Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip 2:52 pm, 14th October 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Taiwo Owatemi.

It is with something of a sense of déjà vu that I rise to speak with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury sat on the Front Bench, having had exchanges with him yesterday in a Westminster Hall debate on financial support for the events industry. I do not intend to go over the same ground today—I am sure that he will be glad to hear that—but, as with so many issues, the lack of support for those in the events industry extends much further. As I said, though, we covered much of that yesterday.

These are businesses that we just cannot abandon—businesses that are successful and will be successful again very soon. If support could be made available, it could see them over the hill. We cannot pretend that 22% of the wage bill will be even close to enough for employers to keep on staff when many are in a worse position than they were in March and when restrictions are still preventing them from carrying out their main business.

Many fantastic high-turnover businesses, such as Saltire Hospitality in my constituency, have seen the major events that they normally supply cancelled—they simply have not been able to take place during the covid pandemic. Saltire Hospitality has changed its business—it has pivoted and tried different ideas—again and again to adapt to changing circumstances, and it will have a full diary when events and conferences get up and running again. But where is the support from the Government to get it there? Such successful and viable businesses are put at real risk if the Government fail to listen.

I welcome the recognition that some extension of support was needed for wages, although it came late in the day, and I welcome the continuation of the 5% VAT rate for hospitality until 31 March, although, as my hon. Friend David Linden suggested, we would like to see that extended far more. Sadly, this support is simply not enough to halt the frightening tsunami of job losses that we can all see on the horizon.

The self-employed have all been abandoned, with the 70% profit replacement reduced to just 20%, and there is still nothing for the 3 million excluded from any support at all. The financial support available is half-hearted at a time when we need the Government to stay fully committed to doing “whatever it takes”, as the Chancellor said.

The Labour party is today asking the Government to go further, and I support that. The Scottish Government are already taking action to plug the gaps in support where they can, providing tailored packages above and beyond the Barnett consequentials, including the new £40 million fund for firms that are having to close. They are finding resources from a very limited budget and spending them wisely, something that this Government are not best known for; they could do much to learn from the Scottish Government. One wonders how many businesses could have been comfortably supported with the botched billions that have been blown on dodgy private contracts with Tory cronies and the unnecessary costs of building the Brexit border.

However welcome Scottish Government action is, without serious rethinking of the job support scheme, they are papering over cracks in a sea wall just before the tsunami hits. If this Government will not act, they should provide the Scottish Government with the fiscal levers that Scotland needs to take the right decisions to protect jobs and lives wherever necessary. Decisions on available support are not carved in stone; they are made by a small group of people with big responsibilities on their shoulders. It is a political choice, and based on the actions this Government are not taking at the moment, it is a short-sighted one. The Scottish Government calculate that extending furlough would save 61,000 jobs in Scotland. The good news is that these are decisions that can be rethought, and I urge the Government to do so for the sake of all our futures.