As someone who joined the House recently after 27 years in business, I welcome the measures in the Bill; they are positive and practical steps at a time of national need. I look at them with one eye on how they will help our wider economic growth, which is the next challenge coming at us. For most of these businesses, there is a very thin line between costs, which are mostly fixed, and revenues, which even at the best of times depend on myriad factors. All the Government help in the world—and this Government have been generous and done what it has taken—is no substitute for real customers and real revenues, so the measures in the Bill are literally a lifeline for many of the hospitality businesses that I represent in Arundel and South Downs. The Federation of Small Businesses said that the measures on food and drink outdoors
“will help small businesses in the hospitality sector to resume trading with confidence”,
and they will.
In most businesses, the single most valuable commodity is time, so having short and clear timeframes for the grant of a licence is as much of a benefit as capping the administration costs. I echo my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes: there is nothing in the Bill for businesses such spas and nail bars. I would like to see some of the same creative thinking that has put together the package in the Bill applied to those sorts of businesses, as well as to exhibition businesses, which have been quite hard hit in my constituency and do not have a path to reopen.
Members from all parties will recognise the familiar sight of queues outside pharmacies during this crisis. It would be welcome if, ahead of the winter, Ministers would take the opportunity to repeal the National Health Service (Pharmaceutical and Local Pharmaceutical Services) Regulations 2013 and thereby remove one of the last restrictive practices on our high streets. As our population ages, pharmacists have a vital role in our towns and villages, but there is currently a regulatory requirement to demonstrate need, which acts as a barrier, meaning that there is not a single pharmacy store on Arundel High Street. That forces the elderly and infirm to walk almost a mile out of town for the simplest prescriptions. Such a change would be simple and popular.
Like others, I welcome the reforms of the planning process. Here, too, as we look to boost the economy, there may be sensible opportunities, and I urge my ministerial colleagues to go further in the future. The shift from working from home offers a step change in productivity, sustainability and the employment of previously excluded groups, such as mothers, joining the workplace. The extension of permitted development rights to create home and garden offices, as well as the automatic change of use of retail and office premises to residential, will lock in those benefits and help create the homes our nation needs.
Finally, I note the one permanent change in the Bill to the way the Planning Inspectorate works. With the greatest respect to the hard-working individuals involved, too often the Planning Inspectorate is the sticking plaster on a broken process. We literally ask it to reconcile the impossible and then wonder why it produces answers that please nobody. The answer—I accept that this is probably a longer debate for another day—is an end to one-size-fits-all planning policies that mean measures designed to expedite rapid construction in towns and cities that have the infrastructure to cope end up blighting rural areas, and yet still the homes do not get built.
The Centre for Cities says that, with imagination, we can easily accommodate all the new dwellings that we need within the existing curtilage of our cities. I agree, and as we focus on sustainability, food supply chains and achieving net zero, which we have baked into law, we have the opportunity, once and for all, to make it clear that precious woodland, countryside, agricultural land and rural flood plains must never be developed for housing, putting an end to the long-term planning blight suffered by my constituents around Adversane, West Grinstead and the 17 parishes around Henfield. I am pleased to support the Government on this excellent Bill, but where possible I urge them to go further and faster in the interests of business and the economy.