Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South 3:54 pm, 22nd October 2020

May I place on record my thanks to the residents of Blackpool for the tremendous sacrifices they have made over the last seven months? The way in which my community has risen to the challenges we have faced has been fantastic to see, and I would like to extend my gratitude to our amazing key workers and all of those volunteers who continue to keep Blackpool going. There are too many fantastic individuals to mention them all, but it would be remiss of me not to highlight the fantastic contributions that Linda Mcevilly, Ryan Smith and Mark Butcher have made over the last few months.

Infection rates in Blackpool have been consistently below the Lancashire average, and as such, I had hoped that Blackpool would remain in tier 2 in the short term so that hospitality businesses could stay open during the upcoming half-term period, which is a most important time of year for my tourism-based local economy. There is no doubt whatsoever that the increased restrictions will financially hurt businesses in my constituency. Most work is seasonal, and businesses are now staring at a bleak winter, following a heavily disrupted summer.

I have been contacted by a significant number of businesses in the sector, including hoteliers, all of whom have exactly the same concerns: how can the Government impose restrictions and advise holidaymakers not to travel to Blackpool, but not order them to close so that they can access the local restrictions support grant and the extended job support scheme? I welcome the additional measures outlined by the Chancellor today, and the hundreds of billions of pounds that this Conservative Government have already spent to protect people’s jobs and businesses since March. An additional £30 million for businesses across Lancashire and the £4.6 million un-ringfenced grants given to Blackpool Council only today are also to be welcomed.

But such are the challenges in my constituency that we will continue to require additional support. It may be pointing out the obvious, but our small hotels cannot survive on local bookings alone. Winter is coming, and the tourism industry will not survive without further support. I would urge the Treasury to allow small hotels and B&Bs that voluntarily close to access the grants and the extended job support scheme available to businesses that have already been mandated to close.

I appreciate that health considerations have meant that Blackpool must be included with Lancashire in the highest tier of restrictions, and I was grateful that local leaders put politics aside to work together and agree a sensible solution. However, we are obviously seeing contrasting levels of virus across the UK, so a full national lockdown or a circuit breaker would be a blunt instrument affecting businesses and jobs in places with low infection rates.

The tiered system is much more precise and targets additional measures exactly where they are required, and for this reason it has my full support. We simply have to give the tiered approach enough time to prove effective. Arbitrary decisions to close specific industries in the highest tier cannot be made by Ministers without clear and transparent evidence. For example, we need better communication to explain decisions such as closing pubs at 10 pm and the enforced closure of betting shops in tier 3. The latter seems to be a particularly unjustified decision, which will cost jobs and cost the Exchequer a substantial tax revenue, and for which there is apparently no scientific basis.