Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Mark Tami Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and I absolutely agree with her sentiments about opening up the economy.

May I say right at the outset that I think what the Government have done in terms of this unprecedented economic support—the support for businesses and for workers against the economic consequences of the pandemic —has been truly extraordinary, and the speed at which those programmes were put in place was particularly impressive?

In my constituency alone, 10,000 jobs were furloughed under the job retention scheme—10,000 incomes. With that support through the crisis, people have a chance of a job in the future as the restrictions ease. I am very pleased that the scheme has been extended and that there is the ability to part-time furlough. That flexibility has to be right; the businesses want that as they gradually reopen.

However, I would point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that there are a number of issues with the scheme, which, with a little bit of tinkering, could easily be put right. He will be aware that one particular problem is that eligibility is based on a real time information submission to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The problem for a lot of small businesses is that they had agreed with HMRC that they would make an annual return and, therefore, not being required to make the RTI return, they are ineligible for support. A brief word with the chief executive of HMRC would sort that problem out.

The self-employment income support scheme is very welcome. It is estimated to help 4,000 people in Wimbledon, but I have been contacted by a number of people who, because they became self-employed last year, do not qualify. They feel they have fallen through the cracks. Will the Treasury look at that? A number of the people affected are starting businesses for the first time and are likely to be the lifeblood of the economy as we recover; a little help now would work. Of course, the same applies to directors of small limited companies. If they were put on the same footing as the self-employment income support scheme, that would mean a grant, which, in some cases, would save their businesses. With that minor tinkering, the scheme could be even better than it already is.

The hospitality, retail and leisure industry is obviously at the forefront of the economic costs, having been unable to open until 4 July—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, we look forward to that date. The support for the sector has been outstanding, but the Minister will know that in some parts of the country the £51,000 rateable value limit is relatively small compared with the sums the businesses are transacting. On future economic packages, I say to the Minister that it would be really helpful if the Government would recognise that there are some quite major regional imbalances in rateable values when businesses are broadly of the same turnover and this would be a huge benefit.

While there has been extraordinary help to the retail, hospitality and leisure chain, inevitably a lot of the suppliers to those industries have not been able to get any help at all. What has been seen to be a postcode lottery has been developing on the basis that the Government have given advice on what qualifies as a retail, leisure or hospitality business. It is pretty specific, although the Government do say that the list is not exhaustive. The trouble is that different councils are choosing to interpret it in wildly different ways and it is having a major impact on suppliers to these industries.

I pick up the events industry in my constituency, with White Light and Oxygen Event Services being two companies that may not be able to reappear in the way they were before this pandemic hit the country, and that would have a huge impact on the concert, festivals and hospitality industry. May we have a bit of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government guidance to councils, that industry and also language schools, which are huge providers to local economies, particularly in Wimbledon? I have seven language schools that provide consumer expenditure into the local economy from the students, jobs for teachers and support for local families who house these students. Again, a postcode lottery has developed: in some places these businesses and schools are getting help and in others they are not. Again, if the MHCLG could be more prescriptive about exactly what should be allowed to be available for business rate relief, that will help.

There are a number of other industries I could comment on, but finally, can I just say that, as a London MP, I am proud of the culture and the arts in this city? I want to see that arts and culture not just in the west end, but across constituencies. I have the New Wimbledon theatre and the Polka theatre. On what such venues need to survive, can I ask the Government to really look very hard at this? A number of people working in these industries have had no income or access to help since the pandemic struck. I know there are various packages that the Arts Council funds, but we need a specific performing arts financial package, so that all theatres and concert venues can survive and the people who work in that industry will be there to make sure that, when they reopen, arts are being performed in them. That would mean that the culture in this country would survive, which is so vital to our future, alongside the economy and our health.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab) - Hansard

I will follow your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will not take interventions.

Coronavirus has hit all sectors of the UK economy, some harder than others, and aerospace and air travel will be one of the hardest hit. I have been here long enough to remember the effects on the industry of 9/11 and the banking crisis. These were severe, but nothing compared with the challenge that we face today. For Airbus in Broughton in my seat, this has meant a reduction in production rates of about a third. Some 40% of the UK workforce in the commercial aircraft division is currently on furlough. About 500 employees at Broughton have been working on the ventilator programme. I am sure everyone here and everyone in the country will be extremely grateful and proud that that has happened. It demonstrates what a dedicated workforce we have, but their reward for this work, as the programme comes to an end, is that many of them will not qualify for furlough. I think that that is an absolute disgrace. I would ask the Minister to really look at this situation. It cannot be right that the people who have done this work do not qualify. They are a special case and they should be treated as such. Airbus has stepped in and will cover the furlough, but that is hardly the point. I ask the Minister to press his Treasury colleagues on this matter urgently.

Industry experts do not expect passenger demand to return to pre-crisis levels before 2023. That will in turn mean that actual production rates will not catch up until 2025. With 70% of the value of an aircraft in the supplier chain, the effects there could be devastating, leading to a near total collapse of the sector if intervention does not occur. If we are serious about maintaining a viable aerospace sector in the UK, we need to be serious and have a strategic plan that embraces not only companies such as Airbus and the airlines, but the supplier chain. All parts need to work together to that end. I am concerned that some airlines—well, one in particular—see this crisis as an opportunity to remove rivals and ride roughshod over the terms and conditions of their workforce. That type of attitude and approach needs to change. We need a united front to face this crisis.

In the US, Germany and France, we have had announcements of targeted programmes of support. The latest announcement from the French Government included a raft of measures. Its aim is to protect some 100,000 jobs. It includes a reduced working week or working hours, with the difference picked up by the state. That will last up to two years. There will be a one-year moratorium on aircraft loans under the export credit agencies, amounting to around €1.5 billion. In addition, Airbus will have 18 months to pay loans, rather than the six months currently. That is worth around €2 billion. Defence procurement projects are also to be brought forward with new investment to help the sector, and the defence sector SME fund will be increased by 50% to €100 million a year. Air France-KLM has already been given a €7 billion loan guarantee to secure its future.

In addition, the French Government have promised more investment, with €1.5 billion to decarbonise and produce carbon neutral aircraft by 2035, rather than the current target of 2050. Those are bold plans that look at the medium and long terms. They recognise that there will be no quick fix, and we in the UK need to rise to that challenge, otherwise we will be left behind and could lose one of our greatest and most important industries.

What can we do to help to secure the future? We clearly need a job retention support scheme, not just for now and a few more months, but for the long term. We need to retain skills and we need the flexibility that reduced working hours can offer. We need to build support for Airbus by speaking to the airlines and retiring older, less efficient aircraft from their fleets. Around 70 aircraft flown by UK-registered airlines are more than 15 years old.

We need to address the complete mess, as has been mentioned, of quarantine, which has already added to the crisis. We need to invest in research and development, make advances in R&D tax credits and confirm that funding of the Aerospace Technology Institute will be doubled to £300 million a year. We need something for the supply chain, because that is in many ways the most vulnerable part of the sector. We need a long-term policy to ensure that there is an investment fund to keep suppliers alive during this crisis. We need to bring forward defence projects, but they need to be in this country, not just bought off the shelf from America.

If we do not step up to the plate, the future will not be good. For Broughton, it is always about securing the next wing. If we do not secure the next wing and Germany, France or Spain get it, the future will be bleak. I ask the Government to act and act now before it is too late.

Dame Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to call Darren Henry to make his maiden speech.