(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on economic support available to individuals and businesses during and after the recently announced lockdown.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister set out why we are introducing new measures to tackle coronavirus. This decision is not one we would wish to take, but it responds to the soaring infection rate.
Just as we have a responsibility to protect lives, we must also safeguard livelihoods. That is why the Government have provided unprecedented levels of financial support throughout this crisis, in a package described by the International Monetary Fund as
“one of the best examples of co-ordinated action globally”.
This package includes an extension to the coronavirus job retention scheme, where employees will receive 80% of their usual salary up to a maximum of £2,500, while employers need only pay national insurance and pension contributions. We will provide more support to the self-employed. We are increasing the self-employed income support scheme grant from 40% to 80% in November. This boosts the total grant from 40% to 55% of trading profits from November to January, up to a total of £5,160, aligning it with the furlough scheme. In addition, homeowners hit by the pandemic can continue to claim a six-month mortgage holiday, and businesses that are required to close can receive non-repayable grants worth up to £3,000 a month. In total, these grants are worth over £1 billion a month.
We are also planning to extend the existing business loan schemes and the future fund to the end of January, as well as making it possible to top up bounce back loans. Local authorities will also receive £1.1 billion to support businesses more broadly, and up to £500 million to support the local public health message through the contain outbreak management fund. We will also uplift the Barnett guarantee this week to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland further certainty over their up-front funding.
These measures build on the Government’s economic package that now totals over £200 billion. They will provide security to millions of people while giving businesses the flexibility to adapt and plan, and they underline our unrelenting focus on listening and responding to the damaging path of this virus.
Thank you very much for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. The circuit breaker that Labour proposed three weeks ago would have been shorter and more effective, so less damaging to jobs and businesses, than the Government’s last-minute, but lengthy, lockdown. The cost of that Conservative delay will be counted in lives and livelihoods, so was it the Chancellor who vetoed the circuit breaker? Why did he tell the Welsh Government that it was impossible to extend furlough, and why did he dismiss those in the north who said his plans would lead to hardship?
I heard from one restaurant about the strain caused by this panicked, last-minute approach. As rumours of a lockdown circulated on Friday, staff wiped away tears before putting on a brave face to customers. They did not know whether, in the following week, they would be working as normal, facing redundancy, being paid at 67% of their normal wages or being paid at 73%.
Similarly, the self-employed endured intransigence and then rumour, before a last-minute announcement yesterday that still leaves many people with nothing. Businesses need to know what support they will receive if their area faces further restrictions on the other side of lockdown, but the Prime Minister said yesterday that they will not find out until just before those restrictions are imposed.
How can any business plan on that basis? How can people cope with that level of insecurity? The lack of any plan for economic support is making a very, very difficult situation even worse. Will the Chancellor and his Ministers finally get a grip, and set out the plan for the next six months? Will they indicate how the different scenarios facing us will be dealt with, not retrospectively, or at the last minute, or once businesses have gone bust and jobs have already been lost, but in advance? Will they set out a plan for support if the lockdown is extended, or if some regions or devolved nations remain under restrictions for longer? Finally, will I continue having to drag Government Ministers here week after week as this Government stumble from one crisis to the next?
The hon. Lady started by saying that the circuit breaker would have been shorter, but those on her Front Bench have repeatedly said, when interviewed, that a circuit breaker would have to be repeated.
The deputy chief medical officer was clear that an earlier national lockdown would not have been appropriate, because at the time, the path of the virus was very slow in certain areas, such as the south-west, so the economic damage would have been disproportionate. I might have expected to hear the hon. Lady’s argument from some Members of the House, but it is surprising that the economic spokesperson for the Opposition was willing to see that economic damage. [Interruption.] She chunters, but I am simply quoting the deputy chief medical officer, whose advice was that a lockdown would have been the wrong action to take at that time. I am pointing to economic damage, which she seems to see as trivial and something to be disregarded.
The hon. Lady then claimed that the Government had in some way dismissed certain parts of the United Kingdom. I gently point out that furlough was not ended; it continued to the end of October, and has now been extended. Furlough has continued in all parts of the United Kingdom without any gap in its provision.
The hon. Lady asks whether the Government have a plan in place. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor came to the House on
Finally, somewhat strangely, the hon. Lady said that she needs to “drag” Ministers to the Chamber to set out their approach. [Interruption.] She is repeating the point. Mr Speaker, I thought the Prime Minister was here yesterday to give a statement to the House. It is somewhat strange to say, the day after he did that, that Ministers have to be dragged to the Chamber to give updates on the position.
Order. I decide whether we have an urgent question, and I am sure that the Minister is not questioning my judgment on that.
Order. We will leave it at this, but it is no good to have something played out through the press on Saturday and Sunday, so that on Monday everybody already knows about it, and it is no shock. That is why the right hon. Gentleman could not judge whether to have a UQ. We will leave it there.
We have a plan set out—the winter plan. We have always demonstrated that we will listen and adapt; that is what the Government are doing. They are setting out a comprehensive package of support to protect as many jobs and livelihoods as possible.
Let us enter Central Devon with the Chair of the Select Committee on the Treasury, Mel Stride.
I broadly welcome the new measures that the Government have brought forward to support jobs and, in particular, the increase in support for the self-employed from 40% to 80% under the self-employment income support scheme arrangements. However, as my right hon. Friend will know, the Treasury Committee produced a report earlier this year in which we identified more than a million individuals—the self-employed in particular—who were missing out on support. Will he update the House on whether, under the new measures, any of those identified in the report will receive support where they were not before? If the answer is no, why is that the case?
