Covid-19: Requirements for Employees to be Vaccinated

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I put it on the record that I am massively pro-vaccine. It is the right thing to do, and it is the right way for us to move on from this pandemic and to protect ourselves. However, I agree with what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) said in opening the debate about the importance of bodily autonomy and education, as opposed to forcing people to take the vaccine. I certainly do not think that businesses should be forcing existing staff, and I cannot imagine how seeking to do so would benefit their attractiveness as an employer or their viability as a business.

I want to focus my remarks on public services. As a county council leader, I am directly affected by this issue as someone who has to deliver social care services. Although staff made an incredible effort over Christmas to try to mitigate the massive staffing pressures that exist in the sector—my thanks go out to them all, because it was an incredible effort to do that and to protect those services and vulnerable people as far as possible—the impact has been huge.

As a county council, we have already gone, in just a few months, from having no waiting list for social care provision to having 400 on the waiting list. It is hugely important that we are not further hit by additional staffing issues. Care plans are regularly handed back to my director of adult social care at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon for the council to pick up, because care services cannot deliver them over the weekend. We are just about managing so far, but further issues, including mandatory vaccination, will continue to hit us.

We have lost some staff already, and we are set to lose more. Overnight, hospitals and NHS trusts put out figures on how many staff they are set to lose. My local hospital is set to lose around 200 staff from 3 February. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) said earlier, that can only be detrimental given the continuing backlogs and the challenges of existing of NHS pressures.

I did not vote for mandatory NHS vaccines. In hindsight, I would not have voted for care sector vaccines, either, but unfortunately I cannot go back in time. The Government still have time to rethink, and that is my plea to the Minister. The wider debate about the importance of bodily autonomy and our rights and freedoms is hugely important, but it is also the case that, in this instance, the health argument does not stack up.

As we move out of the pandemic—touch wood—and beyond the period of most intense risk, I cannot see how it can be okay for these staff to have worked throughout the riskiest time of the pandemic, when transmission was at its highest, only for us to sack them now, as it falls away and the risk recedes. We know—the evidence suggests it—that omicron is less impacted by the vaccine. We have argued, when it comes to vaccine certification, which I also did not vote for, that it is okay to have a daily test and that that mitigates the risk of not being vaccinated, but we are not making that case for NHS or care staff. I do not see how we can argue both positions at the same time.

As we have touched on, there are 73,000 or 80,000 staff to go across the NHS and big numbers across the care sector. That can only make things worse when we have backlogs and waiting lists in both sectors. I do not know how getting rid of 80,000 staff across the NHS chimes with our commitment as a Government to 50,000 more nurses or doctors, or whatever it was. It is nonsensical.

I totally understand people’s wish to choose a vaccinated carer over an unvaccinated carer, but truth be told, that is not the choice; it is an unvaccinated carer or no carer. If it were my elderly relative being looked after, I would certainly prefer them to have somebody rather than nobody. Listening to Radio 5 this morning, I heard a GP making the same argument about a colleague in his practice who had been there for many years and had managed to work throughout the pandemic quite successfully, as far as access to GPs goes—that is another matter that we could debate for hours—but who now faces no longer being able to see patients over the next few weeks. How is that better than having an unvaccinated GP?

There is still time for the Government to reconsider. I really think we need to delay the 3 February deadline, hopefully with a view to reconsidering this measure altogether in due course. I recognise that there are probably significant legal implications of reconsidering the decision for the care sector, with people already having lost their jobs in that sector, but still, this is not a good plan and it will not help us to deliver these services. I call on the Government to reconsider. The evidence does not make a strong enough case, from a health point of view, to override those freedoms, to override bodily autonomy or to exacerbate the staffing issues that already exist, so I call on the Government to think very hard over the next week or two about whether this is something they really want to do. I certainly do not think it is.

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Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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I feel for the Minister to some extent, because obviously he is not a Health Minister; I am sure that he will forgive me for raising this point none the less. He talks about the work that is going on—loads of work is going on—to try to encourage people to be vaccinated. Many still will not be.

