Economy - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 2:02 pm on 28th September 2020.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 24 September.

“Thank you for granting me permission to make this statement to the House, Mr Speaker. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister set out the next stage of the Government’s health response to coronavirus. Today, I want to explain the next phase of our planned economic response. The House will be reassured to know that I have been developing plans to protect jobs and the economy over the winter period—plans that seek to strike a finely judged balance between managing the virus and protecting the jobs and livelihoods of millions.

I know that people are anxious, afraid and exhausted at the prospect of further restrictions on our economic and social freedoms. I share those feelings, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. We are in a fundamentally different position than we were in March, and we now know much more about this virus. Public awareness of the risks and how to mitigate them is far greater, and we have met our promise to give the NHS whatever it needs, with significant new funding for NHS capacity and for personal protective equipment. I can inform the House that we have now provided over £12 billion for test and trace.

In economic terms, while our output remains well below what it was in February, we have seen three consecutive months of growth, and millions of people have moved off the furlough and back to work. But the resurgence of the virus and the measures we need to take in response pose a threat to this fragile economic recovery, so our task now is to move to the next stage of our economic plan, nurturing the recovery by protecting jobs through the difficult winter months.

The underlying rationale for the next phase of economic support must be different from what came before. The primary goal of our economic policy remains unchanged—to support people’s jobs—but the way we achieve that must evolve. Back in March, we hoped we were facing a temporary period of disruption. In response, we provided one of the most generous and comprehensive economic plans anywhere in the world, with £190 billion of support for people, businesses and public services as we have protected our economic capacity. It is now clear, as the Prime Minister and our scientific advisers have said, that for at least the next six months the virus and restrictions are going to be a fact of our lives. Our economy is now likely to undergo a more permanent adjustment. The sources of our economic growth and the kinds of jobs we create will adapt and evolve to the new normal, and our plan needs to adapt and evolve in response.

Above all, we need to face up to the trade-offs and hard choices that coronavirus presents, and there has been no harder choice than the decision to end the furlough scheme. The furlough was the right policy at the time we introduced it. It provided immediate short-term protection for millions of jobs through a period of acute crisis, but as the economy reopens, it is fundamentally wrong to hold people in jobs that only exist inside the furlough. We need to create new opportunities and allow the economy to move forward, and that means supporting people to be in viable jobs that provide genuine security.

As I have said throughout this crisis, I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job. No Chancellor could. But what we can and must do is deal with the real problems businesses and employees are facing now. In March, the problem was that we ordered businesses to close. In response, we paid people to stay at home and not work. Today, the problem is different. Many businesses are operating safely and viably, but they now face uncertainty and reduced demand over the winter months. What those businesses need is support to bring people back to work and protect as many viable jobs as we can.

To do that, I am announcing today the new jobs support scheme. The Government will directly support the wages of people in work, giving businesses that face depressed demand the option of keeping employees in a job on shorter hours, rather than making them redundant.

The job support scheme is built on three principles. First, it will support viable jobs. To make sure of that, employees must work at least a third of their normal hours and be paid for that work as normal by their employer. The Government, together with employers, will then increase those people’s wages, covering two-thirds of the pay they have lost by reducing their working hours. The employee will keep their job.

Secondly, we will target support at firms that need it most. All small and medium-sized businesses are eligible, but larger businesses only when their turnover has fallen through the crisis.

Thirdly, it will be open to employers across the United Kingdom, even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme.

The scheme will run for six months, starting in November. Employers retaining furloughed staff on shorter hours can claim both the job support scheme and the jobs retention bonus.

Throughout this crisis, we have sought parity between employees and the self-employed, providing more than £13 billion of support to over 2.6 million self-employed small businesses, so I am extending the existing self-employed grant on similar terms and conditions as the new jobs support scheme.

These are radical interventions in the UK labour market—policies we have never tried in this country before. Together with the jobs retention bonus, the kick-start scheme for young people, tens of billions of pounds of job creation schemes and new investment in training and apprenticeships, we are protecting millions of jobs and businesses.

