Protection of Jobs and Businesses

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 3:52 pm, 9th September 2020

I am sorry; I will not be taking interventions, given the shortness of the time.

The second theme that I want to draw out is that, in response to the unfolding tragedy of people losing their jobs, the Government have announced a specific plan for jobs. We are one of the first countries in the world to do so. The plan for jobs protects, creates and supports jobs. We introduced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme—another scheme that Treasury officials had to issue a ministerial direction for—and temporarily reduced the rate of VAT on tourism and hospitality. Doing so supported millions of jobs in some of our most jobs-rich industries.

To create jobs, we are driving growth in the housing sector by increasing the stamp duty threshold temporarily to £500,000, creating green jobs with the green homes grant, and providing billions of pounds of capital investment. To support jobs, just last week we launched the kickstart scheme to subsidise the most vulnerable category of 16 to 24-year-olds. In addition, we have been providing employment support schemes, training and apprenticeships, and providing the extra support of job coaches in jobcentres.

The third theme I want to draw out from the contributions today is the furlough scheme. The furlough scheme will have run for eight months by the time it closes, and it has supported millions of people and their families. It is right to say that it is one of the most generous schemes in the world. As my hon. Friend Nicola Richards mentioned, ending the scheme is the right thing to do. On Monday, the chief economist of the Bank of England agreed, saying that to maintain it in its current form would not help either individuals or businesses.

Although I have heard the arguments at a high level for a targeted or sector-specific furlough scheme, I have heard no clear, satisfactory answer to the questions the Chief Secretary posed earlier about which sectors would not be provided with furlough, how we would treat and define supply chains, and when such a scheme would end. Of course, we are not ending our support for furloughed employees; the job retention bonus scheme provides an incentive for businesses that bring employees back from furlough to do meaningful work and ensures that they are supported as the economy gets going. As my right hon. Friend set out, the bonus represents a significant sum that will be vital particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up 95% of the employers that have claimed for furlough grants and 60% of furloughed workers.

The final thing that I want to emphasise is that our comprehensive and generous economic response has required us to significantly increase our levels of borrowing. In the short run, that has been absolutely the right strategy so that we can protect jobs and incomes, support businesses and drive the recovery, but over the medium term it is clearly not sustainable to continue borrowing at these levels. We will need to return to strong public finances where our debt is in a more sustainable position.

With Government debt now exceeding the size of the UK economy for the first time in more than 50 years, even small changes could be hugely damaging. Thankfully, we were in a strong fiscal position coming into this crisis, which allowed us to act quickly and decisively without hesitation to support jobs and businesses. The difficulties we now face remind us once again that sound public finances are not an optional extra; they are the foundation of a good economic policy.

The Government certainly are not saying “job done”. We know that there is more we need to do to protect jobs and businesses, and today’s debate has helped us to focus on some of the future ideas and solutions.

The economic challenges that we face are extraordinary and unique in our history, but the Government have been proceeding since March with a clear plan to address those challenges. We are providing one of the most comprehensive economic responses to the coronavirus of any country in the world, and we are determined to do everything we can, not just to get through and recover the economy, but to rebuild a better, fairer and prosperous economy, as we deliver on our governing mission to level up and unite the country. That is why we are supporting the Government amendment this afternoon.