In the course of the debate, I have had the figures sent over to me from my county council. We lost 500 care home staff in November. We are currently set to lose 3,000 staff in the wider home care sector on 1 April. That is a huge proportion, 10%, of our workforce within the county. It will have a huge impact on our ability to deliver services: there could be up to 300 people whom we can no longer care for. We will do as much as we can to mitigate that, but will my hon. Friend take back to the Health Minister just how much of an impact it will have on our ability to deliver care services?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank my hon. Friend. He talks about the impact, and we understand the concerns about that. That is why, apart from the measures that I outlined a second ago about making it as easy as possible to have the vaccine and giving the grace period and the ability to flex within that, the NHS is planning further increases in engagement with targeted communities, where the uptake is lowest. That includes extensive work with ethnic minority communities and faith networks to encourage healthcare workers to receive the vaccine.

We have obviously had an analysis of the equalities implications. That was published in the equalities impact assessment, alongside the consultation response. We are obviously engaging with colleagues such as my hon. Friend to hear about real-world results and impacts and respond accordingly. But as the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has rightly said,

“people who are looking after other people who are very vulnerable do have a professional responsibility to get vaccinated”,

so we remain committed to bringing these measures in on 1 April.

Outside these specific settings—health and care—it is fair to say that there could be some other circumstances in which it may be lawful for an employer to require staff to be vaccinated. There is no general “Yes, it is lawful” or “No, it’s not lawful” answer to that question. It will depend on the facts and details of each case. There is a lot for an employer to consider.

For example, what is the current evidence on the consequences of covid-19 both for the individuals and for the organisation? What are the employer’s reasons for imposing a requirement to be vaccinated? Given the particular work being undertaken, are those reasonable? And what are the circumstances of the individual employee? Are there Equality Act 2010 considerations in play? An employer would need to weigh the answers to all those questions and more before being confident that it was lawful to require employees to be vaccinated.

I should be clear that there is a difference between how an employer might treat those who are already employed and those who are not. When it comes to those who are not already employed, there is more scope for an employer to establish a requirement to be vaccinated, subject to the employer satisfying themselves that they can pass relevant legal tests, such as on discrimination. The employer might make such a requirement a condition in the contract; it then becomes more a matter of whether to accept the contract. It would then be a matter of personal choice, just as a prospective employee might consider a requirement to work a number of late or early shifts, or weekends.

For those already in employment, the issue is really about what might happen if they refuse to be vaccinated. After all, an employer cannot physically force someone to have a vaccination. There is the issue of the consequences of refusing to be vaccinated. Could an employee be suspended without pay, refused access to certain shifts, roles or tasks, or disadvantaged in some other way? Could they fairly be dismissed? Those are the key concerns that people will have. I do not believe that it is appropriate to make vaccination a special case. Such cases should be treated in the same way as other instances where an employee feels that they have been treated unfairly at work.

Employment law provides an extensive framework to protect employees from unfair treatment, including unfair dismissal. That framework applies to refusing to be vaccinated just as much as it does to other circumstances. This framework, rather than imposing a blanket set of prescriptive terms and conditions about when a dismissal is fair, allows the facts of each case to be weighed and considered, so that what is fair and what is not can be properly established in the light of any evidence, the employer’s situation and the business circumstances. I strongly believe that the legal framework for employers around the country allows for the interrogation of all relevant facts, provides the right checks and balances, and ensures that employers can take action as a result of someone’s refusal to be vaccinated, where that is appropriate.

I conclude by acknowledging that there is a fine balance to be struck. On the one hand, we obviously want people to recognise the benefits of the vaccine, and as a matter of choice, we want to ensure that they have all the injections and boosters needed to minimise the impact of the pandemic on them, their friends and neighbours, the health service and the economy. On the other hand, we want to ensure that vulnerable people are properly protected and do not face unnecessary risks. The employment law framework and the steps that we are taking to make vaccination a condition of employment in certain settings strike the right balance.

