Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Rushanara Ali Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. They are more heavily impacted and I hope it will be possible to have a sector-specific scheme for them.

I was about to turn to exactly that point—the arts, events, theatre, performance, musicians, actors and creators. With no date set for the resumption of events and performances in theatres or music venues, this crucial part of our economy could be the hardest hit of all of them. The future of our regional theatres in particular looks perilous. Adrian Vinken, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, wrote in the Daily Mail today:

“The entire performing arts industry is…facing oblivion. This is not only a human and economic disaster—it is a cultural catastrophe.”

As we heard from the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) , the insecure and sporadic nature of jobs in the industry means that many workers fall within the gaps in the Government’s covid intervention package. This includes, typically, freelancers who get part of their income through PAYE and part of their income through self-employment. They may not have been in their PAYE contract at the right time to be furloughed, and they may not earn enough of their income from self-employment to qualify for the self-employment income support scheme. As well as considering further funding support for those workers and sectors, we must have a clear plan to get theatres and venues open and to get events starting again, as has been managed in countries such as South Korea.

It is also really important to reflect on aviation, which, as the petitions highlight, is also hard hit. We need the air bridges in action. Blanket quarantine requirements will make it a hundred times more difficult for aviation to recover, and it is hard to understand the need for quarantine for people coming from places that have fewer covid cases than we do. I appeal to the Minister for a risk-based approach on quarantine so that travel can start up again and we listen to the petitioners who are demanding help and support for aviation.

Our nurseries and childcare are also mentioned in the petition. I welcome the extension of the business rates holiday, directly implementing one of the demands of petitioners, but Ministers need a firm and funded plan to support the sector in the long term. The early years stage of education is crucial in determining life chances, and if we are to deliver on our promises on social mobility and respond to legitimate concerns on equality of opportunity, we need to help nursery and childcare providers through this crisis and ensure that they are on a stable footing for the long term, including restoring funding for maintained nursery schools.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

Does the right hon. Lady agree with me and the Treasury Committee that the Government, unfortunately, have left out more than 1 million people through the job retention scheme who are struggling? Many of them are freelancers working in the theatre sector and others—there are new starters who are suffering. We need to make sure that they get support they need, alongside the many things that she is talking about.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I certainly acknowledge that the Treasury Committee identified gaps in provision. Unfortunately, a number of my constituents fall into those gaps, so I hope that there may be further help, but more importantly, we have to get the economy opened up again so that people can start earning a living in a normal way.

On zoos and aquariums, I welcome the grants of up to £100,000 offered by the Government to get them through the crisis, again responding directly to the e-petition. I pay tribute to the dedicated work of zoo staff, many of whom went the extra mile to look after the animals in their care, despite lockdown.

Whether it is zoos or nurseries, theatres or airports, hospitality or wholesale, the best shot in the arm the Government can give all these sectors is to let them open for business again. It was, therefore, an immense relief to hear from the Prime Minister that the 1 metre rule, with safeguards, will be introduced in England from 4 July. I have been advocating this for weeks as the only way to save our pubs and hospitality, travel and tourism businesses—and the only way to save the summer holidays.

The multiple schemes I have set out have provided vital life support for the economy and are protecting the livelihoods of millions upon millions of the constituents who vote for us to serve them in this place. They have protected people who would otherwise be facing great hardship and adversity, but their eye-watering cost means it is inevitable that they are time-limited. The only way to put the sectors highlighted in the 12 petitions on to a sound and successful footing for the long term is to let people out of their homes, back to work, back to the shops, and back to the pub. That is starting to happen and I very much welcome the news that 4 July will truly be our independence day as we take the next cautious steps in lifting lockdown and moving on from the covid emergency.

--- Later in debate ---
Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I welcome the chance to debate the support we provide to industries and the many sectors hit hard by this pandemic. We are braced for the worst economic downturn for many decades, if not centuries. Many thousands of jobs are at risk of being lost or are likely to be lost, including at Centrica, Nissan, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. We are talking about plans to cut some 12,000 jobs. At Rolls-Royce and many other companies all over the country, many of our constituents will be affected. Some 10% of the population could face unemployment; 1 million young people are likely to face unemployment by the end of the year.

This also needs to be considered in the context of what kind of deal might be agreed, and how much friction there might be, with the European Union; the risk of a no-deal Brexit causing huge disruption; and the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic. So the risks are huge, both economically and in terms of health and our relationship with our biggest trading partner. That is why it is important that our Government focus on ensuring that there is a clear and coherent economic plan to protect the jobs that have been retained with the help of the job retention scheme. It is important that employers who are not in a position to make the contribution that they will soon have to are not forced to do so, because that will lead to more job losses. It is also vital that the Government heed the recommendations of the Treasury Committee report to provide support to the over 1 million people who did not benefit. Many of them work in the sectors that we have been talking about today, including in freelance jobs in the theatre, the music industry and creative industries in constituencies like mine—more than 1 million of them need help, including the new starters and those in the hospitality sector who have been neglected.

I hope that the Government will have a clear response to support the younger generation. We cannot afford another lost generation. It is vital that we have a credible economic plan that is ambitious, bold and inclusive, and protects everyone in our country. The Government must create a new settlement genuinely to tackle the inequalities that exist in our country and to ensure that no one is left behind, particularly those who have already faced hardship.