“Next week is the 10th anniversary of my election to this House. There have been some memorable moments in that time, but none as discombobulating as making a speech sitting in my own kitchen.
However, if the surroundings are very unusual, some of the concerns we are debating today are not. For too long, the UK economy has not been working for many of my constituents, particularly the lowest paid. While they are working hard but struggling to make ends meet, there are others who simply have not played by the rules, whether they are multinational tech giants avoiding billions of pounds of tax or wealthy individuals and companies failing to pay their fair share.
In recent weeks, we have seen more clearly than ever how much we rely on our key workers, whether the staff in our NHS, careworkers, teachers, bus drivers, shopworkers and so many more. They deserve our thanks, of course, but they also deserve a new social contract: a recognition that the economy has to change so that they are fairly rewarded for the work that they do and that our public services receive the investment they need. For too long, real wages have been depressed and services decimated in the name of austerity, while there have been tax cuts for people and organisations that could afford to pay more.
Some of the measures in the Bill represent a step in the right direction, but they do not go far or fast enough to match the scale of the challenge. No one could have anticipated the immense shock to our economy from the measures needed to fight the coronavirus, and it places a great responsibility on the Government. As my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has said, it is absolutely critical that the Government now do all they can to minimise the depth and length of the economic impact.
The measures that the Government have introduced to protect businesses and individuals are welcome, but, as all Members must know, the schemes announced leave gaps—as things stand, there is a real risk that some workers and businesses will miss out on the support they need. This will lead to unnecessary damage to the economy and hardship to individuals. I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance this evening that he is listening and that he will act swiftly to close those gaps—to keep people in work, to keep businesses afloat and to keep families out of poverty.
I do not have time to speak about all the issues of concern, but it is clear that the business interruption loan scheme is not getting help to those who need it. The East Midlands chamber of commerce has told local MPs that businesses describe accessing the scheme as
“a complex and lengthy process with no consistent approach between lenders”.
Certainly, the number of loans agreed does not reflect the level of need. The chamber has called on the Government and lenders to work together to address these issues and improve the way the scheme works; I can only echo its call. I have heard from very many self-employed constituents who cannot access the Government’s support scheme, perhaps because they have a new start-up or because they run a limited company and take their income through dividends. Will the Minister address their concerns this evening?
Our social security system needs urgent change. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) has made five very straightforward proposals to the Government, and I hope they will adopt those to prevent more individuals and families from falling into poverty.
I would particularly like to highlight one gap that the Government must address in their support for small businesses. I know that local councils around the country have worked incredibly hard to distribute the small business grants as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to the staff at Nottingham City Council, who have ensured that over £33 million of grant funding was paid out by last Friday, processing every application they had received.
However, there is a problem. Many small businesses rent space in a multi-occupancy building—an office, a shopping centre or a small business incubator—and they pay their landlord a fee that includes rent and rates. The landlord does not qualify for small business rate relief, which means that neither the landlord nor the small business tenants can access the £10,000 small business grant. Both I and the council have written to the Chancellor on this point, and I hope the Minister can tell me that he intends to address this anomaly, which is preventing dozens, if not hundreds, of Nottingham small businesses from receiving much-needed support.
These are unprecedented times, and it is more essential than ever that we have an economic system in which those with the broadest shoulders bear the heaviest burden. I hope the Government recognise that we need a new approach to tax and spending decisions that learns from this crisis and produces a better and fairer system for the future.”