Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 3:44 pm, 9th September 2020

It is always a delight to hear from Conservative Members who think that the Opposition should make those kinds of decisions. My hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds, the shadow Chancellor, has set out very clearly that we will work with Government to design a scheme that can be targeted more at the sectors of our economy that are in trouble, but only Ministers have access to all the data that can best point us to how the scheme could properly work.

Internationally, we are an outlier in our response. We are far from through this crisis, and it would be a mistake to pull away support prematurely. Doing so will damage our economy in the long run and hit world-leading sectors of our economy. We should not make that mistake, and we urge Ministers to work with us and to think again.

It is not just the Labour party that is urging the Government to change course and provide for such a targeted extension; the TUC and the CBI take the same view, and we even hear from The Daily Telegraph that it is far too soon to be ending furlough. Indeed, with every passing day, it is becoming harder to find people—apart from Conservative Members—outside No. 11 Downing Street who believe that the Treasury has got this right.

Aside from the furlough extension, the Minister has again shirked the opportunity to address the gaps in the schemes. The shadow Chancellor has consistently pressed the Chancellor for support for those who, through no fault of their own, have fallen through the gaps of the schemes that were designed to provide employment support—the excluded. Perhaps they are employees who were changing jobs. Perhaps their business has a high street presence that does not qualify for rate relief. Perhaps they have only this year moved from employment to self-employment. Perhaps they are in one of those situations and their partner is in another.

We understand that these are difficult decisions to get right, but the Government have had six months. Today we heard yet again the same reply about what they mean to do for those people. They have done nothing, they are doing nothing and they propose to do precisely nothing. In the years ahead, Conservative Members may discover that many of their electors have longer memories than they would like.

None of these arguments is one to which the Opposition have come lately or had a belated conversion. Quite the contrary; inside and outside this House, we have spent months calling on the Government to fix the shortcomings in their schemes. The shadow Chancellor has been absolutely clear that we are more than willing to work with the Government, with businesses and with trade unions to get this right.

I will not be able to quote every remark, because time is limited, but I will remind the House how often, and for how long, we have urged the Government to get a grip, change course and, above all, bring in a targeted extension of furlough. On 19 April, the shadow Chancellor said:

“Our main concern right now is that a number of those programmes are not fulfilling the promise that has been placed on them”

On 20 April, I said that the date set for the introduction of the scheme still set aside many workers. On 3 May, my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, the shadow Business Secretary, urged a second wave of support, including where necessary an extension of the furlough scheme. On 12 May, the shadow Chancellor warned again of our concerns, and again on 23 May. On 30 June, my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, the shadow Transport Secretary, was already drawing attention to how often we have been making this point:

“Labour has consistently called for an extension to the furlough in the most impacted industries”.

On 15 July, the Leader of the Opposition made the same points to the Prime Minister, warning that

“the decision…not to provide sector-specific support to those most at risk could end up costing thousands of jobs.”—[Official Report, 15 July 2020;
Vol. 678, c. 1509.]

On 28 July, he added:

“We need a targeted extension of the furlough scheme for the hardest-hit sectors and proper support in place to help those who are unemployed back into work.”

It is not simply the Opposition who believe that a targeted scheme would be better value for money. The Government’s own civil servants required ministerial direction before pursuing the Chancellor’s poorly targeted job retention bonus. The Chancellor himself has accepted that there will be a deadweight cost that might stretch into the billions, yet the amendment in his name today suggests that any deviation from existing Government policy will cause damage to the UK economy. The self- confidence is breathtaking. Does the Chancellor really believe that his Government have got everything right? It is a pity that he has not graced us with his presence today to make that argument himself. The language of infallibility is not helpful to families who fear for their jobs. Persistence may be a virtue; obstinacy in the face of all evidence is not.

The frustration that people in this country feel at the Government’s refusal to listen, understand and engage is growing all the time. The Government amendment is clear that the man in Downing Street knows best. That is not the sense shared by many businesses and workers right across our country. People do not expect handouts, but they do expect fairness. They expect that in their hour of need the Government will not abandon them, their families or their businesses. The Chancellor has shown all summer that he is not prepared to engage with the concerns of businesses in sectors facing the toughest challenges now and in the months to come.

But what matters is not the Chancellor’s persistence in sticking to decisions made in March. What matters most is a secure future for Britain’s firms and Britain’s families. Today we have again seen the Chancellor’s stubbornness holding Britain back—holding back our people and holding back our economy. It is not too late. I urge Conservative Members, especially those who have only recently arrived in this place, to think of the conversations that they must have had, as I have, with local businesses worried about the months ahead and with families fearful for their jobs, and to back this motion.