If we want to protect jobs this winter, the second major challenge is helping businesses with cash flow. Over the past six months, we have supported business with tens of billions of pounds of tax deferrals and generous government-backed loans. Those policies have been a lifeline, but right now businesses need every extra pound to protect jobs, rather than repaying loans and tax deferrals, so I am taking four further steps today to make that happen.

First, bounce-back loans have given over a million small businesses a £38 billion boost to survive this pandemic. To give those businesses more time and greater flexibility to repay their loans, we are introducing pay as you grow. This means loans can now be extended from six to 10 years, nearly halving the average monthly repayment. Businesses that are struggling can now choose to make interest-only payments, and anyone in real trouble can apply to suspend repayments altogether for up to six months. No business taking up pay as you grow will see its credit rating affected as a result.

Secondly, I am also changing the terms of our other loan schemes. More than 60,000 small and medium-sized businesses have taken out coronavirus business interruption loans. To help them, I plan to extend the government guarantee on those loans for up to 10 years, making it easier for lenders to give more people more time to repay. I am also extending the deadline for all our loan schemes to the end of this year, and we are starting work on a new successor loan guarantee programme that is set to begin in January.

Thirdly, I want to give businesses more time and flexibility over their deferred tax bills. Nearly half a million businesses deferred more than £30 billion of VAT this year. Under current plans, those payments fall due in March. Instead, I will allow businesses to spread that VAT bill over 11 smaller repayments, with no interest to pay. Any of the millions of self-assessed income tax payers who need extra help can also now extend their outstanding tax bill over 12 months from next January.

The final step I am taking today will support two of the most affected sectors: hospitality and tourism. Under current plans, their VAT rates will increase from 5% to the standard rate of 20% on 13 January. To support more than 150,000 businesses and help to protect 2.4 million jobs through the winter, today I announce that we are cancelling the planned increase and will keep the lower 5% VAT rate until 31 March next year.

Today’s measures mark an important evolution in our approach. Our lives can no longer be put on hold. Since May we have taken steps to liberate our economy and society. We did those things because life means more than simply existing. We find meaning and hope through our friends and family, and through our work and community. People were not wrong for wanting that meaning, and for striving towards normality, and neither were the Government wrong to want that for them. I said in the summer that we must endure, and live with the uncertainty of the moment, and that means learning our new limits as we go. The truth is that responsibility for defeating coronavirus cannot be held by the Government alone. It is a collective responsibility, shared by all, because the cost is paid by all.

We have so often spoken about the virus in terms of lives lost, but the price our country is paying is wider than that. The Government have done much to mitigate the effects of those awful trade-offs between health, education and employment, and as we think about the next few weeks and months, we must bear all those costs in mind. As such, it would be dishonest to say that there is now a risk-free solution, or that we can mandate behaviour to such an extent that we lose any sense of personal responsibility. What was true at the beginning of this crisis remains true now: it is on all of us, and we must learn to live with it, and live without fear. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:07 pm, 28th September 2020

My Lords, I am grateful for the chance to respond to this Statement. The timing, just over a month before the winding up of the furlough scheme—which has caused anxiety for millions across the UK—is regrettable. Other countries have been quicker to provide businesses and workers with certainty, and bolder in the steps they have taken.

The Statement fits the now-familiar pattern of the Government’s handling of coronavirus. It was not scheduled in the usual way and instead announced at short notice, in response to an Urgent Question submitted by the shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds. The Treasury says it replaces the planned Autumn Statement. It is another example of Ministers reacting to events, rather than attempting to shape them—of allowing problems to grow, rather than acting quickly and decisively to prevent them in the first place. We have seen it on test and trace and now on the economy.

We recognise and welcome that the Government seem to have acknowledged what we have been saying for months: that action was needed to avoid a cliff edge for workers. The Statement offers a degree of certainty for some, even if it is not as comprehensive as we would like. The continuation of the scheme for the self-employed, for example, is a positive step, even if its well-known shortcomings remain. A new form of wage support is also welcome. It is not perfect but it is something. However, my overall impression is that the measures offered amount to too little, too late.

