With respect, I will not give way as I have done so many times and I am aware of the time pressure with many Members wishing to participate in this debate.
We need support that is targeted to the sectors of our economy that have been hardest hit by the virus but are critical to our country’s economic future; to areas of the country that are subject to local restrictions because of this Government’s failure to get a proper grip on the health crisis; and to businesses that would be viable in ordinary times, employing people doing jobs they love, but just need a little more help to get through this crisis. These are people like those I spoke to over the summer in north Wales working in advanced manufacturing. They do not want a permanent handout from Government, just more support while the economy is still in dire straits to help them get back on their feet. Without that support now, jobs like theirs will take years to come back. Jobs in the supply chain linked to their plant will vanish too, and with them the economic prospects for their communities.
I called on the Chancellor to be more flexible when he gave his summer economic statement in this House two months ago. What do we get instead? A panicked handout of £1,000 bonuses to any business, anywhere, that brought back a furloughed employee. That is too much public money to dole out to a business that was going to bring back workers anyway. The Chancellor allocated £9.4 billion for that bonus scheme. Let us just imagine how much more effectively that money could be spent if only he had thought flexibly about how to respond to the crisis. Let us imagine how many of those at-risk jobs could be saved. The economic reality simply does not support the approach the Chancellor is taking, and he should have the courage to recognise that and change course.
The Chancellor may not wish to take our word for it that a targeted, flexible form of wage support is the right way to go, but he could at least be persuaded by the examples of other countries, such as Germany and France, which have each extended their schemes to last for two years; the Netherlands, which has extended its scheme for a further nine months; or Australia and Ireland, both of which have committed to support furloughed workers until March next year. Of course, in our own United Kingdom the devolved Governments have called for targeted wage support to be continued, not snatched away at the same pace across all sectors of our economy.
If that is not good enough for the Chancellor, he could listen to trade unions or think-tanks—after all, he trumpeted working with trade unions to create the furlough scheme in the first place. He could listen to the TUC, which has proposed a job retention and upskilling scheme; the Institute for Public Policy Research, which has advocated a coronavirus work sharing scheme; or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which has suggested a covid-19 job support scheme.
If that is not compelling enough, perhaps the Chancellor could heed the voice of business. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that
“businesses across the UK are going to need further support to weather uncertainty over the coming months.”
Make UK has called for
“an extension of the Job Retention Scheme to those sectors which are not just our most important but who have been hit hardest.”