Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:27 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 3:27 pm, 14th October 2020

This debate is about fairness, because the costs and sacrifice faced by businesses in certain sectors are clearly not equal. That is often just down to definition and description contained in regulations. The word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times in this House throughout 2020, but asking businesses in sectors that have remained closed since March to keep their doors closed for the winter months ahead really is unprecedented. Their simple guilt is that they supply the events and hospitality sector. They supply the flowers, the laundry and the lighting for events. I do not challenge the science. These businesses understand their responsibility, and the extraordinary circumstances that we are in, but their sacrifice cannot continue to go on unsupported.

Although the businesses that I am referring to today are from my constituency in south London, where additional restrictions are not yet faced, they are reflective of businesses and industries right across the country. I quote directly from an incredibly sad letter from Mary Cole, managing director and founder of Skyline Whitespace, a very successful modular reusable exhibition production company in my constituency. Mary, a single parent, has built the business up over 20 years while having leukaemia and a bone marrow transplant. She employs 52 people and had a substantial turnover and profit in 2019, but the closure of her industry means that sales have plummeted and, with winter events now ruled out, her company is in freefall. Put simply, it is on the brink of collapse. Government-backed adverts crassly suggest that she should rethink, reskill and reboot, but that is hardly welcome news for her staff, who may face imminent redundancy. The Chancellor promised to do everything that he could, so can the Minister make it clear to me how the business is expected to survive? I quote directly:

“We do not expect special treatment as a sector. We simply want to be treated like all others that have been allowed to reopen under Government-approved guidance. We currently do not feel like our industry is being treated fairly.”

That is no isolated case. I have been contacted by actors, musicians, dancers and organisations that support the events industry—floristry, lighting and linen businesses: Larry Walshe Studios, Just 4 Linen, Dash Linen, Crystal Everest Linen, Tuxedo Express, Lightwave Productions, White Light Ltd, Focus Lighting, Oxygen Event Services, La Credenza, and so many more. They are all unable to open, yet they are receiving little or no support.

This is about fairness. How are they supposed to survive? Stipulations and support must come hand in hand, so what message does the Minister have for those businesses today? A harsh winter appears on the horizon and must not be made even harsher. The entire sector is on the brink of collapse.