Once again, I thank those who contributed to the debate. It has been a valuable discussion. I also thank all the workers in the NHS, who have kept us safe throughout this period, and who continue to do so, despite the winter pressures. We will always make sure that we work with those valued workers, who serve our public so well.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 21st September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear.”

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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2. What steps his Department is taking to increase private sector investment in innovation.

George Freeman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (George Freeman)
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It is very good to be back as the newly appointed Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for his tireless work on levelling up and the importance of innovation in supporting left-behind communities. Science and innovation are not the same thing. We are committed to being both a science superpower and an innovation nation, and that is why I am looking hard at what we can do, through the business innovation forum, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, Innovate UK and UKRI, to drive levelling up.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him back to his new position—congratulations. There is an oven-ready package available in the east midlands, with key projects set to boost private investment in the region. The Government’s backing for those projects this autumn is vital. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are supportive of our plans for an east midlands freeport, our development corporation and the importance of Toton in the integrated rail plan? Does he agree that this is a huge opportunity to attract private investment into a region that traditionally is at the bottom of the table for attracting that kind of money?

George Freeman Portrait George Freeman
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In a word, yes. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case. Freeports and regeneration corporations are vital to our innovation strategy. Not only are we determined that there will be funding for the golden triangle, but we want to harness science and regeneration to drive growth around the country.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that SMRs represent a huge opportunity for precisely the reasons he gives: they are flexible and one can operate them in lots of geographical areas. Next year, we will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the siting requirements for SMRs and advanced modular reactors so that we can develop this exciting technology.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to help ensure a green economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
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We are delivering on our ambitious commitment to build back greener from covid-19. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will be instrumental, creating long-term advantages for the UK in low-carbon industries and supporting up to a quarter of a million green jobs while continuing to drive down our emissions.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that, in the long term, the green element of this plan will be hugely important for our whole country, but in the short term, in the current economic climate, I know that many of my constituents will be focused on job creation and employment. Can she assure me that these investments will create opportunities for the most left behind parts of this country, and tell me how my constituents in Mansfield will directly benefit from that investment?

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 16th July 2019

(4 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Skidmore Portrait The Minister for Energy and Clean Growth (Chris Skidmore)
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It is not the Treasury’s rise; it is the European Union’s rise. In considering the reasons why he supports staying in the European Union, the right hon. Gentleman has to address the fact that these are EU regulations that we are putting in force while we remain a member. We will have the freedom in future—and, I hope, his support—to deal with such VAT issues once we are out of the European Union.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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T7. Hundreds of small businesses—particularly retailers, perhaps—stand to benefit from Mansfield’s progress in the future high streets fund. I know that the Minister has to be impartial, although I am sure that behind closed doors Mansfield is his favourite bid. Would he be willing to meet me to discuss the bid and make sure that we get the right advice and the best possible bang for our buck to support those businesses?

Jake Berry Portrait Jake Berry
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Of course. I will happily meet my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the work he is doing in driving forward the hopes and dreams of those involved in the Mansfield bid for the future high streets fund. Many areas across the country will not have succeeded in going through to the business case of the first round of the fund. I remind them that the fund will open again to applications very shortly—[Interruption.] That includes the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who is complaining from a sedentary position on the Labour Front Bench. We will see what we can do.

Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(5 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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It is good to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who raised some important points and set out a measured and non-partisan case, which is exactly what is required in this discussion.

I am proud to represent Mansfield and Warsop in Parliament. For most of the 20th century, mining was the most important industry and my constituency still has a proud coalmining heritage. It still dominates many aspects of our area and I have been working on the mineworkers’ pension scheme since I was elected. I have regularly met with the mineworkers’ pension campaign team and constituents affected by this important issue. I have held meetings with Ministers and trustees to help to lobby for changes to the terms of the scheme. This has been a very frustrating process; we have been through so many Ministers now, explaining and making the case each time. In March, I was pleased that the former Minister met a delegation, including Les Moore and my constituent Mick Newton, who has been a brilliant local campaigner on this issue in Mansfield. Mick, alongside campaigners including Trevor Cooke and many others, has been lobbying on the issue for many years.