My right hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that some were not covered. In fact, that has been an area of much debate within the House. He will understand that there is a distinction to draw between employees who, because their details had not been notified to HMRC at the cut-off point last time, were excluded, and those who because of the furlough extension will be included moving forward, so some of that population cohort are covered.
In respect of the self-employed cohort, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we have so far offered over £30 billion of support to the self-employed, which is generous by international standards. He knows, however, that, within that, there are different cohorts. There is the cohort relating to company directors, where the issue remains the same: what is dividend income and what is not. He will know that another part of that group is those earning above £50,000, and we made a decision to target support below that threshold. He will know that some people are self-employed but that is not the majority of their income—less than 50% is through their being self-employed—and that we targeted funding at those for whom self-employment was their main provision. So there are different cohorts within the excluded population, but those who were employed will be covered by the furlough extension.
The UK Government continue to lurch around in absolute chaos, with a Prime Minister forced, due to the leak of his plans, to come on TV and, after hours of delay, squeezing in before “Strictly” to announce an English lockdown and the extension of furlough just before it was due to expire. We have been telling them for months that it would need to be extended. While I welcome the action, this late extension will be of absolutely no comfort to those who have already lost their jobs due to the Government’s incompetence, or to the businesses in my constituency who have done their utmost to support their staff and now have no idea where they stand. It is no comfort either to those who continue to be ignored. Those excluded from the initial support schemes face a bleak winter ahead. Will the Chief Secretary ensure that they do not lose out again? There are still many sectors of the economy that cannot go back to normal.
The overwhelming sense, for many of us, is that this is not a Union of equals. When Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and parts of the north-east of England asked for furlough to be extended this autumn, they were told that the Chancellor’s magic money tree had lost all its leaves. Yet, when the Prime Minister decided that England needed to go into urgent lockdown, it turned out that the magic money tree was in fact an evergreen.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister gamed his answers on furlough in the House in a pathetic and transparent attempt to make Douglas Ross look good, but he was contradicted on Sky News this morning by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government who said it would be up to the Chancellor to decide if furlough would be available to the devolved nations after
The hon. Lady started by saying that we were disrespecting parts of the United Kingdom. I was on a call yesterday with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the First Secretary of State and the Home Secretary and others, with the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland as part of our regular dialogue. That continues across the United Kingdom and, indeed, at official level. The chief medical officers liaise extremely closely together.
Secondly, the hon. Lady’s various grievances are somewhat both surprising and disappointing when the Government have listened and introduced, for the first time, an up-front Barnett guarantee that has provided the Scottish Government with £7.2 billion of funding at an earlier point than would traditionally be the case, recognising the volatility of the situation with covid. It would be good for her to recognise that that is unprecedented and different. Again, on the call yesterday, I signalled to the First Minister that this week we would update with a further uplift—following our unprecedented action—to give more clarity on the Barnett guarantee and the consequentials flowing from that.
Thirdly—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps chuntering. Many of the schemes are UK-wide ones: we have extended the loans, the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employed income support scheme. Those can be delivered through the broad shoulders that the United Kingdom offers. It is true that, through that capacity to act as one United Kingdom, we have been able to protect up to 1 million jobs in Scotland. It is important that we work together. That is why we were engaging with the Scottish Government yesterday. More can be achieved if the Scottish Government and the UK Government work together. That is how, to date, we have protected up to 1 million jobs, and that is the best way forward.
As we have just seen, uncertainty in Scotland is always a basis for grievance for the SNP. My right hon. Friend can end that uncertainty simply by clarifying that, should the scientific evidence demand a further lockdown in Scotland, the furlough scheme at 80% will be available to protect jobs in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend is right to pick up on that grievance culture. Through our ability to act on a UK basis, we have been able to offer the unprecedented support that we have to date. Furlough has always been a UK-wide scheme and, as the Prime Minister said, the Government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the United Kingdom.
Last month, the Government disgraced themselves by voting against extending free school meals into the holidays for our most vulnerable children. Even if the Government will not reverse that cruel decision, will they at least follow Action for Children’s recommendations and extend free school meals for all families in receipt of universal credit?
The hon. Lady raises a serious issue and one that all Members of the House care deeply about, but it is also important to look at the package as a whole. We have put in an additional £9 billion of welfare support, recognising the increasing pressures. That includes the £20 uplift on universal credit, the lifting of the minimum income guarantee and the various other measures in the package. Above all, retaining jobs and getting people back into the labour market is the best way that we can protect people from poverty.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s positive response on the additional measures of economic support. Does he agree that our Government have committed one of the most comprehensive and generous economic support packages anywhere in the world, worth more than £200 billion? That is the right approach in these difficult times. He rightly quotes the IMF in saying that our response is
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
Is it not also important that the IMF praised our response for holding down unemployment?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. He is quite right to pick up on the IMF report and the comments of the director of the IMF. It is worth reminding the House exactly what the IMF director said: that the UK’s economic support package is
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that that speaks to the comprehensive package that the Chancellor has put in place.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that funding would be available for the furlough scheme in the devolved nations, not just now but for the future. As the Minister has just pointed out, furlough is a UK-wide scheme, needed in all parts of the United Kingdom, not only at the behest of the Chancellor. This morning, however, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said that it would be a matter for the Chancellor, not the Prime Minister. Will the Minister confirm today exactly what the situation is? Will he tell businesses in Gower and across the United Kingdom what the situation is? Also, will he tell us who is in charge, the Chancellor or the Prime Minister?
Some of the most difficult conversations I have had this year have been with Stroud’s wedding and events industries and their supply chains—great businesses such as Eastington Park, Stonehouse Court, Elmore Court and Bisley Hire. They are usually thriving, but they basically feel ignored. They have had a stop-start situation this year and are now nervously looking at next year, having lost a year’s revenue. Will my right hon. Friend commit to looking at this valuable sector again to see what support we can make available, and will he meet me to discuss this matter?
