Support for our industries as we emerge from the first phase of the covid-19 crisis is absolutely essential in order that our economy can recover as quickly as possible. However, this needs to be done responsibly and cannot be prioritised ahead of people’s health.
The north-west region, which I represent, continues to have the highest R rate in the country, currently standing at between 0.7 and 1, as revealed today in a leaked report by Public Health England. That is why last week Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham launched the “Safely Reopening Greater Manchester” campaign, an initiative to ensure that the region’s economy can reopen safely from the covid-19 lockdown. That includes supporting employers and employees to take precautions such as working from home where possible and utilising alternative methods of travel to work, such as walking or cycling, instead of risking infection on public transport.
Small businesses, which underpin our economy, have undoubtedly been hit the hardest in this crisis. In my constituency, Stockport’s market hall traders have raised particular concerns that they have faced as a result of the lockdown, which has created immediate hardship for them. They have further fears such as shoppers staying away when the lockdown is eased, coupled with social distancing measures that will result in less footfall. The market hall and our independent traders are an asset to Stockport and a key part of its unique character, but without support they will be unable to survive in the current economic climate. Rent holidays would put the traders in a much stronger position to bounce back when the current restrictions are lifted.
Robinsons brewery in my constituency is a further example of a successful local business that must be supported throughout this crisis. Robinsons is a family-run, award-winning brewery founded in 1849, and a member of the Society of Independent Brewers. Sales by independent breweries dropped by 82% when pubs closed in March, yet they have not received the same financial support as pubs, such as the business rate holiday or the £25,000 grant. That situation is made worse by the fact that almost half of independent brewers require two to four weeks to brew beer and prepare, meaning that there will be a further lag once the lockdown is over. I urge the Government to consider measures such as direct support that is already provided to pubs and the hospitality sector, which should be extended so that small breweries receive business rate relief and grants. This will help to protect and secure jobs in independent companies such as Robinsons.