[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 10th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 3:08 pm, 10th November 2020

And proudly so, Sir Edward.

I am delighted to follow Florence Eshalomi. My hon. Friend Elliot Colburn made a great speech and set the scene well for subsequent speeches.

I draw the attention of Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This is my third recession as a businessman—once under a Conservative Government in 1992 and once under a Labour Government in 2008—but I have never seen the amount of support that we have received through this recession. That support has been on a different scale altogether. Having said that, the recession has been on a different scale altogether too. Previously, there was no job retention scheme, no business rate grant and no VAT discount. There were no free school meals in 2008, when millions of people lost their jobs. My business alone had to make two thirds of our workforce redundant. It is among the hardest moments of your life when you have to do that to 130 people you worked with for a long time. I had very little support during that time, but the Government are now doing a tremendous job in providing support for many SMEs.

The No.1 support that can be given to any business is to allow it to trade. The Government have tried to do that throughout, despite the calls—on many occasions from the Opposition—to close the economy, which would have meant more businesses destroyed or a greater burden on the taxpayer. I think the Government have done all they can to spread the benefits they have provided evenly, but that is almost impossible—in fact, it is impossible. If the economy is closed down, whatever the Government throw at it, some businesses will lose out, and some will be hit harder than others. Emma Hardy was absolutely right in her plea for the coach sector, but it is so difficult for the Government to design a scheme that will suit all people equally. That is why we must try to keep the economy open at all costs; that is what we should be doing.

As my hon. Friend Huw Merriman said, when large swathes of the economy are shut down but some parts are left open, existing trends are accelerated. Amazon, of course, is doing very well through this recession and has eaten further into the market share of SMEs. The fact that supermarkets are allowed to open again chips away at the market share of SMEs and accelerates long-term trends. As a result, some businesses that might have got through this had it been done in a more progressive and gradual way will be destroyed forever.

Although we have done a lot already, the Minister will be familiar with the kind of asks I will make for the future. There has been a fair bit of support—a lot, in fact—in the form of business rates grants, the job retention scheme and the VAT discount. The hon. Member for Vauxhall said that her businesses have seen no support, but it is very rare that hospitality sector businesses have got no support.

There has been a lot of grant support, but inevitably the Government have also had to say to businesses that they have to take some of it as a loan. Bounce back loans have been a huge success, and what the Minister has done now in terms of top-ups to those loans is absolutely right, but he knows one of the problems we have is with non-bank lenders and their customers. We have persuaded businesses to try new competition, new fintechs, for their bank accounts, but, having done that, those businesses are now locked out of the Bank of England’s term funding scheme, which provides the funding for bounce back loans. Customers of non-bank lenders such as Tide are locked out of the bounce back loan scheme.

There is a number of ways to solve this: give non-bank lenders access to the term funding scheme—I know the Minister cannot do that himself—ask banks to lend to non-bank lenders, or ask banks to lend to the customers of non-bank lenders. The difficulty with the latter is that customers then migrate back to the big banks; also, they have a finite amount of money to lend, so it is flawed. We need a solution to this problem. What the Treasury could do is provide funding directly to non-bank lenders through the ENABLE guarantee scheme. That would solve the problem pretty much overnight, if the Government were willing to do that.

I have used up the time allocated to me, so although I have a few more things to say I will leave it there. I hope the Minister will respond to some of these points in his reply to the debate.