I am always very happy to meet my hon. Friend. She is right to talk about a sector that has been particularly hit by the impact of the covid pandemic. She will be aware that, as part of the comprehensive package of support, such sectors qualify for the extension to the job retention scheme and the cash grants of up to £3,000 per month to businesses that are closed. I also point her to the £1.1 billion of additional funding that has been allocated to councils, which is a key part of the business support at their discretion that they can allocate to those businesses acutely hit in their authorities.
Businesses across my constituency and across the country made irreversible decisions last week based on advice from the Government that furlough was going to end on Saturday. They now find themselves in a situation where furlough has been extended, but only for a month, and there is a complete lack of clarity still today about the devolved nations. Will the Chief Secretary please urge the Chancellor to extend furlough through to the spring—covid-19 is not going away at the end of this month—and can he give us a simple, one-word answer? Is furlough going to be available to the devolved nations, or is he going to continue this uncertainty, which is damaging the Union?
At the risk of repeating myself, I refer the hon. Lady to the reply I gave earlier, but she did make a specific point about those who may have recently been made redundant. [Interruption.] Again, Alison Thewliss chunters from a sedentary position. Christine Jardine made a specific point about those recently made redundant and I was just coming on to answer that precise point. Employees notified by real-time information submission to HMRC on or before
I am glad that the Government agree that where, by law, they stop people working and earning a living, they should compensate them. Will the Government look again at the terms of the scheme for the self-employed—there are restrictions on several categories of self-employed who have no other means of earning their living and no large company support—and be more generous? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need all those self-employed people to be ready to return to work to get some kind of recovery going soon, because the economy is in deep trouble?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to ensure that the economy is able to bounce back quickly. That is why we have provided over £13 billion of support to the self-employed, which by international comparisons—I know my right hon. Friend looks at international comparisons—he will see is extremely generous. I have set out previously in the House part of the operational difficulties, for example with owner-directors in terms of what is dividend income and what is not. The point is that we have set out a generous self-employment income support scheme, but we need to deliver that operationally in a way that meets the tests set by, for example, the Public Accounts Committee, which has asked whether we have the right level of controls in place, given the speed at which these schemes were deployed.
The latest ill-advised lockdown is going to present an enormous burden for the economy in terms of lost tax revenue, additional Government spending and reduced GDP. It is right that since the economic pain is being imposed by the Government, those affected should be compensated for the pain that they will suffer. I welcome the Chief Secretary’s assurance that the furlough scheme will apply across the whole United Kingdom, but can he tell us what Barnett consequentials will be received by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the business support grant that he announced in this package?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a valid and fair point. As I said on my call with the First Minister yesterday, I hope to be in a position to update her this week about the additional Barnett guarantee that we can give. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to the consequentials that flow from the £1.1 billion of additional local authority funding that the Chancellor set out. He will also have seen, for example, the additional support that the UK Government gave to Transport for London, the rail support measures that we have provided, and so on. Those are the issues on which the Barnett consequentials will be shaped. He is right that it is important for them to have sight of that. That is why we have taken the unprecedented decision to give that up-front guarantee, and I hope to be able to give an update on that later this week.
My heart is breaking for the once-thriving businesses across the Windsor constituency and the country. I have met owners of pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars, sports venues, salons and retail outlets. They cannot magically become online businesses. I have spoken to business owners who have literally been in tears on the phone and in person when they think about their staff and their livelihoods.
The new proposed lockdown will prove fatal to many such businesses. There are many questions about the strategy, the need for a lockdown and the generous support the Government are trying to give, but I will contain my question to this: how do the Government intend to protect retail businesses that are forced to close from the increasing dominance of online retailers, which often benefit from lower business rates and taxes than their terrestrial partners?
My hon. Friend has a deep understanding of business from his career prior to coming to the House. He is absolutely right to talk of the personal consequences, the commitment that people who set up and run businesses have made, and the devastating impact of the virus and its consequences. On the tax position, he will know from his time in the House that those are questions for the Budget and for my right hon Friend the Chancellor.
On the support that has been given to businesses, I direct my hon. Friend to the extension of the loans that we have given to help businesses with their cash flow, which recognises that the biggest cost for many businesses is the fixed cost of their property. That includes the up to £3,000 a month grant for those with rateable values above £51,000 and the support to local authorities, as I referenced in my response to my hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie a moment ago, for their discretionary support to specific businesses. It is part of that comprehensive package, but he is right to draw attention to the human consequence of those decisions.
Any additional investment to help the self-employed is welcome, and I do welcome it, but I ask the Chief Secretary to look at the eligibility criteria that he has set. With the furlough scheme, the eligibility criteria have been updated so that businesses that have been registered with a bank account right up to last Friday can apply. For the self-employed, however, the eligibility criteria have not changed at all and will exclude many self-employed people from all the additional investment that is now available. Will he look at that?
Such has been the number of times that the matter has been raised in the House and through the campaign, we have looked at it. Some of those issues have not changed—for example, the difficulty of determining what is dividend income as opposed to earned income, as I referred to in my answer to my right hon. Friend John Redwood. We took a decision to target those below the £50,000 threshold. Some of those issues have not changed from the previous period.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the furlough allows some of those who were excluded to come within scope, but I draw the House’s attention to the fact that, even within the House, there is a degree of conflict here. The Treasury Committee has said that we should be more willing to bring the cohort of the self-employed into scope, yet the Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern that we need to have much stricter operational controls because of the risks, for example, of fraud. We see that difference even between the two Select Committees in this House. Of the different cohorts within what is known as the ExcludedUK campaign, some of those on furlough will be able to come back into scope, but much of the rationale has not changed. Of course, we will continue to look at it.
