Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 6:08 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Olney.

I pay tribute to all the amazing key workers who have worked tirelessly this year in the care system, the NHS and local government, which I think is quite often forgotten, as well as the police and our teachers. However, I also pay tribute to the local people of my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster. Many people think that central London is an unfriendly place, but I can tell them that it is a place that is full of community spirit. I have seen that at first hand in the City, on the Golden Lane estate, in the Barbican and on Mansell Street. I have seen it at the Square Mile food bank, which has done brilliant work. It is manned by volunteers, and I pay tribute to them. I have seen it in Westminster, among the residents of Pimlico, Marylebone, Covent Garden, Belgravia and Paddington, who are really working together to help the more vulnerable in our society. I saw it when Westminster City Council launched its Westminster Connects volunteer scheme, which I took part in myself, helping to prepare food for the rough sleepers we have brought in. Some 90% of rough sleepers were brought in under the Government’s Everyone In scheme, which was outstanding. So I pay tribute to everyone today.

I pay tribute to the Government. Let us not forget how far we have come in 10 months. Yes, there have been difficulties, but we now have amazing laboratories doing the testing, we have the PPE, and we have the NHS working so well. I pay tribute to the Government for doing that, and I look forward to the vaccine coming on board and to us being able, hopefully, to get back to some normality at some point next year. It is also important to pay tribute to the businesses. Central London is usually first out of the traps when it comes to facing up to an economic depression or recession. Sadly, this time, I think we will be one of the last to get back to normal. We used to see 1 million people come into my constituency to work every day, but they have disappeared and the retail and hospitality sectors have paid the price, as have other service industries such as beauty therapists, cobblers and dry cleaners. Those small businesses rely on workers and visitors coming in every day of the week, but they have disappeared. I also pay tribute to the brilliant financial schemes that the Government have brought in. I held a roundtable for representatives of the theatre industry in my constituency last week, and every single one of them paid tribute to the furlough system.

However, there are still things we could do. I would like to see an extension to the business rate holiday. I would also like to see an extension to the VAT cut, maybe to other industries such as the beauty industry and hairdressers, who have been hit particularly during the second lockdown. As we move towards the lifting of restrictions, hopefully in a couple of weeks’ time, we need to plan ahead. Businesses need to know what tier they will go into. We also need to look at the 10 pm curfew, which to me is counterintuitive. I would rather see the ability to stagger the times at which people leave restaurants and bars, because I think that would be safer. I would also like to thank the business organisations that I have been working with, such as UKHospitality, who have made their arguments. I have enjoyed working with those people, because they care about their sectors and about recovering the economy when it is safe to do so.