I recognise—as do the Ministers with whom I have had this discussion—that the Government have done far better out of this scheme than they ever imagined when it was first agreed. The arrangement that was settled back in the 1990s saw the UK Government acting to guarantee the scheme and all pensions in cash terms in return for a 50% share of future services. It is important to recognise the importance of the Government guarantee and the protection it has provided to former miners. It means that the trust has been able to invest with security, and it has done incredibly well with those investments. Some credit for the fantastic investment returns made by the scheme has to come back to the fact that the guarantee allows the trust to invest without risk. That being said, time has moved on. The risk has moved on—it is not the same as it was back then—and I believe there is a case for revisiting the sharing arrangements, that the balance should be tipped in favour of the miners, and that the recipients of the scheme should keep more than 50%.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery
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I am curious to understand what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He thinks that now is the time for the scheme to be tipped in favour of the miners, but what about before?

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, but I think it was a fairly pointless question. I am not in a position to go back and change the past. I am here in this Chamber talking about now.

The Government have had far more income from the scheme than they ever imagined. Many of the beneficiaries who are still with us are increasingly suffering with industry-related health conditions and are in need of support. It would be relatively simple for the Government to shift the balance, perhaps by offering a 70-30 split or going even further. The risk to the Government and the taxpayer is not what it was in 1994. We can split hairs about when the right time to do this might have been, and it was probably several years ago, but we are here now and we are talking about it.

Colleagues have gone into great detail about the costs and benefits of changing the balance. I have sought to do so previously with Ministers, but I feel that the best advocates for the change are the mineworkers themselves. That is why I have sought to get them together with campaigners, trustees and the Government to discuss this. I believe it is now time for the Government to undertake a formal review of the arrangements and consider the case for reform in proper detail.

Former coalfield communities are among the poorest in the country, and older people in particular struggle to make ends meet without savings and without much support beyond their pension arrangements. These coalfield communities are among the hardest working and longest suffering in our country, as the hon. Member for Easington said. The miners worked in darkness so that we could have light and, although much of that happened before I was born, I have every respect for those constituents in my community who worked incredibly hard to look after the rest of us and to ensure that we could have the quality of life that we expected.

Ensuring that miners can keep more of the surplus from these investments will have a life-changing effect. Many of them are on low incomes and it would help to boost their lives individually while they are still around to spend that money. It would also help to boost whole communities, such as mine in Mansfield and Warsop. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said, more money in miners’ pockets in communities such as Mansfield is money that will be reinvested back into those deprived communities and help to boost them.