May I seek further clarification on the previous answer and on the point raised by my right hon. Friend John Redwood? Self-employed people who have in effect created a limited company and draw dividends are being prevented by the Government from trading. Rather than just outlining the difficulties, will the Chief Secretary commit to saying we will find a way around that, so we can actually tell our constituents what support they will receive over the next few weeks?
For reasons I set out some time ago to the Treasury Committee, and for the reasons set out by the Chancellor, operationally the concern is that while there will of course be many legitimate circumstances where people wish to make a claim, unfortunately there will also be significant risk of fraud. I pointed to the fact that within the House itself part of the challenge is how we ensure we have the right balance between the speed of delivery—we move quickly to get schemes to people—with the operational controls we put in place. That is why we have taken the position we have.
Since the previous lockdown was lifted, two leisure centres in my constituency have not reopened. Both facilities were outsourced by my council due in part to the lack of funding to local authorities. Leisure centres such as these are vital to the mental health and wellbeing of the communities they serve. Indeed, I believe they should be defined as an essential service. What will be done to ensure that that essential service and leisure centres such as St George’s and Tiller in my constituency do not face permanent closure as a result of the forthcoming, and any future, lockdown?
The hon. Lady is right to point to the pivotal nature of leisure centres in our constituencies. I think all Members would agree with that. I draw her attention to the £4.7 billion of additional funding we have given to local authorities as part of our response to covid, and to the discretion we have given local authorities so that they can apply that funding with the local knowledge they have and target it in the most effective way.
First, I would like to welcome the unprecedented innovative package of support the Chancellor has put in place, which has undoubtedly helped to support businesses and families in my constituency. What more can my right hon. Friend do to support the coach tourism sector specifically? Small family companies such as A & P Travel and Sleafordian Coaches have done so much to make their transport covid-secure. However, while the venues they support have received funding from the culture recovery fund and enhanced local authority grants, they have not. We need to ensure that when the theatres, museums and the like are able to reopen there is still a viable coach tourism industry to get their customers there.
The coach firms sector has been particularly impacted as a consequence of covid. That is why, in response, we worked with the Department for Education to provide over £70 million of funding for local transport. That has been to the benefit of many, including coach firms. Of course, the wider package of support—for example, the furlough scheme, the cash grants of up to £3,000 for businesses that are closed, the extended loans and so on—applies to the sector as it does to others. The wider package applies, but I also draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the specific education funding that has been provided, which I know has been a help to a number of coach firms.
If there were no confusion about the furlough support for Scotland in the event of another lockdown, the right hon. Gentleman’s own Tory MPs and Members across the House would not need to constantly have to ask for clarification. That confusion and uncertainty is a failure of his own Government, after the Communities Secretary said that it would be for the Chancellor to decide at the time of any future Scottish lockdown. Will the Chief Secretary apologise for that confusion and uncertainty? Will he meet the Scottish Finance Secretary, who has been requesting a meeting since Saturday, to discuss funding for Scotland and put an end to the chaos, confusion and uncertainty which is detrimentally affecting jobs and businesses in Scotland?
I do find it somewhat surprising to be asked to have a meeting the day after I had a meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, who I assume spoke with the authority of the Scottish Finance Minister. I have regular meetings with the Scottish Finance Minister. I hope, and certainly feel from my point of view, that we have a very constructive dialogue. It is in part due to her representations that the Barnett guarantee—this unprecedented up-front guarantee—was put in place, and I look forward to further discussions with her in the weeks ahead.
Pubs such as the Crown Inn in King’s Somborne are really concerned about how they will weather the coming lockdown. They make the not unreasonable point that if it is safe to sell takeaway food, it should also be safe to sell takeaway beer. Will my right hon. Friend look at this anomaly and see if he can throw a lifeline to these valuable community hubs?
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. She will know that in terms of the epidemiology and the guidance, that is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, but she is right with these questions to point to the economic impact of the measures. That is something on which we continue to have close dialogue with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that she gets the clarification she seeks.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister stated in the House:
“The furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and will continue to be available wherever it is needed.”—[Official Report,
Will the Minister therefore confirm whether the Prime Minister was right and that furlough support will be available to Wales in the future, should public health priorities require restrictions to be reintroduced? A simple yes or no will suffice.
Several times now I have quoted what was said. The Prime Minister said that the Government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the United Kingdom. It is worth taking a step back and looking at the fact that the UK-wide ability to act is how we have been able to provide so much support across the UK with schemes such as the furlough scheme, the self-employed scheme, the loans, extensions and so forth. It is our ability to act across the United Kingdom that has helped many businesses to weather the storm.
I begin by thanking the Government on behalf of the businesses and employers in my constituency that have benefited and will continue to benefit from the extraordinary steps that have been taken. However, we know that, sadly, people have already lost their jobs and we may expect future job losses. What more can we do to help people to overcome this incredibly difficult time in their lives, in terms of support for jobseekers and for retraining? I know that there are jobs out there, but this is about how we get people into those jobs in growing areas.
My hon. Friend makes a hugely important point. It is not just the number of jobs that are lost, but the duration of time that people are out of those jobs that is critical in mitigating the economic scarring that results from this pandemic. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in his winter plan the plan for jobs, which included £2 billion of funding for the kickstart scheme. I was speaking to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions this morning and I was very pleased to hear about the progress that has already been made on the kickstart scheme, which is up and running and providing support to 16 to 24-year-olds across our constituencies. It is part of the wider package of support on training—the tripling of traineeships, the £2,000 for apprenticeships, the £2 billion on kickstart—and as we accelerate our infrastructure and bring back the green jobs, such as through the decarbonisation of public buildings, that will also offer new opportunities for training as we deliver that record infrastructure investment.