In relation to the new job support scheme, it is worth noting that Labour has long called for a change in the Government’s approach. The Chancellor has been asked to reconsider the planned one-size-fits-all withdrawal of job support on no fewer than 40 occasions. The Treasury cannot pretend that there was not time to get this right. While it is of course welcome that some workers will enjoy the protection of the new scheme, the cracks are beginning to show. Labour Party analysis observes that it will be cheaper for many businesses to retain one full-time member of staff than to preserve two jobs on short hours. The impact of that on unemployment could be, and probably is, profound.

As with the current furlough arrangement, there is virtually no conditionality on businesses. No commitment must be made to keep jobs open in the medium-to-long term. Instead the Chancellor is now admitting that jobs will be lost. He says that the new scheme has been designed with that in mind, with his priority to protect those jobs and people whose futures are deemed “viable”. What a callous word to use. Many loyal, talented and hard-working people will lose their jobs as a result of the economic difficulties we are facing. It will be no reflection on their character or ability; in many cases, businesses will agonise over the arbitrary decisions that they are required to make. Many businesses are operating with low capacity, not because they are not viable but because they are compliant with HMG’s public health guidance.

On 12 August, the Chancellor promised that

“no one will be left without hope or opportunity”.

For probably more than a million people, there will be no opportunity. Does the Chancellor believe that these human beings should survive on hope? I have been unemployed three times in my career. My abiding memory is one of terror, not hope. Until one has faced the loss of self-worth after multiple rejections, one cannot understand unemployment.

We accept that it is not possible to save every single job. However, each job loss is a personal tragedy and deserves to be recognised as such. I hope that the Minister takes that on board and ensures that he uses different language. Can he outline why the Government have not offered meaningful support to those who have already lost their jobs? Why is there no mention of help for those who may be about to lose their jobs as a result of recent policy decisions based on the Treasury’s modelling? Just how many jobs are expected to be lost during the lifetime of the scheme? Why is there nothing substantive on skills and training? Labour and the trade unions have consistently called for concrete action to help to reskill people so that they can find good-quality jobs when the economy recovers. Why are the Government content to leave certain people behind?

Why are the Government still not providing tailored support for those sectors most in need of help? Hospitality venues are required to close early, having only recently reopened. Theatres and music venues are still unable to reopen, and we are familiar with the challenges facing sports clubs outside the top tier. Tourism and aviation will also continue to be impacted, probably for quite some time. The Minister will no doubt point to various pots of money that have been found over the past six months. However, consistent with my earlier point, such funds have been established only when sectors have reached breaking point. Early assistance could have made more meaningful differences.

I recognise that the Government cannot single-handedly fix every problem faced by the UK economy. However, the points that I have raised are neither new nor likely to go away. A competent Government would have addressed them long ago. Just how long are we going to have to wait?

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, the Government have not really grasped the double whammy of Covid and our departure from the single market and the customs union, even assuming that there is a free trade deal.

The measures announced last week, including job support modelled on the German Kurzarbeit, are welcome but fall far short. Many jobs in sectors such as the creative industries, sports and hospitality are long-term viable if they can survive the next six months, so can the Minister explain why the Chancellor has not targeted the necessary funds to get them through that six-month period? Three million members of our workforce were excluded from support the first time around, especially a swathe of independent contractors. Why are they excluded again, especially when so many who have become redundant will become independent contractors if they are to live?

The pace of companies being dropped from European supply networks is accelerating. Future FTAs outside the EU only marginally offset the lost business. This is completely aside from the issue of chaos at the borders. Why are these injured firms and workers not getting meaningful help? Are they now considered non-viable? Where are the scaled-up and innovative retraining schemes that are needed to deal with over a million redundancies by year end? Firms of all sizes are accruing levels of debt that will cripple their future growth. Where is the fund to recapitalise overindebted SMEs? Can the Minister explain how Scotland and Wales can meet their constitutional responsibilities to set a budget with no Budget this year from the UK? When will we hear from the OBR and get a good working forecast that deals with the situation as we now understand it? Being £2 trillion in debt may be something which the Government are comfortable with, but most of us would like to know what the principles are going to be on how that will be tackled and how it will eventually be reduced and repaid.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, I gently remonstrate with him on us being “reactive”. We have tried to move as quickly as possible at all stages of this crisis but, as we can see from across the world, it is extremely difficult to be ahead of the curve. The announcements made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor last week demonstrate that a lot of hard thinking has gone on over the last two or three months, and the fact that the Statement might have been prompted by a Question shows that the work had been done.

