Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 3:00 pm, 25th June 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petitions relating to support for UK industries in response to covid-19.

As we have heard already today, the volume of signatures on parliamentary petitions has been huge in recent weeks, reflecting the immense public anxiety about the health emergency we have been living through. I thank every one of the 641,986 people who signed the five petitions that reached the 100,000 threshold and that we are considering today. They are on support for the events industry; for the arts, theatre and music; for zoos, aquariums, and rescue centres; for nursery and childcare providers; and for aviation. I also thank the 74,735 people who have backed seven other petitions that are also relevant. Those petitions are on help for performers and creators; for pubs and hospitality; for early years providers; for wholesalers; for health businesses; and for small businesses.

There is no escaping the devastating impact the covid emergency has had on our economy. That is unavoidable when vast swathes of business activity are shut down. But the Government have listened and have heard the calls to intervene, from the 12 e-petitions and from millions of other people afraid for their livelihoods and their future, including many in Chipping Barnet, and I thank the Government for their intervention. At immense speed, the Government put in place the biggest package of help for jobs, livelihoods and businesses in our nation’s history.

Through the furlough scheme, the Government are paying the wages of more than 9.1 million workers, providing £20.8 billion to more than 1 million employers. More than 2.6 million people have received grants from the self-employed income support scheme, which is one of the more generous in the world. More than 863,000 companies have received bounce-back loans—these have been worth more than £26 billion.

Some £10 billion has been lent to 49,000 firms under CBILS—the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. Small businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector have received cash grants of up to £25,000 and been given a 12 month business rates holiday. A £1.25 billion package is available for start-ups, and £30 billion of VAT payments have been suspended for three months. Some 68,000 businesses have benefited from the deferral of other taxes, and smaller businesses have received help with funding sick pay.

Without that bold and radical intervention by the Government, and the speed at which it has been delivered, our situation today in this country would be far, far worse, as the Office for Budget Responsibility, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the Bank of England have all confirmed. Unemployment would have rocketed and thousands of businesses would have gone bust, both in the sectors highlighted in the 12 e-petitions and in many others. There has been extensive backing for what the Government have done, including from Len McCluskey, of Unite, who said of the furlough scheme:

“We recognise that these are huge decisions for any government, and especially for a Conservative government, but they have listened to the calls for action and have acted appropriately. Rishi Sunak’s wage support measures are a historic first for this country, but are bold and very much necessary…This will definitely be some relief amid all the fear in households across the UK this evening.”

However, were it not for the difficult decisions taken by Conservative-led Governments since 2010, we would not have been able to respond in this way or on this scale. It is only if you fix the roof while the sun is shining that you have the resources and the balance sheet to intervene aggressively to provide the kind of action called for in these petitions. Sadly, we all know from our inboxes that, even with the scale of what we are doing, there are gaps in support. In an economic disaster as great as this one—possibly the worst for 300 years—there are inevitably still many people facing hardship and uncertainty about their future. I hope that the Minister will consider whether any further help is possible for the sectors highlighted in the 12 e-petitions.