The new grant scheme for businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sector is welcome, but those in my Brighton constituency need to know that all small and medium-sized enterprises in that sector will benefit. In particular, will the Minister scrap the business rates link and the rateable value cap from previous schemes, which caused such hardship? They meant, for example, that business tenants in shared buildings got nothing or that a pub owner in Brighton lost out because rateable values here are higher than in a place such as Bolton. Will he reassure them that they will not lose out again?
First, it is perfectly fair and reasonable to target a level of support shaped by the rateable value of the property, which is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done. The hon. Lady is right to point to the fact that within different local authorities there are different pressures, which is why in the £1.1 billion that has been allocated, we have given discretion to local authorities in their ability to then target support to businesses in the way that best meets local needs.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the whole Treasury team for the remarkable job they are doing in these difficult times. However, I wish to highlight the plight of the people and businesses that have fallen through the financial gap. These are businesses that, through no fault of their own, have had to cease trading or are trading with a massive reduction in productivity, and are doing so without grants or access to salary, not because the Government have closed their business, but because they are in the supply chain that supplies the businesses that the Government have closed. Will he at least give reassurances that consideration is being given to these businesses, which have suffered huge losses in the past nine months? I am thinking of businesses such as the Little Valley Brewery in Calder Valley and the Robinwood outdoor education centre.
My hon. Friend is right to pick out the specific challenges faced by the supply chain, often because they supply multiple sectors; they may not be in a given sector where there are specific issues, but they supply across a number of sectors. So he is right about the issue. Part of the reason we have taken the universal approach on the wider package of schemes, whether on support for cash flow with the loans and grants, or on the direct measures to support the labour market through the furlough and self-employed income support schemes, is to recognise that once one tries to demarcate sectors, that becomes difficult in the supply chain. So part of the package of support that applies to the supply sector is provided through those universal schemes, but he is right about the issues that these businesses face.
Prior to this lockdown announcement, we had had almost universal calls for an extension to the full furlough scheme in areas with tighter restrictions, which Ministers had rejected for months. Despite that, the Government saw fit to announce a new version of this on Saturday, only hours before the previous furlough was due to be replaced by an inferior scheme for us in the north, as further restrictions were becoming inevitable in many areas. Many people in the north therefore now believe that until workers in the south were to be affected by the national lockdown, they were somehow thought to be worth less. Businesses in Gateshead and elsewhere are desperate for clarity and certainty to help them in planning and so that they know whether and how they can survive. Will the Chief Secretary commit today to publishing details of a comprehensive, ongoing financial support package available to businesses and their workers in areas that will continue to need it, where tiers of restrictions might, sadly, have to continue after
First, on the suggestion that there has been a differentiated approach, the point is that a number of arrangements were put in place, for example, with the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, with civic leaders in your own Lancashire region, Mr Speaker, and with South Yorkshire, because we recognised that there were additional pressures in those communities. We also put in further support retrospectively, recognising that a number of areas had been in tier 2 restrictions for a period. So the suggestion that additional support had not been offered does not stand that scrutiny. If one takes the deputy chief medical officer’s advice, it was inappropriate previously to have a national lockdown—Professor Van-Tam set that out—but the pathway of the virus and the infection increase was such that a more comprehensive approach was taken. So this is a response to the health pandemic as much as a response to anything that is geographically determined.
I welcome the extra support for the self-employed and the news that many of those who did not qualify for the initial furlough scheme will qualify under the extended scheme, but I want to ask the Minister about the bounce back loans, which have been a lifeline for so many businesses in my constituency. Back when they made the applications for those loans, businesses would not have foreseen that disruption would have gone on for so long, so can steps be taken to ensure that they can apply for top-ups to their initial loan and get through the difficult winter ahead?
In short, yes they can. My hon. Friend raises a valid point, which is that a number of businesses will have taken out loans for what they felt was their need at that time. Further restrictions have been placed on businesses, which is why we have extended the period for availability of loans to the end of the year. He is right about that, and I can provide him with that reassurance.
The Minister explained that the response when he spoke to northern Mayors was about health data and not about regions, but he must accept that, by callously saying to workers in West Yorkshire and the north that they are on two thirds of pay, the Government have created a north-south divide. That divide is unnecessary when we should be coming together as a country to deal with this pandemic. Will he ask the Chancellor for clarity about the restrictions and for confirmation that, when we come out of this national lockdown, no worker will be expected to earn two thirds of their pay, so that workers in low-paid jobs are not living in fear when they look ahead to Christmas with no money in the bank?
The hon. Lady is conflating several different issues. First, the furlough had not expired; it was running until the end of October. It applied universally until that point, so the suggestion of it being applied differently is simply not the case. Secondly, the purpose and the design of the job support scheme is different from the furlough. The furlough is a response to the need for people to stay at home. The job support scheme is intended to try to encourage them back. That is why the design is for at least 20% of hours—one day in the office. Thirdly, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out on a number of occasions, the two-thirds support is dynamic in its interaction with the wider support through the £9 billion of additional welfare spending. One needs to look at the fact that there are two different purposes behind these two schemes, but the fundamental point is that there is no gap between the furlough that was due to expire on
I thank my right hon. Friend and the team for the package of support, which will save jobs and livelihoods across Wimbledon. He will know that since March, I have been raising the plight of people who are excluded from the scheme because they have been forced to close their businesses, so I support a number of the comments made about the self-employed. May I raise yet again with him industries such as events, exhibitions and hospitality supply, which are all excluded from the business rates scheme and the business grants scheme? They need that support if we are to have those vibrant contributors to the economy in the future.