Some have suggested an increased guarantee as a compromise to cover the scheme’s bonuses, but although that sounds nice—and sounds like Government doing something—it will not put any extra money into the pockets of those miners. It would merely guarantee what they already get. We have already seen that the risk of needing that guarantee is very small, so I do not think that that is good enough. This is a chance for the Government to show that we are on the side of people who have worked hard and paid into the system, and that we will help them. To me, that is what the Conservative party should be about, so I hope that the new Minister and his Department will work alongside the Treasury and the trustees to review the scheme and to ensure that the hard-working miners who gave so much to their communities, including in Mansfield, will receive their fair share. I look forward to discussing this with him further.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Skidmore Portrait Chris Skidmore
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I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), that she is currently negotiating the banking framework. I also want to set out the support that the British Business Bank gives to start-up businesses: 3,200 businesses have received £22 million in funding in recent years. We have 48,000 more businesses in Scotland compared with 2010. That is good news, and we need to make sure that we continue to support businesses, particularly the rural ones the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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5. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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12. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst)
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We are backing young entrepreneurs by launching an independent review, led by the Prince’s Trust, to understand how we can better support them to turn their business dreams into reality. We are backing small and medium-sized enterprises with our spending power, with our ambitious strategy to ensure that at least £1 in every £3 we spend as a Department is spent with smaller businesses by 2022.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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I thank the Minister for bringing forward the future high streets fund, which will be really important for small businesses on Mansfield High Street, and for the meetings I have been able to have with the Government about how to make sure that Mansfield can benefit. The council is now consulting with stakeholders on its proposals. Will Ministers agree to meet me so that I can make the case for Mansfield’s bid to the future high streets fund?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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My hon. Friend is right. High streets are changing, and the Government are committed to helping communities adapt. In the Budget, we set out our plan for high streets, with a £1.6 billion package to support the sustainable transformation of our high streets, which includes the future high streets fund. My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner for his town, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to hear his proposals for the regeneration of Mansfield town centre, coupled with the investment and plans already being put in place through the growth deal.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 20th November 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I will always engage with anyone who has a view on this particular issue. We are evaluating shared parental leave and pay to look at the barriers to take-up, including those affecting self-employed people and mothers, particularly, who qualify for maternity allowance. We are currently evaluating that and we will be reporting on that next year. However, I will meet with those people.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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I recently met Mike Watkinson from Nottinghamshire’s Federation of Small Businesses to discuss a number of challenges facing business in Mansfield, one of which was support and access to benefits for self-employed people. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the party of business, it is absolutely vital that we help small business owners and support them to keep the show on the road when they need it?

Budget Resolutions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Wednesday 31st October 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova). I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate and to welcome this Budget, which is a positive one for my constituents in Mansfield and Warsop.

It was not a major headline, but I was especially pleased that the Government committed in the Red Book to support communities to make the most of their local assets, including village halls and miners’ welfare facilities, and that the Treasury has listened to my representations on that subject. Only last week in Westminster Hall, I asked the Government to support miners’ welfare facilities and boost funding for their upkeep, particularly for sports facilities. During the debate I spoke of the importance of those facilities for coalfield communities, especially in terms of sports provision, as they exist in areas that generally top the statistics in terms of poor health and inactivity. Help to manage and improve those facilities, which were once the heart of coalfield communities, can bring them back to life and get more people engaged in sport and physical activity, which will save money for our local services and the NHS.

The future high streets fund is a great initiative. Mansfield town centre is a huge local priority of mine, with some brilliant local shops on the high street. I hope that the availability of this funding to support positive and regenerative plans will add further pressure to my calls for Mansfield District Council to pull together a proper plan and vision to regenerate the town centre.

The Chancellor’s commitment to help small shops by cutting business rates by a third for small retailers is also great news for Mansfield. It will mean an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés and can help us to fill high street lettings, to give much needed breathing room to small businesses and to assist in bringing people back to the high street. In next year’s comprehensive spending review, I would like to see the Treasury go further and undertake a fundamental reform of business rates. It is a 20th-century tax in the 21st century, and we need to look at it more closely. Those two announcements for town centres are very welcome and will no doubt receive widespread support from my constituents.

The other key issue addressed in the Budget is the cost of living. Thanks to careful management of the economy, we were able to announce that the personal tax allowance threshold will be raised a year early, letting people keep more of the money they earn and helping with the cost of living. Combined with the rise in the national living wage, that means that full-time workers in my Mansfield constituency, where so many people have low incomes, will see over £600 a year more in their pockets. That is so important for normal people who are trying to get by and do right by their families, and I am pleased that this Government have put them at the heart of this Budget.

Nobody should pretend that anything is perfect, so there has to be something that I would have liked to see in the Budget. If I have one criticism of the Budget, it is that, while I have seen examples of where the additional one-off support of £400 million for schools can be utilised in a positive way in my constituency—I can think of several primary schools I have visited that will relish the prospect of kitting out their library properly or investing in new IT for students—we need to focus more on what should always be the No. 1 priority, which is educating our young people for the future. I hope that the comprehensive spending review in the new year will seek to address that. However, it is not always about splashing the cash. There are a number of ways in which we could help. I have put forward proposals to the Treasury on helping schools to reduce their building and maintenance costs, for example.

