Covid-19: Government Support for Business

– in the House of Commons at 10:34 am on 16th December 2021.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 10:34 am, 16th December 2021

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on economic support for business.

I want to begin by extending my best wishes to my hon. Friend—

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

It is clear that omicron is much more transmissible than other coronavirus variants, which is why, as the Prime Minister announced on Sunday, we are offering every eligible adult a booster dose before the end of the year. To get more jabs in arms, we have taken the proportionate and responsible step of moving to plan B in England to slow the spread of covid-19.

The rapid spread of omicron means this is a challenging time for a number of sectors, including hospitality. The Chancellor will be speaking to UK hospitality representatives this afternoon to understand their concerns. The Government continue to offer considerable support to businesses that might require extra assistance into next spring, as part of the £400 billion of direct economic help that we have provided during the pandemic.

For instance, we have reduced the VAT rate for hospitality and tourism businesses to 12.5% until March. Eligible retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England are also benefiting from 66% business rates relief until March. And at the recent autumn Budget the Chancellor introduced a further 50% business rates relief for eligible businesses into the 2022-23 tax year.

Businesses can continue to apply for the additional restrictions grant until March 2022, as part of more than £2 billion of discretionary business grant funding during the pandemic. Businesses can benefit from our extension to the recovery loan scheme, which helps small and medium-sized enterprises to build back from the crisis by providing guarantees to lenders on finance of up to £10 million. Firms are also protected from eviction until March 2022 if they fall behind on their rent.

Firms in the arts and culture sector, meanwhile, can access the £2 billion culture recovery fund, the sports recovery package and the film and television production restart scheme until the end of April 2022. And our £800 million live events reinsurance scheme is giving event organisers confidence to plan ahead. Furthermore, the devolved Administrations have received an extra £12.6 billion this year, including an additional £1.3 billion in the autumn Budget.

This Government are helping businesses in every region and nation of the UK during these difficult times. We are speaking to the most affected sectors, and we will continue to respond proportionately to the virus’s changing path to support jobs, businesses and individuals, just as we have since the start of this pandemic.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Forgive me for my Christmas eagerness, Mr Speaker.

I extend my best wishes to my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, the shadow Chancellor, as she recovers from covid at home. We know where she is, but where is the Chancellor? Why did he decide to proceed with a trip to California on Tuesday, when it was already clear that UK businesses were struggling to cope with what the Prime Minister himself has called a “tidal wave” of omicron?

Even if the Chancellor is abroad, California is not exactly a communications desert. They have television, and I have even heard that they have the internet, but it is still radio silence from the Chancellor. There is tumbleweed rolling through the Treasury, which says he is in communication with officials, but what about some communication with businesses that are losing bookings by the hour and watching their December profits vanish into thin air? Last night the chief medical officer advised the public to deprioritise social contact. Adherence to that advice will have a clear and direct impact on the hospitality industry, live music, theatre and other public events across the country.

The Government documents for plan B say that the decision on economic support will be made

“based on the data at the time.”

That time is now, so let me ask the Minister this: what measures will the Government take to ensure that those who have to isolate at home have proper sick pay that enables them to follow the rules? What will the Government do to help hospitality businesses affected by the chief medical officer’s advice to deprioritise social contact? Will any support also apply to live music, theatre and other events?

What are the Government doing to maintain supply chains, should they be affected by staff absences in the coming weeks? What is the Government’s response to the hospitality industry’s call to maintain the value added tax rates for that sector at 12.5%? Will the Government also allow local authorities to release any unused funds they may have from previous covid aid packages to support businesses right now?

The principle here should be that the level of support should match the economic restrictions in place. It is not about a blank cheque; there has already been enough wasteful spending from the Government in the past two years. Any package should be timely, proportionate and properly targeted and must guard against fraud. That is why it needs the full and focused application of Treasury Ministers and officials.

We are not in lockdown, but it would be totally disingenuous to pretend that businesses can trade normally when the Prime Minister has used a special national broadcast to warn the nation of a “tidal wave” of covid infections and the chief medical officer has told us to cut back on social contact. The Government cannot pretend that nothing has changed. This is not the time to abandon businesses, so will the Minister commit to announcing a package of support by the end of today—I mean UK time, not California time—that matches the situation that British businesses and workers now face?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. The Chancellor has been deeply engaged with business representatives throughout this pandemic and he will continue to be so. He was on a long-planned business trip to the United States, conducting Government business, and he will continue to engage today with other Ministers, with representatives of the hospitality sector and others, to hear their concerns about what further support should be required.