I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. I point him to the fact that, to date, the Treasury has spent more than £200 billion as part of our comprehensive package of support. We have applied a universal approach in terms of the furlough, loans, business grants and so forth, but I am happy to have further discussions with him in the weeks ahead.
While welcoming the news that the support will return to 80%, many people here in West Dunbartonshire and across Scotland regret the fact that this decision has been made at the last minute, when many have already made life-changing decisions in anticipation of the rate being reduced. To give those whom we will rely on to rebuild our economy some degree of certainty, will the Minister commit the Government to fill the gaps in the scheme so that freelancers and creatives—the excluded—can start to grow the companies of tomorrow?
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the future fund, which has provided additional support. On the timing of the furlough extension, I refer him to the answer I gave earlier. Those who have lost their jobs recently could come back through the furlough extension. Those employees employed as of
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the extension to the coronavirus loan schemes and the ability to top up bounce back loans. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that ability to top up loans also applies to the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme? Will he also look at bounce back loans for customers of non-bank lenders? According to research by the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, which I chair, around 250,000 businesses currently bank with non-bank lenders who do not have access to these schemes because they do not get access to the Bank of England term funding scheme. Will he look at that problem?
I can probably go one better than looking at it myself, because the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who leads on these matters in the Treasury, will have heard my hon. Friend’s representations and will do so. I know that he is looking at the issue of the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme specifically. On my hon. Friend’s second point, I think that there are 28 creditors, but I know that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will follow up with him.
The Chief Secretary will be aware that many businesses feel that the Government have acted arbitrarily in imposing restrictions on their sectors, and none more so than the hospitality and pub sector, with the 10 pm curfew. During the first lockdown, local independent brewers such as Slaughterhouse and Church Farm in my constituency, and also the independent pubs that they serve, such as the Somerville Arms and the Old Post Office, were able to sell takeaway alcohol, but that has now been banned by the Government. That will damage the sector dramatically. What has the Chancellor got against pubs?
Not least through the eat out to help out scheme, one can see the Chancellor’s support to this sector. Also, VAT was cut from 20% to 5%, and many within the sector have benefited, particularly from the wider universal package of schemes such as the furlough scheme. The exact health advice, as I said to my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, is a matter for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. I will relay the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to him, but this is driven by the epidemiology and the health data; it is not a question of the Treasury acting arbitrarily, as he says.
The Government’s financial support has included the very welcome £200 million for hospices. However, the Norfolk Hospice in my constituency has warned that the national restrictions and the closure of charity shops will result in a loss of income of £100,000, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Care Minister meets the sector tomorrow, a package of urgent support can be put in place for hospices, their patients and their families?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that unites the House. The huge value of the work done by the hospice movement was recognised as part of the package of measures put in place by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, with £750 million of support for the charity sector and with the hospice movement being specifically identified. I am happy to continue working with my hon. Friend as we work together, and we recognise the importance of that sector.
Many small business owners have been forced to raid their personal savings to keep their businesses afloat over the past eight months, but that is not a bottomless pit. Many small business owners are not wealthy people, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury must understand that if they go under, the whole company goes with them. The Treasury has now had eight months to get this scheme working. Why is it still excluding 3 million people? Does he not recognise how perilous the situation is for many of those businesses?
I drew attention earlier to the fact that more than £13 billion had been allocated to the self-employed income support scheme and through the income support grant. That indicates the support that the Treasury has given. The hon. Gentleman draws out, as the Chair of the Treasury Committee did, the specific issues around company directors. I have set out to the House the difficulty of clarifying precisely what is earned income as opposed to dividend income, but it is worth drawing the House’s attention to the fact that more than £13 billion of support has been allocated.
Before lockdown 2, more than 2,000 jobs based at Manchester Airport were reported to be at risk. The Government have provided business rates relief to thousands of retail businesses, including £700 million to the likes of Tesco, which have seen huge increases in profits throughout lockdown. Will the Government now step in to relieve 2020-21 airport business rates, following the introduction of a new travel ban, by funding the difference to local councils?
As I mentioned earlier, within the £1.1 billion of support to local authorities, we have given them discretion to respond to local needs, and that includes Greater Manchester as a region. On the airport sector specifically, one reason why we have allocated more than £12 billion to test and trace is that one of the key issues, as I was told by that sector, is the importance of travellers being able to be tested quickly and released sooner than has been the case in recent weeks. We are working extremely hard on that issue, because that is one of the key measures, alongside the financial support to local authorities, that would make a real difference to the airport sector.
I very much welcome the commitment that we heard yesterday from the Prime Minister that the furlough scheme will extend to Scotland whenever it is needed. Can the Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirm that the self-employment support scheme will also extend to my constituents in Scotland, ensuring that self-employed people are not left behind?
As I said earlier, these are UK-wide schemes. We continue to listen and engage, but the schemes apply on a UK-wide basis. That has been the case throughout, and that continues to be the case now.
I am sure that we have all heard heartbreaking stories about people who have been unable to claim for self-employment support because they had not registered or submitted a tax return for 2018-19. It seems that those people are still excluded from any support. Some of them have been trading for 18 months now. They are clearly not fraudulent and they clearly deserve some support; why cannot they get some?
