Public Health Restrictions: Government Economic Support

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 13th October 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 12:38 pm, 13th October 2020

It is slightly odd that Opposition Front Benchers talk about deviation when their position has deviated as much as it has, not least on the curfew, which they said they would support yet refused to.

On the hon. Lady’s points of substance, the package of support announced by the Chancellor and Prime Minister did support local authorities with an additional £1 billion, as I said in my opening remarks, plus a further £500 million to address trace and trace locally, reflecting the fact that the Government are listening to local leaders and bringing forward responses. We saw that with the additional funding allocated to Merseyside and to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—again reflecting our listening in conversations with the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point about underspends that has been made by a number of colleagues. She is right to point to the sheer extent of support that we have offered, including the grants of £10,000 and £25,000. To deliver them at pace, they were allocated on the estimations that we had. As a result, the actual spend that has been required has led to some local authorities having very big underspends and others not. If we were to say that the authorities where the estimates were incorrect should benefit disproportionately, we would be accused of treating some unfairly compared with others. We met the need that was addressed at that time through the awards.

It is right from a fiscal point of view that the underspends are returned because they are surplus to the requirement on which they were allocated. In last week’s urgent question issues were raised by Merseyside Members, and ministerial colleagues engaged, listened and the funding for Merseyside more than doubled per head.

It is a slightly odd line of attack for the Opposition to say that we should not bring back underspends where they met their need but the estimations were inaccurate, yet not use the money to respond to the legitimate needs of areas such as Merseyside and elsewhere that are being moved into tier 3.