However, I will not be taking lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on some of these measures. Last year, when we put in place the bounce back loans, it was the shadow Chancellor at the time, Anneliese Dodds, who specifically engaged constructively with the Chancellor to agree the basis for those loans. We have continued to work constructively throughout on a range of interventions for multiple sectors. We put in a package of measures at the Budget offering additional support and as of yesterday the covid additional relief fund will provide £1.5 billion for those in the supply chain to deal with some of the additional challenges. Of course the Government recognise the additional pressures that these measures and this strain of the virus bring, and of course we will engage carefully and listen carefully to those business representatives this afternoon.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

The Minister has talked about some of the costs that will be reduced. The problem with the reduction of Christmas cheer, especially in the hospitality and entertainment industries, is revenues.

If I listen to my publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers, I know they will want to hear after the meeting this afternoon how their revenues can be lifted, how they can treat their staff properly and how the loss of revenue from those events that cannot be postponed will in some way be made up to them. That is what matters most in most constituencies, including mine.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the Father of the House for his comments, and point out that there is £250 million of funds still to be given to businesses through the additional restrictions grants. Three out of four local authorities have between 5% and 40% of their funds unallocated. However, I recognise that this is a distinct new challenge, and that is why I and the Chancellor will be having meetings with representatives from the affected sectors this afternoon to see what more needs to be done.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

The omicron variant is now present in all Scottish health boards, so I am sure the Minister will congratulate Scotland on being the first nation in the UK to vaccinate 50% of the eligible population with the booster jab.

On Tuesday, during the First Minister’s address to the Scottish Parliament, the Treasury sent out a press release indicating that more covid support was coming, but it later backtracked and pulled it. In response to those erroneous claims, the Scottish Finance Secretary has written to the Chancellor seeking clarification. When should the Scottish Finance Secretary expect a reply? Do we have to wait for the Chancellor to return from California? Does the Minister not believe that the Government’s flip-flopping and flippancy of the last few days has undermined the devolved Administrations and that assurances of funding must be provided right now?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Of course, the devolved authorities will secure £77.6 billion next year, which is £12.6 billion more than this year. Just yesterday, £430 million of additional money was agreed with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The hon. Member should contact the Finance Secretary in Scotland to clarify what he is talking about, because that money was allocated yesterday by the Chief Secretary.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Government policy has been clear that people can proceed with their Christmas socialising plans as expected. However, yesterday the chief medical officer said that people should limit social contact, which will clearly have a devastating effect on hospitality businesses. Can we have clarity about how people should plan their social contacts for Christmas?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The advice is clear: one should get the booster as quickly as possible—I did so on Saturday—take lateral flow tests and act responsibly. On Monday, I shall take my Salisbury team out for lunch.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Public health messages need to be clear and consistent, but last night the Prime Minister’s press conference was confusing and sowed turmoil in the hospitality sector. Another sector that is already hurting is small coach and bus operators, such as Stanley Travel in my constituency, who rely on Christmas and the new year for income to tide them over the fallow period of January and February. When the Chancellor comes back from his winter sun trip to California, will the Minister ensure that he does not forget the sector as we look at support in the coming months?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The right hon. Gentleman legitimately raises a point about the whole range of businesses affected. That is why the Government’s priority was to give local authorities maximum discretion in how to allocate funds. As the Chancellor has done yesterday, today and every day, he will continue to focus on the needs of the economy and businesses up and down the country.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I am reassured that my hon. Friend the Minister will take out his team on Monday. Like him, I took a lateral flow test this morning. However, is it not the case that when officials give advice, it has a massive capacity to herd the public into particular behaviours? Therefore, while the Government have formally allowed hospitality businesses in particular to stay open, the reality in my constituency is that fantastic businesses such as The Old Queens Head in Penn and Tylers Green have seen massive cancellations. What reassurance can he give me that when officials speak—particularly from podiums at press conferences—they stay within the bounds of the policy decided by Ministers, and that what Ministers have decided takes into account the broad spectrum of collateral harms that follow from, for example, encouraging people not to mix together?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

