is important to focus on the positive achievements of the job retention scheme and the self-employment scheme, which, as the hon. Lady rightly notes, have prevented a much worse alternative and have been brought into place with great speed and ability by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.