Business and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 5:45 pm, 29th June 2020

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we have had the furlough, but I disagree that it should be cut off at the end of October, because I really worry about the economic impact. We have 2.8 million people already claiming unemployment-related benefits, and I worry about the implications for these other industries.

The tragedy is that the Government have spent £22 billion on the furlough, but I fear that we will throw away some of that investment  by not recognising that specific sectors face specific challenges. I urge the Business Secretary —he knows this, as he talks to the same people that I do—to use all the powers of his office to make representations to the Chancellor to find a way of fixing that, so that we have a sector-specific approach to the furlough, including an extension beyond October.

Just as I do not believe that the furlough should be abruptly ended, I believe that there are issues of access to loan finance. As I have said, the bounce back loans scheme has been successful at getting money out of the door, but the same cannot be said of the other small business loan scheme, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. In the case of CBILS, only half of all applications have been approved, and the supposed freeing up of the scheme as a result of bounce back loans being made available is yet to materialise. We still do not know why 48,000 out of 98,000 CBILS loans are stuck in a holding pattern, and we do not know how many have been rejected and how many are still in the queue. One of the things we are asking for in the Bill is for the Government to publish data on the true number of rejections and the total number of inquiries.

The problem is not just with the small loan scheme. We have seen a wave of job losses in manufacturing, from Rolls-Royce to McLaren to Jaguar Land Rover. Make UK is predicting that as many as 170,000 jobs could be lost this year in the manufacturing sector alone. Any talk of levelling up will come to nought if we lose those jobs—I am sure that sentiment is shared across the House—and I urge the Secretary of State to look at the international comparisons of France and Germany, which have protected and supported strategic sectors of the economy, such as steel, aerospace and automotive, in a number of different ways. That is why our amendment to the Bill calls on the Government also to publish the true number of rejections in respect of the larger loan scheme, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and explain why 400 larger businesses have not been able to access support through the scheme. Again, we do not know whether they are stuck in a holding pattern and still waiting in the queue or have just been rejected. These sectors are calling for tailored Government support to help them through the crisis, but it has not been forthcoming. The big point is that, from hospitality to leisure to manufacturing, this is a general recession, but it was also much more acute in specific sectors, and the Government need to recognise this far more in their response.

If one part of the Government’s strategy is about shielding sectors of our economy from the sectoral recession, the other part must be about job creation and employment. We are to have a speech tomorrow from the Prime Minister. It is a shame that we do not have a Budget; I do not really understand why we do not have a Budget in what is potentially the worst recession in 300 years. If now is not the time for a Budget, I do not know when is the time for a Budget, but there is a speech tomorrow and big promises are being made about it.

The Bill rightly talks about what can be done in the construction sector. The way to help the construction sector is not just to tweak the operational hours, although that is important, but also to deliver on some of the promises the Government have made. Again, I think this view can be shared across the House; I do not often quote the Conservative manifesto approvingly—[Interruption.] —or at least not enough, but it promised £9.2 billion for energy efficiency in public and private buildings. Conservative Members all stood on that manifesto and I am sure that they support it.

We know how behind the Government are on building retrofits. The Committee on Climate Change recently said that there has been “negligible progress since 2015” and that the challenge of retrofit and renovation has gone “largely unaddressed.” We know that investing in retrofit is the ultimate win-win. This is the ideal opportunity —it would help the construction sector, not just in relation to operational hours, and could create tens of thousands of jobs—but today there are reports that it is being blocked by none other than Dominic Cummings. Apparently, he is uninterested and thinks it is “boring old housing insulation”. The Secretary of State and I have a good relationship, and I am happy to give way to him so that he can say that the £9 billion is going to happen. We need the £9 billion, so I am happy to give way. He has overruled Dominic Cummings on Sunday trading; now is the time to overrule him on this.

Let us also bring forward the £12 billion of social housing spending that has been promised. All these things are important, and they are also part of job creation. I think the idea that we need a green recovery is shared throughout the House, as least at the level of principle. Some people—assiduous readers—will have read over the weekend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s rather long speech, which mentioned Franklin Roosevelt 17 times. [Interruption.] I see Members nodding. Let me tell the House about Roosevelt: he put 3 million people back to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. We need that kind of ambition on retrofit; on manufacturing low-carbon engines; on adapting our towns and cities to walking and cycling; on creating green spaces; and on reforesting and rewilding. We need what I call a zero-carbon army as part of a youth jobs fund.

We should see all these things as part of the green new deal because—this is the point—we face an unemployment emergency in this country. We should be under no illusions: a million young people are forecast to be out of work this year. We need a scale of action that matches that. That is my point. The Government measures we have supported over the past few months have recognised the power of active government in a crisis like this. My appeal to the Government is not to shrink from that now, because we are just at the beginning.

To conclude, we welcome the Bill as a step to help the hospitality and construction industry to reopen, but it is not nearly enough. The Government have shown that they are willing to take action, but we face the deepest and sharpest recession, possibly for hundreds of years, and Government power has to be continued to be used. The decisions taken by the Government in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs are lost and how many businesses survive. The commitment to do whatever it takes cannot be a hollow promise. We are calling for an extension to the furlough for specific sectors; an urgent job-creation programme with a green recovery at its heart; and real action on infrastructure, not just words. I urge the Government not to step back when our economy, our businesses and our workers desperately need support.