Plans for investing in our mental health services and social care are good news. I particularly welcome the announcement that the use of PFI for future projects such as hospitals and schools will be abolished. The Labour party agreed nearly 90% of all PFI contracts. King’s Mill Hospital, near my constituency, is one of the most expensive examples in the country, frittering away taxpayers’ money and ultimately making it harder for the NHS trust to manage its budget. It is great news that that will not be allowed to happen again. That is part of Labour’s legacy, along with high unemployment and trapping people on benefits, and this Government are working to address those issues.

Universal credit is a key component of that change. It was positive to hear about the transitional funding to support the migration process and that working people on low wages will get an additional boost through the new money announced by the Chancellor. I thank him for that, as it will be a particular help to people in my constituency.

When we came into government, the country was borrowing over £150 billion a year and unemployment had increased by nearly 500,000. Britain had suffered the deepest recession since the war and we had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy. Now, more people are in full-time work, unemployment is lower in every region of the UK, and wage growth is at its strongest for 10 years and is predicted to keep growing. As a party, we should be focused on cutting taxes, putting that money back in the pockets of hard-working people, and giving them the opportunity to succeed on the basis of their own talent and hard work.

As we leave the EU, we should grasp those opportunities, be proud of our businesses and industries, as the Secretary of State set out, and invest to secure our status as a world leader in so many areas. We must be able to export that leadership to the whole world to ensure the economic growth that Conservative Members know leads to jobs, wage growth and prosperity for the whole of the UK.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Tuesday 17th July 2018

(5 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paul Masterton Portrait Paul Masterton (East Renfrewshire) (Con)
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11. What steps he is taking to ensure that low-paid workers are remunerated appropriately.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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22. What steps he is taking to ensure that low-paid workers are remunerated appropriately.

Claire Perry Portrait The Minister for Energy and Clean Growth (Claire Perry)
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There used to be those who said it is not possible to have protection for minimum-wage workers and lots of jobs. How wrong they are! Today, thanks to a Conservative Government since 2010, we have record employment, and a full-time worker on the minimum wage is now £3,800 better off thanks to the wage legislation we passed and changes to the income tax personal allowance. Since 2015, we have doubled the budget for enforcing the national minimum wage, and last year we identified a record 15.6 million workers who were not being paid properly for low-paid work.

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Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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That is an excellent point, and it is quite right that small employers who may struggle with some of this are encouraged to do so. We have taken up to £3,000 off their national insurance contributions bill through the employment allowance. We have cut corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 19% today, and we reduced business rates to the tune of £2.3 billion in the 2017 Budget. All that is going into small employers’ cash flows, so they can pay their workers what they deserve.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley
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The latest figures show that weekly wages in Mansfield are notably—several hundred pounds a week—lower than the national average. Projects such as the Heathrow logistics hub could provide huge opportunities for my constituents, but what support are the Government offering to help low-wage areas such as Mansfield and Warsop attract such high-skill and well-paid jobs?

Claire Perry Portrait Claire Perry
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I commend my hon. Friend for fighting tirelessly for his constituents. I basically reassure him that, through the industrial strategy—it, of course, sets out our long-term plan to boost productivity and earning power across the country—we are supporting the development of local industrial strategies to drive up productivity, because productivity increases are what drive pay increases.

Retail Sector

Ben Bradley Excerpts
Wednesday 6th June 2018

(6 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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The hon. Lady makes an excellent point, and this was one of the reasons we commissioned the Matthew Taylor report, to which the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles referred. Knowing that employment patterns are changing and that different types of businesses are entering the market, it is right to consider what regulatory requirements we need in this new world to maintain the high standards we have insisted on in this country. That is the type of preparation—the strategic anticipation of what is required—that we are engaged in.