It is really important that we follow the best advice to get jabbed, take those lateral flow tests and wear masks. However, where we possibly can, we should also continue to engage with our local communities and support our businesses at this difficult time. Of course, that means that judgments have to be made, and people must take responsibility for their decisions in the light of that guidance.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Small and medium-sized enterprises make up a significant proportion of the UK hospitality sector, and in recent days they have seen their footfall decline by as much as 40%, with one business I know of having had 79 cancellations in three hours. This comes at a time when businesses also continue to face high energy costs, supply chain disruptions and dropping consumer confidence. If we know this, it beggars belief that it is not clear to the Government. We have been meeting hospitality businesses since last week. Why is this meeting happening only today, and are the Government going to commit to come forward with a package of support that will give confidence for Christmas and the months ahead by the end of today?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As I have said, the Government are meeting a dozen representatives from the sector this afternoon to assess the latest situation and see what more can be done.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I sympathise with my hon. Friend and good neighbour in having to deal with data that is changing extremely rapidly. We know from South Africa and southern Africa that things may be changing, perhaps for the better, but we cannot rely on that, so the cautious words of Ministers and officials and the measures that we passed earlier this week are absolutely appropriate. Does my hon. Friend agree that, at a time of change such as now, it is important that the House is convened to debate the issues and that we should seek an opportunity next week and the week after for us to meet again so that Ministers can update the House on the current situation and change what is required one way or the other, if that is necessary? The public expect that level of leadership.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my right hon. Friend and neighbour for his question. As I think he will appreciate from his time in government, some of those decisions come from those above me. It is critical that we are clear about what we are doing and why we are doing it, and the basis for the decisions that we are making.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

It is pretty obvious that during this crisis many workers have lost a lot of income, wages have gone down and living standards have gone down. For those who have to self-isolate or are sick and have to rely on statutory sick pay, SSP is wholly inadequate. Will he, in his consideration of business support, include an immediate substantial increase in SSP so that living standards can at least be maintained?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The Government will always look at such matters. We have maintained the self-isolation £500 payment, means-tested through local authorities, but we will obviously keep all matters under review.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

Boosted this morning, Mr Speaker.

Listening last night to the Prime Minister’s Downing Street conference, I could see why there was no statement to the House. No new Government policy was announced. Then Professor Chris Whitty answered a question from the BBC, and at a stroke, the chief medical officer changed Government policy and put this country—certainly hospitality, and Winchester’s hospitality bears this out from what I am hearing—into effective lockdown. May I ask—yes or no—whether what Professor Whitty said last night is now the policy of the Government, namely, that we should socialise carefully? What in practical legal terms does that mean?

On support, because advisers are now running the show—I bet none of them run businesses facing complete ruin as a result of what was said last night—the Treasury is going to have to do more. Otherwise, we risk wasting the amazing support that Her Majesty’s Treasury gave last year. We are going to have to do more, whether or not we want to be here and whether or not I think we should be here, or businesses will face ruin and thousands of people are going to lose their jobs.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I have been very clear that we should get boosted, encourage our constituents to get boosted, take the lateral flow tests, wear masks and engage in normal activity as far as we can. There will not be a legal definition of what every individual should do on an individual basis, but most people will use common sense, and that is really important. I recognise the core point that my hon. Friend makes. The sector will need engagement from Government, and that is why Ministers—not advisers— will be engaging with that sector this afternoon.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

As the Father of the House said, we will all be receiving emails from businesses in our constituencies. One has written to me saying:

“As with most businesses, a hospitality business is not run from one day to the next. Plans are in place for staff, events and orders.”