I do not accept that it is too little, too late. The amount of support that we have provided for the economy over the last few months is almost without precedent, with £39 billion on the furlough scheme protecting at one point up to 9.5 million jobs—that figure has now reduced to some 3 million because many millions have come back to work—and £5.6 billion for almost 2.2 million self-employed people under the second grant self-employment income support scheme. I could go on.

The noble Lord asked about the intention of the job support scheme to keep part-time workers rather than to just go for a single full-time worker. The idea is to keep as many people in work as possible with their skills so that, when the economy recovers, the skills have not been lost. While on a hard, simple basis, it might be more viable to keep one person, in the longer term any employer would try to keep part-time people. I suggest that the noble Lord takes on board the job incentive scheme: £1,000 for those coming back into work between now and January.

The noble Lord asked about good-quality training. Earlier in the year we announced the kick-start scheme, a £2 billion scheme for young people which subsidised employment, as it was a concern that 800,000 young people left school and education over the summer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked about the hospitality sector. We have extended the reduction in VAT for that sector. We also have in place the grants and rates support, again a very considerable sum of money. She asked about us formally leaving the European Union and customs. She will not like it, but that is a major employment opportunity for that sector. We have only 5,800 customs intermediaries. They all need to increase employment. We have provided grants for them to upscale. Another example of new training needed is police officers. Sectors of the economy will grow, and the Chancellor’s comments are to encourage people to move across to those over the next few years.

On the devolved authorities, we have made considerable grants to them under the Barnett formula. While the Budget has been postponed, we are working at pace on the comprehensive spending review which, I would suggest, is a more important long-term method of looking at how we are going to rewrite the economy after the crisis that we have faced over the past six months.

The noble Baroness also asked about the debt. The debt is very worrying. No one is going to pretend that it is not. It was last at 100% of GDP in the year I was born—1961—and, therefore, we are going to have to be very careful over the next few years about how we address that. We were fortunate that, having got the economy and the financial position into a relatively stable state over the past few years, we had the headroom to do what we have been able to do, which has all been about trying to reduce the impact on citizens over the past seven months.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated to Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Conservative 2:21 pm, 28th September 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the Chancellor on his Statement, which injects an important degree of realism into all this. I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister who, I know, with his considerable expertise and experience, is an invaluable person at the Treasury.

The Chancellor talked about living without fear. Many of us do not fear Covid. What we fear is how on earth we are going to pay for it. The Chancellor referred to collective responsibility, costs paid by all of us and truths, so I shall suggest to my noble friend just two of a number of changes that are needed to demonstrate collective responsibility and truth before we have to pay, as we will, more tax. I am not expecting answers today. Will the Treasury lean on the Department for Work and Pensions to use mechanisms already in place with the banks to tackle tax evasion and to expose benefit claimants who do not declare their true assets, because we have to be sure to target welfare where it is needed? Secondly, will the Chancellor once and for all deal with and end the crazy truth that the United Kingdom is a tax haven for people living here who were born beyond our shores? There has to be equality and fairness for all in the tax system.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I thank my noble friend for her questions. In short, I will write to her on the DWP’s policy on fraud checks for newly registered universal credit claimants. It suspended a number of the checks at the height of the crisis, but I am aware that it is going to reintroduce them. I do not have the date, so I will write to her. On us being a tax haven for dubious people, I share her concern. It perhaps takes a crisis such as the Covid crisis to focus minds, and I hope very much that we will taking much more assertive action.

