Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:33 pm on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 1:33 pm, 9th September 2020

The hon. Member makes a very good and well-considered point. There are lots of opportunities the Government have not considered for how we might spread around the limited and reducing number of jobs we have in order to keep people in employment.

The Federation of Small Businesses has noted that tourism and retail account for nearly half a million jobs in Scotland, many of them seasonal and rural, and many of them now facing the furlough scheme’s winding down at the very time business is at its quietest. As we have seen from local lockdowns, such as those in Leicester, Aberdeen and Greater Manchester, there is an urgent need to put in place more flexible and enduring support—exactly the type of further action the Chancellor promised he would take. Aberdeen, for example, only managed to raise £232,000 via the “eat out to help out” scheme because of the local lockdown imposed on hospitality there. That compares with over £1 million each in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We need to look at whether the schemes in place are flexible enough when local lockdowns happen.

A further spike and further local restrictions seem inevitable, so ending support now is incredibly short-sighted. Until public health grounds for closure are removed, the SNP believes that the Government have a clear responsibility to assist and support wherever they can. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury mentioned some additional schemes at the tail end of his remarks, but I would ask him to think very carefully: could he live on the money he proposes for those asked to self-isolate? If he ran a business, could he survive and pay wages, pay for stock, the rent and all the bills on the grants he has announced? He probably could not, and many businesses cannot and will fold as a result without support.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury talked about phases of this crisis. The coronavirus is not done with us yet. Life is not going back to normal any time soon. The British Chambers of Commerce’s quarterly recruitment outlook revealed that 29% of firms expect to axe jobs over the third quarter—a record high. At the same time, the number of new job opportunities is also depressed across almost all sectors, as is reflected in the various vacancies data. For example, the Office for National Statistics and Adzuna data show the number of online job vacancies for Scotland for the week to 21 August to be almost half the 2019 average—down 49 percentage points—and the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that UK unemployment could surpass the peaks of the 1980s after weaker than expected economic growth. The Chancellor and his Treasury team have a duty to prevent this kind of economic scarring. The devastation of the 1980s still haunts many communities, and I urge them not to gamble with the life chances of the people we are here to represent.