These are businesses that were struggling already with accrued debt and a staffing recruitment crisis before omicron hit. Does the Minister agree that, if businesses are facing the same set of circumstances they faced when they received support from the Government, it is reasonable for them to expect the same level of support again?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We have put in a range of interventions, be that through loans, the furlough scheme, support through grants or support through reliefs from VAT and business rates. We will continue to look at what specific sectors are facing in these coming days and weeks, and we will act appropriately in light of those changed circumstances.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly we are all going to have to live with covid for a long time to come. Businesses in my constituency report a double whammy: people cancelling bookings for hospitality and shortages of staff as a result of people testing positive for covid, doing the responsible thing and not coming in. Can my hon. Friend look at ways we can promote business and encourage people to take on short-term roles in the hospitality industry to cover these gaps? We need to provide incentives for business to continue.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As ever, my hon. Friend makes sensible points, and I will certainly look carefully at what he has said, and we will look at in light of the representations we receive this afternoon.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

Steve Brine is right: the Government are trying to sing two different songs at the same time, and the result is a cacophony of mixed messages in everyone’s ears. This afternoon, the Chancellor needs not just to listen, but to act, because the taxes we are talking about are supposed to be taxes on business activity, not business inactivity caused by misfortune and Government mixed messaging. Will the Minister tell the Chancellor this afternoon when he meets him, albeit from California, that action is what is required now, not just listening?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s points. I have constant contact with the Chancellor, and I will make sure he is very aware of the range and strength of opinion in the House today.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to the meetings this afternoon, but a common theme has developed on both sides of the House of reports, including in my constituency, of pubs losing 50% to 60% of their bookings. Like Mr Jones, I have a local coach operator that reported losing £40,000-worth of bookings yesterday alone. While advisers press the panic button way beyond what this House voted for a couple of days ago, can my hon. Friend give me an absolute assurance that there will be a decision by Ministers after his meetings this afternoon that will give businesses the clarity they need on the support they will get in this effective lockdown?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

What we will do is listen carefully and act appropriately. Just yesterday, we secured this covid additional relief fund to support the supply chain and city centre economies, but I fully recognise that we are in a very difficult and rapidly changing set of circumstances, and it is important that Ministers act and make decisions on the basis of that data and the evidence that is presented to this House.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

While it is important that we have a swift health response, it is equally important that we have a swift financial response to support that health response in tackling the impact of covid. What steps are being taken to ensure that these decisions are taken quickly? It is not good enough simply to wait until the Chancellor can wake up, whenever that is, in California. When will the Government finally ever do anything to support those who have been excluded from any support at any time throughout this entire pandemic?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Clearly we have worked hard throughout to bring customised support to different sectors, with a range of grants, reliefs and direct support through furlough. The Chancellor was very clear from his earliest statements last spring that it would be impossible to protect every single job, but just this week we have seen unemployment at 4.2%, which is obviously considerably better than was anticipated. There is no complacency on behalf of the Treasury or the Chancellor, who is fully engaged in looking at what interventions are appropriate in addition to the comprehensive winter plan, which was laid out in advance to give reassurance over the coming six months. As I have said, circumstances have now changed, and we will need to look very carefully at the implications of that.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Like my hon. Friend Greg Smith, I have had a coach operator on to me this morning, so may I urge the Government to look at the wider impact of what is happening? It is welcome that the Chancellor and his team are meeting the hospitality sector, but the closure or limited closure of that sector has a massive knock-on effect, for example, on coach operators and taxi drivers. Sadly, this is going to mean more online sales and another hit to the high street, so may I urge the Minister to ensure that the wider aspects of what is taking place are considered in the meeting later?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the wider impact across related businesses, which is why Ministers will this afternoon meet a range of representatives, to ensure that the full understanding of the Government is grasped.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

I simply say to the Minister that unless he acts today to help hospitality businesses they will not be there next year to be helped—that is the simple reality. People choosing not to go to hospitality events, following guidance not to go to the office, is having a big impact on the revenues of public transport operators—bus, coach and Supertram operators in Sheffield. Will he have urgent conversations with the Transport Secretary about extra help for those operators—already we have seen massive cuts to services—and give the money to the transport authorities so that it can be best spent in the interests of passengers?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Of course discussions will take place across government. The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the transport sector, where of course significant support has been given. However, I take on board his point.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