Photo of Lord O'Neill of Gatley Lord O'Neill of Gatley Crossbench

My Lords, I broadly compliment the proactive role played by the Treasury in response to this crisis, which has, sadly, been in marked contrast to the overall policy of the Government. Notwithstanding the sometimes confusing and certainly erratic policies of the Government, and possibly aided by the Treasury and the Bank of England, at least through mid-September the UK, perhaps surprisingly, appeared to be sharing in what some economists might describe as a V-shaped recovery through the third quarter. What will happen beyond this month and through the next quarter looks very uncertain, and the more pessimistic scenarios are not implausible. To avoid them may greatly depend on the introduction of a successful vaccine and a much more truly successful test and trace system.

But what I really want to speak about today is to inquire about the so-called levelling up agenda. Is there ever going to be anything beyond the endless rhetoric? The Government talk frequently and ambitiously about levelling up and the northern powerhouse agenda. They have done so since they were elected and have continued to do so despite Covid-19, yet they show no sign of this rhetoric being backed up by deed. They were close to presiding over a colossal levelling down in school education attainment, they repeatedly postposed plans for a spending review in which infrastructure spending is highlighted as being in the centre—

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I encourage questions to the Minister on the Statement.

Photo of Lord O'Neill of Gatley Lord O'Neill of Gatley Crossbench

What is happening to this and the spending review as well as the much-talked-about Green Book review as well as the promised paper on devolution? Surely the ongoing consequences of this crisis suggest an even greater need for true levelling up rather than excuses and repeated delays.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I can confirm to the noble Lord that levelling up is very much on the Government’s agenda. I am, as part of my portfolio, the Minister responsible for government property, and one thing that I have instituted is to ensure that no break clauses for major buildings in London are allowed to run over during the next three or four years to force the issue of moving staff out of London. In addition to that, I receive monthly all the job advertisements for senior civil servants, and I am continually pressing and challenging departments that do not advertise those jobs outside London. That is improving slowly.

In the Budget in March, we announced one of the largest infrastructure commitments since the war, with some £600 billion-worth of infrastructure, and I can confirm that a great deal of that will be going into areas which have been left behind in the past.

Lastly, the noble Lord asked about the comprehensive spending review. I can confirm that 24 September was the deadline for all departments to submit their returns and their bids. We will be responding to that within the next couple of months.

Photo of Lord Monks Lord Monks Labour

I welcome the fact that we will have a short-time working scheme, which the TUC has been pressing for for some time, and that we have learned something from the successful scheme in Germany. Can we be assured that this scheme, while not protecting every job, will be adequate to avoid cliff-edge surges in unemployment at the end of October and at the end of the Brexit transition period? Otherwise, British workers will face a double whammy, and it seems to me important that the Chancellor is open-minded about taking further measures. Finally, how do the Government define “viable” jobs which need support? How is that done and how is it to be carried through?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I can only reply honestly and say that I do not know whether the support announced last week will be adequate. It depends on simply too many moving parts. We all know that if a vaccine is discovered in the next couple of months it would completely change the game. At the other end of the spectrum, if we had a very bad surge which led to huge levels of hospitalisation, that would push us in the other direction. The Chancellor has been consistent in saying that he will respond to the circumstances.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My Lords, even with the job support scheme, economists and others are predicting at least 1 million being made unemployed by the end of the year. For many of them and their families, the only recourse will be universal credit. The Minister claimed to be proactive, so here is a proactive idea. The Economic Affairs Committee has just issued a report which lays bare the shortcomings of universal credit, so will the Minister undertake that he and his Government will take a look now at that report and respond much more quickly than they normally do because this is an oven-ready way of making sure that universal credit is adequate for all the millions of newly unemployed people?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, universal credit has turned out to be a total game-changer for those thrown out of work by this crisis. It has been extraordinarily flexible. If we look at the past three or four years, we have always responded to criticism and have improved universal credit when it has been clear that it needed improving, and I can assure the noble Lord that I will make sure that the report to which he referred is made available to my right honourable friend.

Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative

My Lords, since the coronavirus pandemic has struck, two in three, or 65%, of those employed and in deep poverty prior to the crisis have seen reduced hours or earnings, been furloughed and/or have lost their job. I welcome the Chancellor’s strategy of balancing measures to combat the spread of the virus with measures to preserve viable jobs and grow the economy, but what is the Minister’s strategy for ensuring that those who are working and already on the lowest of incomes are protected at this time, particularly as the nature of the work they undertake is often already less stable?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the furlough scheme has protected probably millions of jobs. That was the idea of it. We continue to want to protect jobs that are viable in sectors that will recover quickly. Beyond that, the emphasis, particularly for lower-paid people, is on skills upgrading and training, and that has to be the future for the group of people that my noble friend refers to.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, despite being a pension recipient, I am appalled that the Prime Minister appears to have blocked the Chancellor’s plan to suspend the triple lock. Does the Minister agree that it is wrong for pensioners to receive a very generous pension increase next year, at vast cost, despite the fact that the incomes of working people will inevitably have fallen dramatically due to Covid, despite last week’s statement of support?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the Prime Minister is hesitant to address this because it was a very strong manifesto commitment and he is very anxious not to break those. As we know, in politics it is very easy to break promises.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, the Statement claims that new investment is being provided in training and apprenticeships. Can the Minister elaborate on what is new rather than already announced? Can he tell the House whether the Government will ensure that workers on reduced hours have real opportunities to use the time they have to develop much-needed additional skills? What conditions will be required from employers to fulfil that need?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the announcements last week included a number of matters around the extension of existing loan facilities and keeping open the window for loan applications under the various support schemes that the Treasury has created. On encouraging part-time working to enable staff to use the spare time for training, I think that that has to be an individual matter between employees and employers. However, to me it seems fairly straightforward that a part-time employee can access, in particular, online training, which has become the method by which most training is now distributed.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Non-affiliated

My Lords, as vice-chairman of the all-party group, perhaps I may make a plea for assistance for travelling fairs and circuses. This sector, which has been ignored, forms part of our heritage and culture in the UK and is much loved by the public. It needs support to ensure that it is still there after the pandemic. I ask the noble Lord to treat it in the same way as theme parks, for example, and I ask the Government to do what it takes to wrap their arms metaphorically around funfairs and the big top.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I agree with the noble Lord that this is an important part of our heritage. Only three weeks ago, I went to the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, which I think is the oldest functioning hippodrome in England. Those working there have used their own initiative, and it was the very first venue to open up after lockdown. They explained to me the various measures that they are using to deal with these restrictions. It takes ingenuity and imagination but they are managing to do it, and I encourage all in that sector to do the same.

Photo of Lord Jones of Cheltenham Lord Jones of Cheltenham Liberal Democrat

I want to ask about our valuable music industry. The Government have been interested in getting theatres open and getting bums on seats, but they have given little thought to the people needed on stage in front of those bums. Does the Minister understand that the music business is a pyramid, with stars at the top, and that the bottom of the pyramid is in dire trouble? I refer to the pubs and clubs, where, without exception, musicians, including the Rolling Stones, Michael Bublé and the Kinks, get their break and learn their trade. The Musicians’ Union says that 38% of musicians are considering quitting the industry entirely. What are the Government going to do about it?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the Chancellor has consistently said that his interventions have to be macroeconomic. However, we have tried to create safety nets to protect as many people as we can in the economy. I share the noble Lord’s concern for the music industry. My own father read music at Cambridge before the war, and I completely agree with the noble Lord that it is a very important part of our culture.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend says that he is anxious to protect jobs that are viable and has just talked about some jobs in the music industry. Does he accept that the heritage sector would be given a boost and that many skilled craftsmen would be able to retain their jobs if VAT, which is not charged on new buildings, were removed from the charge on repairs to listed buildings of historic importance?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I should probably disclose that I live in a listed building and that what my noble friend suggests would therefore greatly benefit me personally. However, the reality is that in this crisis we have to look at a higher level. I am encouraged to see that the construction industry is coming back at full throttle and that the large number of construction workers who were furloughed in March and April have largely been reintroduced into the sector. We are also about to announce the green energy scheme, which is a £2 billion to £3 billion investment in energy improvements for public buildings that will also be available to the public.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