I applaud the way in which, in this time of adjustment, to prepare for the future, the retail sector is coming together, with its players working jointly. It has always been a rather fragmented sector, but in recent months we have seen a real sense of purpose in its coming together to work jointly with the Government and with local councils, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) said, to address the challenges it has faced.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as working at a national level to recognise the changes needed in our high streets, it is important that local councils work with local businesses to put in place a plan and vision for what the town centre needs to look like in future?

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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My hon. Friend is right about that. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles referred to local industrial strategies. The reason they are part of the industrial strategy is that the vision we have set out, informed by local councils, local leaders and retailers, is that that local dimension and knowledge, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), is vital in ensuring we have prosperity. So the sector was a major contributor to the development of our industrial strategy.

One commitment we made was to establish the Retail Sector Council, so that firms, large and small, can work effectively with each other and policy makers, emulating the successful model that the Automotive Council UK and the Aerospace Growth Partnership have established, with which Members are familiar. The RSC is chaired jointly by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), and Richard Pennycook, who, as many Members will know, is the former chief executive of the Co-op and one of our most respected retailers.

The RSC is bringing the sector together to work with Government and local councils, making recommendations on the areas of challenge that have come up already in today’s debate. Those include business rates, where the Government have made a clear commitment to make sure that the system is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online. Of course, that builds on the commitment we have made to wider business rates reforms and on the relief that has been given following the recent revaluation. That stands in stark contrast with the record of the Labour party, which doubled the average business rates bill during its time in office. We are protecting the small businesses in this country from its increase.

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Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). As we are all sharing our retail experiences, I should declare my interest, as a former store assistant at Aldi—a fine and enjoyable job it was too.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the retail sector and what the Government are doing to support business. Some interesting points have been raised in the debate. The discussion about the future of business rates when these activities are increasingly online is particularly important. I want to focus on town centres and high streets, as many Members have.

Like most towns across the country, Mansfield’s and Warsop’s marketplaces and high streets have suffered from retail closures. That is happening right across the country, with the structural change in how people are shopping and what our town centres look like. Many people are shopping online or visiting out-of-town retail parks rather than visiting their local town centres. Mansfield has some great shops on the high street, from big names to cafés, bakeries, barbers and hairdressers, clothes shops and a fantastic vinyl record store that drags people in from miles around, but there are many empty units too. On Church Street, where my office is based, and around the corner on to White Hart Street, there are more empty properties than occupied ones, and there is clearly work to be done to deal with that.

Locally, I have been looking at ways to encourage consumers back into the town centre. One example is my recent campaign for two hours’ free parking in the town centre. Last month I submitted a petition signed by more than 2,000 local residents to Mansfield District Council. When parking is both an expense and a hassle, it puts people off visiting their high street, particularly when they can visit nearby retail outlets such McArthurGlen or Meadowhall—they are very close by—where parking is free and things are more convenient. Having handed in the petition, I hope that the council will look at this closely. Whether it is about cost, accessibility, clearer signposting for parking or other aspects, this is an important factor.

It is unfair to criticise the Government for inaction or for not supporting the retail sector. In fact, if any party in this place is the champion of businesses and works hard to support small businesses, it is clearly the Conservative party. As the Secretary of State said, record numbers of new businesses are being created under this Government. We have all talked about the challenges for town centres, but we have talked less about the growth in retail more generally, including the jobs—my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) pointed out that there are jobs in logistics—that are linked to online retail and to this sector.

Earlier this year, the Government launched the first industry-led retail sector council, which will meet regularly to discuss the challenges facing this sector. It will review how retailers might adapt to changing consumer behaviour, and look at how we might embrace technology to improve customer service and productivity. Town teams are a great initiative, and as a local MP I am looking at how we might replicate and organise ourselves in such a way to boost our town centre.

In April, the Government switched business rates from RPI to CPI, a change which is worth £2.3 billion over the next five years in reduced business rates, including of course for many retailers. They have also committed to supporting business improvement districts. Locally, the Mansfield BID is working hard to support retail by bringing retailers together and discussing how the town should look, and to encourage people into the town centre. Mansfield BID is ably led by the fantastic Mr John Sankey and his fantastic team.

