Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:11 pm on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:11 pm, 9th September 2020

I will not, because I am conscious that a lot of Members want to speak in the debate.

It is important to note that providing such a comprehensive and decisive economic response has, in common with every advanced economy in the world, dramatically increased public borrowing and debt. In the short run, that has been the right strategy, so that we can protect jobs and incomes, support businesses and drive the recovery. Indeed, the OBR has said that if we had not provided the financial support, the situation would have been far worse. But over the medium term, it is clearly not sustainable to continue borrowing at these levels. Yes, clearly, interest rates right now are at historic lows, which means our cost of borrowing is cheap, but with the Government debt exceeding the size of the UK economy for the first time in more than 50 years, even small changes in interest rates would have a very big impact on our public finances.

Thankfully, we were in a strong fiscal position coming into this crisis, which allowed us to act quickly to support jobs and businesses, but having seen two supposedly once-in-a-generation economic events in just 10 years, we are reminded once again that we cannot know what is around the corner. We will need to return to a position of strong and sustainable public finances.

Let me make one further point this afternoon. While we have made great strides in tackling coronavirus, it may continue to be necessary to take targeted local action to keep the virus under control. We know the impact these local measures have on people and businesses. Since 1 September, we have been trialling support for individuals in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham. Eligible individuals who test positive with the virus will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation, with higher payments of up to £182 for members of the household or other contacts who need to self-isolate.

Today, I can announce further new measures to support businesses. The Government will provide direct cash grants to businesses that have been ordered to close.

Closed businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will receive a cash grant of £1,000 for each three-week period they are closed. For closed businesses with a rateable value higher than £51,000, the grants will be £1,500. The grants will cover each additional three-week period, so if a small business is closed for six weeks, it will receive £2,000. This new support will give closed businesses a lifeline through the difficult but temporary experience of lockdown—an important next step in our economic plan to protect jobs and businesses against coronavirus. I am grateful for everything my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has done to develop this scheme, and he will bring forward further details shortly.

Let me close with one final observation. In the first phase of our economic response to coronavirus, we supported people, businesses and public services, with support totalling £190 billion. In the second phase, our plan for jobs is protecting, supporting and creating jobs, and as we enter the third phase our economic policy will be driven not just by responding to the immediate crisis, but by ensuring that we level up, spread opportunity, tackle climate change and make sure our response to the pandemic is not just about recovery but renewal. I commend the amendment to the House.