Public Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:33 pm, 1st December 2020

I am extremely grateful to Madam Deputy Speaker for my time.

I wish to talk specifically about the impact of a tier system on the leisure and hospitality industry in Leeds, which would equally apply to other areas under tier 3. As I know is the case for most MPs, the picture in my constituency is very grim. I have spoken to many business owners who have been forced to make devastating choices, considering letting staff go or even closing their business with Christmas just around the corner. Support for hospitality businesses is extremely limited. The furlough scheme is due to expire in January, workers are missing out on self-isolation support payments, and there is no comprehensive hospitality support package for businesses under tiers 2 or 3. Why did we not see an extension of furlough, improvements in the self-isolation scheme and sector-specific packages brought forward today? The £1,000 that was announced for wet pubs is not even worthy of being called a sticking plaster. The fact is, the majority of businesses cannot operate on this basis, with unsustainable income and ever-increasing debt. The lack of meaningful support from the Government is a massive kick in the teeth for those who work so hard to make their businesses safe and have taken additional measures at their own expense during this latest lockdown, trying to survive what has been an apocalyptic year for hospitality.

The one-off £20 per head additional restrictions grant for councils was welcome, but I am not sure how the Government expect local authorities to stretch out the grant for as long as they are in tier 3 when some areas have been under the strictest measures for many months with no end date in sight. So, again, a new extended support package for councils should have been announced today.

I am pleased, however, that as of today the Leeds infection rate is down significantly again, with nearly all wards across the city seeing significant decreases and an R rate far lower than that of many London boroughs. With a city-wide rate now at 200 and dropping every day, the measures are working, and I want to put on record my thanks to all those in Leeds making huge personal sacrifices so that this can happen.

The Leeds improvement shows the need for continued restrictions. However, we simply cannot afford to lose £1.7 million-worth of Government support for each seven days spent in tier 3, which is what will happen if the Government do not step up.

We are on the verge of a vaccine roll-out, but the Government are leaving swathes of the country to fall at the final hurdle. Currently, tier 3 areas, which are predominantly northern and urban, will get no more financial support than areas in tier 1. The only way to prevent mass job losses and business closures unlike anything we have seen before is to provide urgent economic support to both businesses and workers in tier 3 areas.

So I suggest the following changes to the Government, without which I cannot support the proposed tiers tonight. The unit of geography for tiers should have as its building block the upper-tier local authority for unitaries and districts for two-tier local authorities, not sub-regions or counties. I am also concerned that the 14-day review period is insufficiently flexible, as rates are falling fast and there could be an opportunity to get the economy going at an earlier stage, so I ask for a seven-day review period to make the system more responsive; the capacity to deliver that exists given that there will not be any negotiation. There should, too, be council engagement with Government to scale up lateral flow testing on a targeted basis, ensuring it is integrated with contact tracing and supports those who self-isolate. We will deliver this in the most effective way if it is done with councils, to ensure that we do not compromise roll-out of the vaccination and that resources are available to deliver it. I am also disappointed about communications on the tiers, with local leadership not having the opportunity to help lead communications as part of rebuilding trust and confidence.

That is what I call on the Government to do when we next have the review—it is clear that they will not accept any of my suggestions today, although I will delighted if the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announces that they will in his concluding remarks. Without the additional support and additional measures I have called for I cannot support what is happening today, and therefore I will not be taking part in the vote this evening.