The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 8th July 2020.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 6:19 pm, 8th July 2020

The delivery mechanism for the furlough and self-employment schemes has been responsive to where the support is needed across the whole of the United Kingdom. I am not happy with the way relations between the Government and the devolved nations have often fractured during the crisis, but no matter how one looks at it, each nation and region of the UK has benefited from the financial pooling of resources.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am very much in favour of devolution and the Scottish Parliament, but if all the furlough and universal credit decisions went across the desk of the Scottish Cabinet Secretary, we would get only a Barnett share—Scotland would get only 8.6% of English furlough money, even if demand were greater in Scotland. The other benefit is the speed of response. There has been no waiting for Barnett consequentials to be calculated and no delay while it is worked out how best to deliver the support.

I ask the Government to publish a breakdown of the amount of money that has been paid directly by the UK Government to people and businesses in Scotland. Making those figures visible will help to inform all Members of this House and those in Holyrood when we debate the merits of the United Kingdom.

Having praised the UK Government for a rapid response, I will now talk about things that have been anything but quick. I must express my disappointment at the length of time the Treasury has taken to respond to cases that I have raised on behalf of constituents. To give one example, back in early April I was contacted by a new starter at a small business in Auchtermuchty. His contract started on 29 February, which meant he was ineligible for furlough. As such, he faced having no income and no support. He is one of the excluded that the new APPG chaired by my hon. Friend Jamie Stone is looking to support.

On 14 April, I wrote to the Chancellor to raise the specific details of my constituent’s case. I heard nothing back until two months later, when I was sent a “Dear colleague” letter that had already been sent to me in lieu of a specific reply. After chasing up twice, I received a further unsatisfactory response from the Government today during the Chancellor’s statement.

It is MPs who people go to when there is nowhere else to turn. Frequently, it is when people have tried to navigate the often bureaucratic and complex structures of Government agencies and heard nothing in response. I am particularly conscious that we are approaching a six-week recess, during which the furlough scheme will continue to taper off. The Chancellor described this earlier today as a “difficult moment”. It is not a difficult moment, but a difficult few months. The recently announced job losses are clearly just the start.

So yes, swift support from the Government is important, but for those who cannot access support and for those who get in touch with us as Members of Parliament, we need to be in a position to relay those difficulties and problems back to Ministers, and to hear back from them in turn. I hope that the Government can offer some reassurance on this matter.