As we referred to earlier, the point is that the package of support includes the £9 billion of welfare measures and the support that is available through local authorities and targeted at their discretion. I have also set out that there are those within that excluded population, for example those who were employed, who may be able to qualify for the extension, but for the reasons that we have covered in a number of earlier replies, part of the challenge from the Public Accounts Committee has been ensuring that we have the right operational controls in place, and that has been one of the difficulties with the cohorts to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
I very much welcome the impact that the various support measures have had on Rutland and on the businesses in my hon. Friend’s area. As for the impact of the various measures, the Office for Budget Responsibility produces an independent assessment of that, and it will do so on
While this week the Government have extended the mortgage holiday for homeowners, they have refused to help tenants, pay their rent or stop them facing evictions, even if they have lost their job or been placed on furlough. How exactly does the Minister think that that is fair, and will he instead commit to helping renters in Coventry South by immediately putting a stop to all eviction proceedings, reintroducing the evictions ban and cancelling rent arrears for all tenants?
There is, of course, a balance to be struck between the interests of those who are renting and those who rent out properties who also have financial pressures. The hon. Lady referred to the support that has been given, but the best support that can be given to those facing such bills is to help as many of them as possible to retain their jobs, and that is fundamentally what the package of support that we have put in place seeks to achieve.
Further to the points about supply chains, many manufacturers in the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent very much depend on industries such as hospitality and retail, so will my right hon. Friend agree to look at what more support can be given to those industries where order books have severely diminished?
I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend. I have spoken about the impact on the sectors to which he refers. That is why such a comprehensive package of support has been set out, including through the job retention scheme, which will now run until
Unemployment here in the west midlands is soaring to a level that we last saw in the 1980s, but our Mayor has proved so ineffective that we have failed to secure 95% of what we have asked for in our recovery plan. Yesterday the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist called on Governments to bring forward large-scale investment to kickstart demand. In May, the Government set out their capital budget of £358 billion over the next five years. When are the Government going to allocate that capital budget, will the Chief Secretary maximise what is brought forward into the eye of the storm to kickstart demand for next year, and will he, for the first time, guarantee that the west midlands, at long last, will secure its fair share of that money?
I am slightly surprised to have a question from a former Chief Secretary that does not recognise the infrastructure investment that the Prime Minister set out in the summer and that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor updated the House on through his summer economic update, including the £2 billion going into green jobs and public sector decarbonisation, and the massive investment in High Speed 2, in road investment strategy 2, and in control period 6 through the various rail schemes that the Government have committed to. We are accelerating the delivery of that infrastructure through Project Speed.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to speak to the fact that there is a jobs challenge, and I think the concerns about the pressure on employment are shared across the House. That is why it is so important to get the right training package in place. That was addressed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on
Clearly hospitality and retail have had a particularly difficult time since the spring, but, as hon. Friends have said, there are very many businesses that may not quite come under hospitality, retail or leisure but rely almost entirely on those sectors for their business. Will my right hon. Friend look at how industries such as brewing, pub supply chains, events and weddings can access the support that the Government have provided, such as through the grants and business rate holidays, so that they can protect their jobs and still be growing and thriving once this pandemic is beaten?
First, I refer to the answer I gave earlier about the universal nature of the package. Another such area that my hon. Friend did not mention is the fishing sector, which was particularly impacted not only through its supply of the restaurant trade but through its exports, which were also hit. We have listened to concerns there and put in some additional support. But the best way we will support businesses, whether in the wedding sector or elsewhere, is by getting the virus down. That is why we have taken the comprehensive measures that we have for the next four weeks. That is the best way to be able to open up these sectors and get the people who have been furloughed or supported through the self-employed scheme on to the job support scheme, where they will then qualify for the furlough bonus, which will be further support that is available.
For all the Minister’s sweet talking, the simple fact is that nearly eight months after the first lockdown was imposed, millions of self-employed people and small businesses are still being excluded from Government support. He has spoken approvingly today of comments from a recent Public Accounts Committee report, so may I draw his attention to the Committee’s 20th report of this Session, unanimously agreed by a Committee with a Conservative majority?
The report says:
“The Committee is disappointed that, so long after the beginning of the pandemic, HMRC has still not made sufficient use of its data to identify small businesses which have been left out of previous support packages, and therefore maximise taxpayer eligibility for grant support.”
Can the Minister not accept that the Committee’s disappointment reflects a view widely held among all parties in the House and that it is time for the excluded 3 million to be supported by actions, not just words?
I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Gentleman talks of actions when, as a result of our ability to operate UK-wide, we have been able to support nearly 1 million jobs in Scotland. Some 65,000 businesses in Scotland have benefited from the UK Government loan schemes and, as of
Tourism and hospitality businesses have worked hard to get back on their feet, so although I welcome the additional support that my right hon. Friend has announced, will he do all he can to help them to welcome back visitors in the spring?
I absolutely support my hon. Friend in her desire to see those businesses able to bounce back, which obviously requires us to get the virus rate down. We recognise that restrictions have affected tourism and hospitality businesses in particular, which is why we have put in place additional support. We will continue to look at ways to support those industries, but the key to doing so is to reduce the rate of infection through the measures that the Prime Minister announced yesterday.
I thank the Minister for all that he has done; it is good to have the help.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister assured me that aid was coming to Northern Ireland businesses whose trade is affected by the lockdown here on the mainland. Will the Minister outline what form the aid will take for suppliers who have to cease operations? We should be ever mindful of the regional differences, with the Northern Ireland circuit break and tiers 1, 2 and 3 here on the mainland. On Thursday night, there will be a total lockdown here, whereas we will come out of the circuit break next week. What help will there be for businesses in Northern Ireland whose supplies travel across the water?
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the impact on businesses in Northern Ireland and part of that coming through its interconnectivity with the rest of the United Kingdom. As I said in an earlier answer, we will update the Northern Ireland Executive this week on the enhanced Barnett guarantee, but that unprecedented action taken to give an up-front guarantee will enable the Northern Ireland Executive to provide support to businesses. Of course, it will be for them to determine the exact scope of that business support.
