Covid-19

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:57 pm on 11th November 2020.

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Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry) 6:57 pm, 11th November 2020

I thank all those who are working at present to keep us safe and comfortable, offer my condolences to all who have lost loved ones, and echo everything that my hon. Friend Stephen Flynn said about the looming economic threat that is facing the north-east of Scotland.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have met a number of representatives of businesses in my constituency and further afield, particularly in the hospitality sector. Their frustration at the need for continued restrictions is entirely understandable and understood. Walking through the streets of London this week, I have been absolutely struck by the number of closed bars, restaurants and shops, serving as a stark warning of what we face when the response to rising infections from this virus is inadequate to the circumstances.

In many debates over the course of the past few months, I have highlighted the shortcomings of the UK’s fiscal framework with regard to the devolved Administrations—the lack of borrowing powers and the wait for Barnett figures to trickle through. Last week we also saw the fiasco of whether or not the furlough scheme would apply, with Government Ministers seeming to disagree with one another on that. The last-minute furlough extension by the Chancellor, while welcome, also created huge uncertainty and has led to many people losing their jobs who did not need to if only he had been more open about his intentions and not been left to be bounced into it at the last minute.

In terms of the response, particularly for the hospitality sector, we need the reduced VAT rate for tourism to continue, and non-domestic rates to continue at their current zero level. Through Barnett, we need to see that commitment in England so that it can be followed through elsewhere in the UK.

That still leaves 3 million excluded but in the final seconds that I have, I will focus not on those who are excluded, but on those who are conspicuously included—those appointed to positions without open recruitment processes and those who are awarded contracts without following open procurement processes. We are entitled to have assurances that the best people are shaping our responses—absolutely we do—but surely we are also entitled to the assurance that the decisions taken are justified for their impact, effectiveness and public health benefits to the many and not just for the financial benefit to the few. Throughout this crisis, under the cover of urgency, too many contracts have been awarded at too high a price that have run into too many problems and benefited too many people who are too close to the centre of power. That cannot and must not continue.