The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 8th July 2020.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:24 pm, 8th July 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Nickie Aiken and I support her comments about the arts sector.

I am afraid that throughout this crisis, the Government have not really show enough urgency in addressing the emergency. We saw that with the health crisis, and I am afraid we are now seeing that with the economic crisis as well. That is underlined by analysis done by the OECD, which shows that the UK will have the biggest hit of all developed countries—11.5%, far greater than other nations except France and Italy.

The roll-call of job losses is sobering: Accenture 900, Arcadia 500, Airbus 1,700, Aston Martin 500, BA 12,000, Bentley £1,000. That is just the beginning. People’s jobs, livelihoods, families and communities are all affected—no wonder consumer confidence has crashed.

I welcome the Government’s kick-start scheme for young people, and the support for apprenticeships, but I wanted to hear more about an extension of furlough and the reassurance of its continuing—greater flexibility, and particularly support for the self-employed. I did not hear that today. I also welcome the support for the hospitality and construction sectors. The construction sector employs 750,000, I understand, but we heard nothing, and I was disappointed and surprised not to hear anything, of our manufacturing sector, particularly the automotive sector, which accounts for 820,000 jobs in the UK, 170,000 in direct manufacturing—highly skilled jobs, in a sector that helped us through the health crisis earlier this year. It is crucial. We have seen sales down 50% so far this year—30% down in June—whereas France is down 38% this year and up 1% in June.

The reason for that better performance is that France has put in place a greater stimulus package—or rather, a stimulus package—of £7.5 billion, an amount not dissimilar to that of other countries in Europe. Germany’s is even greater. That must be seen against a backdrop of the support that they had in place for some time for electric vehicles and hybrids, including EV charge points, as has been mentioned. That point was recognised by the Committee on Climate Change, which has estimated that we need 29,000 rapid charging points in this country. We have 3,000 at present. France has four times as many. Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects is that the Chancellor has perhaps not recognised the signal that that sends to the global industry.

The Chancellor also referenced fixed costs, and business rates have been mentioned widely this afternoon. Our business rates are 60% more than in, say, France and other countries, which is a huge disadvantage to our businesses. Likewise, our energy costs are 68% higher than the European average, putting our businesses at a huge disadvantage to our European neighbours. It is not just businesses that are affected; there are also costs to home owners and residents.

I do recognise and welcome the green recovery, but £2 billion compared with France’s £14 billion or Germany’s £36 billion is a pittance. I would have liked to see much more ambition in that sector. I would also have liked to see moneys for sectors such as our nurseries and money for our local authorities, which are hurting so greatly.

I welcome the support for young people, for the hospitality and construction sectors, but I wanted more for manufacturing; we need it. We need to safeguard all those high-quality, valuable jobs in sectors such as automotive. Confidence is low in this Government, but seriously, our public confidence in the economy needs restoring. Today was an opportunity to put the key in the ignition and get the economy motoring again. Instead, I am afraid that the Chancellor has stalled.