My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for securing this debate and I refer to my interests in the register.
People across the globe are coming to terms with a new normal. As our markets are so interconnected, it will remain in all our interests to ensure that we strengthen our partnerships, as well as building resilience in those areas that have been identified as needing much more internal investment.
The Government’s decision to put in measures to protect jobs and support businesses has been very welcome. They have received global recognition for the enormous intervention that the Treasury has made to ensure, as far as possible, that the economy stays afloat. However, in welcoming these measures, I know that the critical work will be over the next several months, as employers work to build consumer confidence and workplaces adjust to the new norms.
Businesses that I have helped to navigate access to the Government’s support packages are now asking for support to see them over the new challenges that they will inevitably face. Will my noble friend say what plans they are looking at in fiscal terms, especially for the SME sector, to cut back on immediate burdens? That could include possible VAT holidays or reducing the VAT burden. Does he agree that in order to reinvigorate many of our city and town centres, measures to give businesses rates holidays or other incentives, for at least nine to 12 months, will greatly assist in supporting smaller businesses?
Among the lessons we have learned is the importance of ensuring that we still maintain critical manufacturing in our country, including the obvious protective medical wear that we so desperately needed. My city of Leicester was once at the heart of manufacturing clothing, but factories lay closed, with more than 10,000 workers at home. Will my noble friend therefore look at how, in the future, local businesses can help to support government responses and be included in all contingency planning?