I congratulate the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Government team on the support that they have given the British people during this pandemic. I understand that No. 10 has confirmed that the Treasury has done a full economic impact assessment; will the Chief Secretary confirm that and say when it will be published? It will be very helpful if it is published before tomorrow’s vote.
As Members would expect, all decisions are informed by economic analysis. In terms of an impact assessment, the Office for Budget Responsibility will update its forecasts on
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he will be doing much more to support the voluntary sector. Bearing in mind that 10% of charities are likely to fold, with a deficit of £10 billion accumulated over six months, what more will the Treasury be putting on the table and when will that be apparent?
As the Prime Minister has already set out, we put in place a £750 million package of support for the charity sector, as part of the more than £200 billion of support that we have given. As he has also said, and clearly demonstrated over recent months, he will continue to listen and adapt as circumstances require.
In response to earlier questions, the Minister said the Government were reluctant to extend additional financial support to the self-employed because of the need for strict financial controls, so why are the Chancellor’s team not as concerned about financial discipline when committing £12 billion of public sector money to the private sector for covid programmes, and doing so without basic procurement disciplines around proven competency, value for money and minimum performance targets?
That is simply not correct because the Department of Health, to which we have allocated funding for Track and Trace, is subject to managing public money rules in the same way as any other Department. It is subject to the decisions of its accounting officer and its Ministers in the usual way, so the normal managing public money rules would apply.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope it is worth waiting for.
Can I thank the Chief Secretary for all that is being done to help my constituents in west Cornwall and on Scilly? One of the great successes of recent years is the job growth across Cornwall, and that is because small businesses have been set up by entrepreneurs—individuals who know they cannot get a big job in big business, because they do not exist in Cornwall, so they have set up their business. The problem is that they are very early in their business, and they are growing, maturing and flourishing, but this year has been a disaster for them. They are at a point now where they just do not know if it is worth continuing, because of his second lockdown being announced, and they just do not know what the future holds. Will the Chief Secretary look very carefully at how we can encourage these people to stick with it, but also look at, as we have discussed already this afternoon many times, the support that is available to these fledgling businesses so they really have the finances to sustain these jobs? We must make sure these businesses can be part of the recovery that we will so badly need next year and beyond.
As my hon. Friend knows, it was largely down to his representations that specific support was put in place—for example, to maintain the ferry link that I know was critical for his constituents—and he deserves great credit for the convincing case that he presented to the Treasury, which secured that additional funding. On the wider point about support to the business community, it is in recognition of the importance of those small businesses that the Government have allocated over £13 billion of support to the self-employment income support scheme, but it is also why the Chancellor has put in place additional measures, such as extending the loans that are available to help those businesses get through this period to, hopefully, the more beneficial period as we come out of the winter period.
I thank the Chief Secretary for his statement, and I thank all the Treasury team for all the work they have done throughout this pandemic and the agility they have shown in rapidly changing circumstances. Can I also put on record my thanks to those people who have had to implement that? The IT systems in HMRC have stood up incredibly well to a lot of brand new schemes. My constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme will welcome the extension and enhancement of furlough and the self-employed scheme. For their benefit and for the benefit of the whole House, could he set out how the generosity of those schemes compares internationally and how we are doing in this country compared with the rest of the world?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for recognising the huge contribution of officials in HMRC, the Treasury and, indeed, across Whitehall in ensuring that that business support was delivered at the pace it has been. On the international comparison, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the report of the director of the IMF just last week, which I think is probably the best illustration of the way that the UK package of support is seen as offering one of the most comprehensive packages of support. It was recognised by the IMF and I think that shows where it stands in terms of international comparison.
When concerns were voiced earlier about the implications that flow from the fact that rateable values in some parts of the country are far higher than in others, the Chief Secretary could only point to discretionary grant funding. However, not only has the detailed guidance that would allow local authorities to distribute that discretionary funding not yet been published, but it will be distributed on the basis of a flat rate of £20 per head, irrespective of geographical area, as he knows. So can the Chief Secretary first ensure that that guidance is published promptly, so that local authorities can plan, but also look again at better tailoring support to account for variations in rateable value across the country?
I will take away the fair point that the hon. Gentleman raises about publishing guidance and seek to respond to it constructively. In terms of the £20 a head, often representations have been made to me in the Chamber that it is vital for the Government to move at pace to deliver schemes quickly, and to do so fairly. Without reprising the previous urgent question where the Mayor of Greater Manchester, according to the Labour Front-Bench team, was acting for Great Britain in a way that the Mayor of the Liverpool city region and others were not, which I felt was an unfair characterisation of their position, the point is that we need to deploy schemes quickly, which is why we have taken the approach that we have.
I am sorry, at the end of this session, to have to raise the issue of furlough yet again but, as my right hon. Friend knows, the economies of north Wales and the north-west of England are very closely integrated and Welsh tourism and leisure businesses in particular are heavily dependent on trade from across that border. The Welsh lockdown imposed by the Welsh Government is due to come to an end on
I know that my right hon. Friend is a strong supporter of the Union and part of the strength of the furlough scheme has been its ability to provide support across the United Kingdom; it is a UK-wide scheme. Thanks to the Treasury’s ability to operate a UK-wide scheme, we have been able to put in place more than £200 billion of support—the comprehensive package that I mentioned a moment ago—which is why it stands international comparison in terms of its scale and speed. That was recognised by the IMF director just last week, and the furlough will continue to be a UK-wide scheme.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those anticipating the next item of business, we will suspend the House for three minutes.