I welcome the fact that the Minister and the Chancellor are meeting those in the hospitality sector this afternoon. There is no doubt that they are suffering because of some of the mixed messages we have heard in the past few days. The obvious places to help them would be by looking at VAT again, potentially reducing it back to the 5% rate until the end of March, and at the recovery loan scheme. As the Minister knows, the original schemes—bounce back loans and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme—did not require a forward viability test, whereas the recovery loan scheme does. It is very difficult for those in hospitality at the moment to demonstrate forward-looking viability for their businesses, so will the Minister look again at the scheme and look to reform it so that businesses can access this vital financial support?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As ever, my hon. Friend brings sensible and credible points to the Chamber on these matters. He is very familiar with the different aspects of small and medium-sized enterprise financing. The recovery loan scheme, operational until June next year, gives a 70% guarantee to lenders, but of course we will look at all those measures in the round, and I look forward to our meeting later today on other matters.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am acutely aware, having a constituency on the edge of the west end, of the impact that the pandemic has had not only on hospitality and tourism, but on the culture, arts and live performance sector. Last night, it was reported that 12 west end shows were unable to go ahead because of illness among the cast, many of whom are self-employed. Will the Minister confirm that he or fellow Ministers will be meeting representatives of the theatre and live performance sector to discuss the impact of this latest wave of the crisis on their finances?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We will continue to engage with the sector. I just draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the £2 billion culture recovery fund; the emergency resources support fund, which gives up to £3 million of support to charities and £1 million to commercial entities in that sector; and the £800 million to the live events reinsurance scheme. However, we will continue to engage across different sectors of the economy.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Newcastle has a fantastic night-time economy and the Chancellor should visit, as it is a lot closer than California. Those businesses will be seeing a real reduction in footfall and trade, as will their suppliers directly, because of the omicron variant. What support is the Minister offering to them directly as a result of the omicron variant?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As I mentioned, there is outstanding support from the local additional restrictions grant, which local authorities have available. I would be happy to hear from the hon. Lady where Newcastle’s local authority is on the disbursal of that grant. As I said, we are meeting representatives from across the economy this afternoon and we will look carefully at what can be done.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker, to you and the excellent House staff.

It should have been a very busy Christmas period, but hospitality, entertainment and linked businesses in my constituency, on top of trying to contend with soaring energy costs, are being hard hit. They are losing bookings and events after the Prime Minister announced his recent plan. Where is the Chancellor? Why did he not announce a corresponding support package plan for those affected? What support package can businesses in my constituency apply for to help them in these difficult times?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I have already set out a number of support measures that we have taken, which are ongoing through to next March, such as business rates relief, grants from local authorities, grants that we have already given and a concession on the lower VAT rate. Of course, I recognise the reality of behaviour at the moment. We have to assess that, look at the data and look at what the appropriate measure is. It is really clear: we have not shut anything down. What we have done is set out new conditions which people are finding it difficult to come to terms with. I understand that, which is why we have to work carefully with the sector to look at what sort of support we can bring in.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport)

Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, just said:

“100,000’s staff hours are being slashed up and down the UK, due to cancellations. A large proportion”— of those staff—

“are on a living wage.”

He says that the silence from the Chancellor is “deafening” and it is, “Unforgivable and Unforgettable.” Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I just asked the Secretary of State for Transport about support for aviation and was given the Department for Transport’s greatest hits. The truth is that the aviation sector was hardest hit. Its recovery has been uneven and the weakest in Europe. It will need support. Measures already brought in, such as the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, will have to be extended for some sectors, in the same manner as CBILS. Thousands of jobs have gone in my constituency. Does the Treasury actually understand how serious the situation is?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Yes, we do, and that is why we have given £12 billion of loan guarantees through the covid corporate financing facility for the aviation sector. At the Budget, we put in the airport and ground operations support scheme to help with fixed costs over the next six months. Of course I recognise that the situation is having a significant impact on the sector and the Government will remain engaged to support where we possibly can.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

A number of different things have happened this week in the Government’s messaging, but one significant thing was when the Prime Minister made his television statement on Sunday and told people to work from home if they can. Reinforcing that message has meant that, this week, an awful lot of people are not in the places that they expected to be, which has resulted in cancellations of bookings for hotels and restaurants. Rightly, reinforcing that message has had an impact that the Treasury needs to react to.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I recognise that, which is why I have set out today the engagement that we are having to try to determine exactly what we need to do.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

For more than a week, hospitality businesses and workers in Nottingham have been contacting me desperately worried about falling custom at what should be their busiest time of year. I have also heard from hair and beauty salons in my constituency that are facing cancellations and wondering how on earth they will get by on a reduced income when they are already struggling to pay back the loans that they took out to survive lockdown. Why do the Government not seem to understand the urgency of the situation and what will the Minister now do to help?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

What I will do is ensure that the hon. Lady’s point is passed to the Chancellor. I will also ensure that the engagement is as broad as possible across Treasury Ministers, so that the full impact of the evolving circumstances is reflected in our response.

