I am sure the whole House would like to join me in congratulating and sending best wishes to Jack Booth, a world war two veteran who celebrates his 100th birthday on Friday.
At the beginning of this week, parts of Blackburn were still under local lockdown. Swimming pools, gyms, bowling alleys and wedding venues were all closed. That changed yesterday, when they were allowed to reopen, but it means that further restrictions were placed on Blackburn for nearly eight weeks. The impact of the pandemic has taken its toll on local residents and businesses, and of course, the council, which is predicting a £19.5 million deficit, despite the Government saying that they would do “whatever it takes”. The Government are refusing to recognise that additional support is needed in areas with additional lockdowns. I am not sure whether they are incompetent or wilfully neglecting areas in local lockdown. They provide support to some areas, but it is very sparse across east Lancashire. It is also nonsense to say that specific sectors, some of which have only just opened and others that have opened in a limited capacity, do not require additional support.
The Chancellor’s decision to withdraw wage support for jobs, particularly in Blackburn, is making matters worse. It is clear that the Government’s one-size-fits-all approach does not work, and the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce have said as much. Instead, the Government should be giving support where it is needed most, not withdrawing it in one go. No one here is asking for a permanent handout, but cutting off support for every worker in the country from October—no matter whether they are back at work or not, or under local restrictions—is equivalent to pulling the plug at the worst possible time. We have just heard the Prime Minister say that his priority is to protect jobs, but too many people have already been excluded from the support. If the Government are serious about protecting jobs, high streets, councils and services, they need a targeted approach to further support in areas such as Blackburn that are still suffering additional lockdowns.