My Lords, at a time of great difficulty for so many of our citizens, do the Government agree with the British Retail Consortium that a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year would add over £3 billion to the cost of importing food and drink, making life even more difficult for those on low incomes? If the Government do not accept the British Retail Consortium’s figures, what is their own assessment of the effect?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I think that we have published our worst-case scenarios for a no-deal Brexit or leaving the European Union without a free trade agreement. Of course there are risks, but we remain optimistic that a deal will be done.

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench

My Lords, “viable” is a dangerous word if all that can be said to be truly viable financially in these unusual times is a prescribed number of businesses, including those making money out of Covid. How do the Government intend to further protect the self-employed—including those working in the creative industries, who will fall off the edge of the cliff at the end of October if the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme is not extended—because the job support scheme is clearly not nearly enough? That includes freelancers, who make up 70% of the workforce in the performing arts, which are so important to this country both culturally and financially in the longer term, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, pointed out.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I share the noble Earl’s concern about the creative sector. I am sure that he is aware of the support being given under the latest SEISS grant extension, which of course will be available to those who were previously in it. But I do accept that we face difficult times.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Conservative

My Lords, following the Chancellor’s Statement last week, the Welsh Labour Government issued this Statement in response:

“More needs to be done to help people find new jobs and incentivise employers to hire new workers.”

They added that there was a need for

“more action on skills, training” and a

“greater focus on supporting job creation”.

Does the Minister agree that responsibility for the devolved issues of growth and development of business, and support for inward investment and enterprise, rests firmly with the Welsh Government and that they should refrain from passing the buck and get on with accepting their devolved responsibilities?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I am not quite sure that I heard the full question from my noble friend, but I absolutely agree that inward investment is crucial for the future. As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, I believe that the huge infrastructure projects that we have committed to in the Budget will form part of the regeneration of the economy.

Photo of Baroness Donaghy Baroness Donaghy Chair, EU Services Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Services Sub-Committee

The Government modelled this scheme on those adopted in France and Germany, but in a rather half-hearted way. The German scheme is set to last for two years, compared with six months for the UK scheme. How did the Government reach that decision, when it would have added stability to employers’ plans to have two years?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness is looking too narrowly at the comparison. If we summarise the total fiscal interventions of the various economies over the last few months, the UK contribution has been somewhere just under 11%, those of Canada and France under 10%, Germany’s about the same, and Italy’s is about eight and three-quarters. My point is that you should not look at any one of these individual interventions as the single solution; we have tried to aggregate them.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Non-affiliated

My Lords, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, there is a need to integrate policy that arises from Covid and policy that arises from Brexit. Does the Minister agree? This is described as a plan for the winter, and there is the danger of a Brexit without even a framework agreement with the European Union, as is the case with Switzerland.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there needs to be integration. The overriding priority is to crank up the economy again; that is why we have created a group in Downing Street called Project Speed, which is designed to take hold of any opportunity that is being blocked in any way, to shake it and make it happen quicker. I remain optimistic, as I said in response to an earlier question, that we will resolve our difficulties with the European Union and will have some form of workable deal by the end of the year.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, in the other place, the Chancellor was asked four times about help for the 3 million working UK taxpayers who, until now, have had no access to any of the Government’s Covid-19 support packages. Four times he ducked the question. So, in the words of my honourable friend Gerald Jones, I now offer the Minister the opportunity to correct that repeated omission. What assurances can he offer that the measures announced in this Statement, and any ongoing policy, will not continue to exclude them?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton Minister of State (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, while there might not be individual schemes available for the group of people that the noble Lord talks about, we have made wider funding available through the uprating of universal credit and additional grants to local authorities. I am very aware that there are people in difficulty but we believe that the wider social security safety net is there to support them.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, all those listed to ask questions on the Statement have now done so.

Sitting suspended.