It is a great pleasure, as always, to serve under your delightful chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for securing this important debate at a critical moment in our national story. It is also a great pleasure to follow my near neighbour, Holly Lynch. Her concern about having had to deal with Storm Ciara immediately prior to the pandemic is shared across west Yorkshire.
In the 2019 general election campaign, the Conservative party pledged to support SMEs across the country, whether that be seizing the opportunities that Brexit brings or helping support those who want to start their own company and realise their ambitions. Our manifesto pledge could not have foreseen the pandemic we presently endure. However, the support that Her Majesty’s Government continue to provide to SMEs is a continuation of the policies and values Conservatives stand for. The numerous support schemes, whether the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the coronavirus bounce back loan, retail hospitality and leisure grants or the furlough scheme, illustrate how great a priority the protection of SMEs and the livelihoods of all those who depend on their success is to this Government.
Through these interventions, businesses and livelihoods have been shielded as much as possible from the economic fallout of covid-19. Between the announcement of the schemes in March and August, 5,640 businesses in the Wakefield district eligible for the business grant received funds to support them—92% of all eligible businesses.
As we entered the second set of national restrictions, Her Majesty’s Government once again introduced support measures for businesses to shield them as best as possible. These measures cannot protect every business, or every job, but they are the right measures. The support that SMEs have received during this national emergency has been unprecedented, yet necessary to protect our economy.
A thriving economy requires a diverse private sector that is not shackled by regulation or high taxes. The Conservative party recognises the vitality of a dynamic free market, as well as a free economy, as the only route to economic growth and prosperity for all who live within it. While these measures intervene in the economy in a manner never seen before, and freedoms we cherish are curtailed to help to slow the spread of the virus, all these actions are temporary. Even so, I know the Prime Minister and the Chancellor did not take any of these decisions lightly or easily. Once we emerge from this crisis, as we shall, it is vital that we shift our approach from not only supporting SMEs where necessary, but unshackling them from the burdens of excessive regulations that limit their ability to operate effectively in the market.