[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 10th November 2020.

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Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:04 pm, 10th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I pay tribute to Elliot Colburn for calling this debate.

My constituency is home to more than 6,000 small and medium-sized businesses, ranging from independent shops around the ever-busy Clapham Common, including Minnow, Charlotte Cave and Clapham Books, to the row of street stalls and quirky businesses along the Lower Marsh in Waterloo, including Greensmiths and River Remedies, the numerous small pubs, cafes and restaurants along what many people refer to as Little PortugalSouth Lambeth Road—and our vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and venues, which draw so many people to Vauxhall from across the world, adding immeasurable culture to our part of south London.

The covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on all those businesses, and I have personally visited them over the past few months to see at first hand the impact on the ground and how they have been adapting and coping with what we call the new normal.

I met one constituent in March who planned to open a new grocery store after three years of sheer dedication, hard work and money to get that off the ground. He was devastated just before the national lockdown not to be able to open as planned. He now faces unaffordable rents and his costs have to be paid even though he is not receiving any income.

Another small business owner I met told me about her 13-year-old daughter. She is worried about how the business will be kept running. If she is forced to self-isolate because one of her children catches the virus, the business will struggle and that will be the end of the business for her and her husband.

My constituent who runs the Prince of Wales in Clapham Old Town highlighted the dire consequences for the hospitality sector, with many landlords continuing to demand rent for closed premises. He also highlighted the fact that a number of his staff come from EU nations—I am proud to boast that I represent the top-voting Remain constituency in the country—but there are real consequences here for small and medium-sized businesses. It is important that we get a firm deal so that these businesses can continue to thrive.

At the beginning of the lockdown in March, the Government provided the coronavirus hospitality and leisure grant for properties with a rateable value of £51,000, but Vauxhall is a central London constituency with higher than average rateable values, so many of the businesses that I represent did not qualify for any support, yet saw an immediate drop in footfall.

As the lockdown lifted over the summer, many of the small and medium-sized businesses that support the vibrant cultural sector that I represent along the South Bank were not able to open their doors again. Those businesses rely on tourism, but—guess what—the tourists have not come back, and they will not be coming back for a while.

How do we help those small businesses? The Government’s one-size-fits-all approach is not helping small and medium-sized businesses, which in places such as Vauxhall are struggling. When we come out of lockdown, it is important that we do not look at any more business closures, because without those businesses our communities will not thrive. Will the Minister therefore reassure my constituents that the Government will not try to implement their one-size-fits-all approach, but will listen to small and medium-sized businesses and provide tailored support so that all of them can get back on their feet post-covid 19?