Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your courteousness and patience, as always.
Seventeen million people—one in four of us—are living under additional covid-19 restrictions. That was not inevitable: experts agree that it is linked to the continuing failure to deliver a functioning test, trace and isolate system. That failure has profound economic consequences and puts businesses and jobs at risk. Today, nearly 1 million people are still on furlough in the areas of the country that are subject to local restrictions or are on the watch list.
Support for local areas has only ever come after restrictions have been imposed—for example, a month later in Leicester’s case. There are leaked suggestions that the Treasury will be involved in decision making around restrictions, potentially to prevent such delays. When will the Government finally be in a position to deliver support hand in hand with the imposition of restrictions, not trailing them?
The response has been inconsistent: £3 million for Leicester, £7 million for Liverpool city region, an undefined funding package for the north-east of England and nothing for Greater Manchester or the west midlands. What criteria determine the allocation of support to areas under local restrictions? Will they be published? If not, why not? Do they truly reflect the needs of areas subject to restrictions? I note that the Chief Secretary did not talk at any point in his statement about support for areas with economic needs, not health needs. He referred to the local restrictions support grant, but can he confirm that no area currently qualifies for that grant because of current restrictions?
The millions of people living under local restrictions deserve better. When will the Government grasp the scale of the challenge and act to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild businesses?