There are things that local MPs can do. I have already mentioned the free parking campaign and the locally organised town centre team, which includes local business. I am also working with Lloyds to support small and medium-sized businesses and charities by giving them digital skills to help with online marketing and boosting the customer base of high street shops. SMEs are at the heart of Mansfield’s local economy. Data from the last census shows that over 9,000 people in Mansfield work in wholesale and retail, making it a huge source of employment. It is the largest industrial sector both locally and across the country.

Although there are lots of scare stories about automation and technological change, it is important that we acknowledge the changing face of retail. We need to embrace this technology and look to the future in relation to how it can improve productivity and lead to upskilling jobs. The fourth industrial revolution, as it is often called, can be harnessed as a positive thing for retail. Technology can improve payment systems and provide support for businesses behind the scenes, such as in accountancy and payroll, thereby reducing the costs that are causing some of the challenges. Internet selling and online marketing can of course boost retailers and ensure that they can reach markets right across the UK and even further afield. Post-Brexit, the ability to do so in new and emerging markets around the world will be a real opportunity not just for high streets, but for the retail sector more generally.

As high streets and town centres evolve, it is important that the planning system develops to support the changing face of retail. This needs local councils to step up with a clear vision and plan for their high streets, and to use the tools at their disposal to deliver on it, while bringing retail and business into the discussion in order to drive footfall through our town centre. In the modern age, having a dentist or a solicitor’s office on the high street, along with cafes and restaurants, is as valuable as pure retail in that it drives footfall, fills empty shops and makes our towns into places to which people want to come. Those are businesses whose output cannot be put online—people must always physically visit them—but when we go to the dentist in the town centre, we might stop and have lunch or peruse the shops, boosting the town more generally.

I encourage the Government to consider the ways in which they can further help local councils with such plans to improve town centres. Regeneration is an important factor for the retail sector as a whole, and there are changes that could help, such as a local vision for delivering a change of use for properties. My most regular question in conversations with Mansfield District Council is: “What is your vision for the town centre? Where are we going to be in 10, 15 or 20 years?” I am not sure that we are yet clear about what exactly its plan is. On delivering such a vision, I have some idea of what I want it to look like. One of the challenges we face is adapting the physical space of town centres to fit this new market. We cannot rely on retail to fill every space in the way we once could; we need the flexibility to change things. Along with a local vision and local leadership, such flexibility needs some support.

One particular avenue that might be helpful—I hope this is a useful suggestion—is to consider the ways in which we could support local councils in relation to the compulsory purchase of buildings in town centres, where a positive plan has local approval. In Mansfield, a number of retail units on the edge of town are empty or dilapidated. I mentioned my office on Church Street, which is on the very edge of the town centre, and most of that area is made up of empty shops. The property values of these retail buildings have fallen, so many owners will not sell them or invest in them. They sit empty for years and years, but these sites are often ideal for development. They could be brought into use as new commercial or residential spaces, providing the small and more affordable properties that we need for local residents anyway. This would also move people into the town centre and boost footfall for other shops.

If the council was able to purchase such buildings and change their use, it would regenerate the edges of the town and help to fill units in the town centre. It would also bring properties that are often going to rack and ruin back into use, making the whole place more attractive and vibrant, and making it more of a place where people might be likely to come to and spend time. More and more, town centres should be a destination that we want to visit, as well as places for shopping.

For the many reasons I have laid out, I think the Government are working hard to support business generally and the retail sector, and it is important to note in all our comments that the retail sector is growing. The Conservative party is and always will be the champion for business, which drives our economy and creates jobs for my constituents. I hope Ministers will continue to be innovative and look across the board, including at my suggestion about compulsory purchase, at the ways in which we can continue to support local authorities and our small businesses in order to encourage the regeneration of our town centres.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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