Photo of Sam Tarry Sam Tarry Shadow Minister (Transport)

A few weekends ago, on Small Business Saturday, I was happy to host the first inaugural Ilford business awards. With about 1,500 nominations, it spotlighted the best businesses in Ilford. Recent research from the TUC, however, shows that 647,000 workers in hospitality, retail and entertainment do not currently qualify for statutory sick pay and many will be incredibly anxious about what that means, especially given the contradictory advice from Government scientists and the Prime Minister in the past few days. Why have the Government let down the industry so badly? What will the Minister commit to do to help to support those industries today?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Today we are having meetings to discern exactly what the data is showing and what interventions we need to make going forward.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing)

I think I am now the sixth Member to mention the coach sector, and I hope the Treasury is listening to hon. and right hon. Members in that regard. Robert Black’s of Brechin has contacted me to say that bookings have been disappearing like snow off a dyke since the omicron situation developed. I have also been contacted by The Townhouse in Arbroath, The Stag in Forfar and many others, and I am not taking my staff out on Friday because I am following advice. There are booking cancellations right across the board. It is an omicron support package that we need—where is it coming from?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As I have said repeatedly, the Government are engaging across sectors. I recognise the depth and breadth of the impact of this variant, and we will look very carefully at what we need to do.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

Despite the Treasury spin, last night’s Cobra meetings only confirmed that of course there is no money coming to Scotland; the money announced by the Treasury on Tuesday was pre-announced money. The Scottish Government have already acted to deliver £100 million of funding to support businesses disrupted by health advice in Scotland. They want to give more, but they cannot, due to the restrictions in place on devolved borrowing. Does the Minister accept that this aspect of the devolution settlement is hampering the ability of devolved Governments to act as necessary?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am sorry, but I cannot accept that. The Government have given an additional £12 billion to the devolved Administrations, which also benefit from the reduced VAT, the recovery loans and the other UK-wide measures, and the additional £430 million that was agreed this week.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Two weeks ago, on a very frosty north-east morning, I met small businesses at my business forum. They told me of their concerns about what might happen over the Christmas period with covid-19. They included beauty businesses and businesses such as the Railway Tavern in Rowlands Gill in my constituency. Will the Minister please urgently address the need to support our hospitality and personal care businesses throughout this situation?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady makes a very reasonable case about businesses in her constituency. As I have said, we will be engaging with the sector to come forward with appropriate interventions based on the data and the experience across the economy.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

One thing is clear: we can trust the word of the chief medical officer more than that of the Prime Minister, as the Government sleepwalk into another covid crisis. In York, we have a significant hospitality sector. It is really struggling, as are many other businesses. What steps is the Minister taking with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as the tax year comes to an end, to ensure greater flexibility for businesses so that they can have longer to repay money to the Treasury?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

As ever, the hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. We have to look at the range of interventions and ways that we could support the economy at this time. She raises an interesting area for us to focus on, and I am sure that will be a substantive area of considerations with the Chancellor.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

The music industry has been hit hard. The industry trade body LIVE—Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment—has concerns that while venues can technically stay open, they are haemorrhaging money and that will lead to permanent closures. Will the Chancellor maintain the current rate of VAT beyond March 2022? In addition to support packages, will the Government fix the insurance scheme for cancelled events to include pandemic-related cancellations?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Government worked very closely with the sector in the determination of the parameters of the live events reinsurance scheme—I was involved in it myself—over late summer. That £800 million scheme will give events across the country confidence, but I obviously recognise that that needs to be kept under constant review, as all the measures do.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers to the questions and, clearly, for the commitment to financial support to help businesses, but may I ask him a question on behalf of travel agents and tour operators, which are again taking a very specific hit, not simply from cancellations but from frightened people being afraid to book for the future? Will he explore urgently a financial aid scheme alongside the one that is so clearly needed for the hospitality industry as a whole?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Throughout this pandemic, we have received representations from many sectors, we have introduced a range of interventions to deal with the challenges, and we will continue to engage with sectors across the economy, including travel operators, which have been reflected a number of times in the concerns of Members across the House this morning.