Mortgage Charter

Simon Fell Excerpts
Monday 26th June 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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If the hon. Gentleman wants to look further at Europe, he will see that 14 EU countries have higher core inflation than we do. As for interest rate rises, they have been at similar levels in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for his hard work in securing the new mortgage charter, which will give people certainty and comfort in globally uncertain times. The simplification of the terms and the coverage of 85% of the market are welcome, but what are my right hon. Friend’s views on the 15% who are not currently round the table, and what message does he think he should be sending to their customers?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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We will be making big efforts to sign up any remaining lenders who have not subscribed to the charter. To reach a level of 85% over a period of four days is a good start, but we would love to get the other 15% on board. I should add that if they are not on board, that will make their mortgage offer less competitive from the viewpoint of the many thousands of families who will want to arrange their new mortgage with a lender who makes an effort to reduce the anxiety they may feel.

Council Tax and Stamp Duty Alternatives

Simon Fell Excerpts
Wednesday 17th May 2023

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of alternatives to Council Tax and Stamp Duty.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris; we have spent a lot of time together today. I will address the problems with our property taxes, discuss previously suggested remedies and present a solution that cuts taxes for 77% of households, generates a surplus and garners popular support. I do not intend to speak for long. A lot of colleagues are present, and I want to hear their views, and hear from the Front Benchers.

I realise that this area is fraught with danger. My first political memory is of the poll tax riots. We all know the consequences of trying to shake up the domestic rates system, but our current property taxes unfairly favour the wealthy, burden lower-value homes, discourage efficient housing use, under-tax larger properties and penalise homebuyers and sellers. Those issues affect us all, and all our constituencies. Property taxes fund our important local services and infrastructure. They impact owners and renters alike. When these taxes are ineffective, society suffers. Council tax and stamp duty are the main culprits.

Council tax was introduced three decades ago, in 1993, as a replacement for the unpopular community charge—the poll tax—but over time council tax has come to mirror many of the characteristics of its disliked predecessor. Surveys reveal public dissatisfaction with it. Only 29% of people consider council tax calculations fair, and 33% support maintaining the status quo. It places the greatest burden on the young, low earners and residents in less prosperous regions, while greatly benefiting wealthy homeowners and property investors. As property prices have soared, average incomes have stagnated. Research by the think-tank Onward shows that households spend between 0.8% and 4.5% of their income on council tax, with the highest payments in the north-east and south-west and the lowest in London. That is not the mark of a fair tax.

It is unfair for two reasons. First, it relies on outdated property valuations from almost 30 years ago, disregarding substantial house price growth, especially at the top end of the market. That means that those who benefited the most from house price rises have also been the biggest beneficiaries of the council tax system. Secondly, the band structure creates a disproportionate burden, as all properties within a band pay exactly the same amount. Consequently, lower-end properties in each band bear a higher proportionate tax load than high-end ones. Those flaws sever the link between council tax and property values. For example, a person in a £100,000 property pays roughly five times more tax relative to property value than someone in a £1 million property. Here in Westminster, a £30 million mansion pays £1,828 in council tax, while a family in a modest band D home in my constituency of Barrow and Furness pays £2,068. How in the world can that be fair?

Stamp duty, council tax’s accomplice, compounds the problem. While stamp duty is progressive, with higher rates for larger transactions, it still exacerbates the housing crisis by hindering efficient property use. Taxing transactions discourages homeowners from moving, whether it be an older couple downsizing or a growing family upsizing. The economic impact extends to job opportunities rejected due to moving costs. The Chancellor’s stamp duty holiday gave the UK property market a much-needed boost during the pandemic, but it also highlighted the merits of abolishing it altogether. Stamp duty hampers housing stock utilisation and residential mobility. Abolishing stamp duty on owner-occupied properties would unleash transactions and alleviate the housing crisis. Stamp duty should, however, remain in place for second home and non-residential buyers. In communities such as mine in Barrow and Furness and in Cumbria more widely, with villages being hollowed out by owners of second homes and holiday lets, that just makes sense.

Our country’s property taxes, unpopular and unfair, demand reform. Proposed remedies so far have included new council tax bands, local income tax, higher stamp duty thresholds and capital gains tax on primary homes, but they are just band-aids. Fundamental reform is required to address the inequity and inefficiency of our property taxes.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward this debate and on the eloquence of his speech; this is an important subject. Does he agree that one of the issues with council tax is that it is very much subject to the vagaries and the whims of whichever political party is in charge of the town hall? The Liberal Democrats in Stockport said that they wanted to freeze council tax, but when in power they put it up by 4.3%. That is an extra burden on taxpayers, and they do not necessarily get any value for that money.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point; I am sure that her electorate in Cheadle will have been listening hard. As I have said, only 33% support keeping council tax as it is. I am sure that that number is even lower in my constituency, where the administration has put up council tax by 3.9%. They are very unhappy with the current situation.

I and many of my colleagues support a move to a proportional property tax system, which is a methodology put forward by Fairer Share. It offers a concrete solution to replace the current convoluted band system with a simple flat tax of 0.48% of property value, and a 0.96% surcharge for second homes, empty homes and non-residential properties.

The benefits of moving to such a system would be significant. Some 18 million households would experience a tax reduction, with an average annual tax saving of £556 per household. Council tax payers outside central London would save £6.5 billion annually, providing a substantial boost to local communities and economies. Over 750,000 house buyers each year would be exempt from paying stamp duty and navigating exemption paperwork, simplifying and reducing the cost of house buying. Increased housing market activity would contribute to a £3.27 billion boost in GDP per year.

Some 1.4 million second homes, empty homes and undeveloped properties would finally contribute their fair share of tax, with the revenue used to lower bills for all taxpayers. That would incentivise owners to rent, sell or develop those properties and increase the housing supply. The calculation is that over the span of five years, 600,000 homes would be released. That includes 250,000 one and two-bedroom homes, which we know young people desperately need right now. The reform would generate an annual surplus of £5.4 billion through surcharges on second, empty and foreign-owned homes. I am sure the Treasury can think of inventive ways to spend that sort of money. Finally, shifting the tax burden to owners, aligning with broad international practice, would also ease administration for councils.

However, it is rare—perhaps impossible—to propose a wide-ranging reform where there are not winners and losers. After all, we are proposing to rebalance the property tax system based on principles of fairness. However, there are several mitigations that could be implemented to soften the blow of any change for those who might have to pay more. First, during the transition to a proportional property tax system, any rise in local property tax could be capped at £100 a month for primary residences. That transitional protection would cease upon sale, but buyers could benefit from the removal of punitive stamp duty. Secondly, a deferral mechanism could be put in place, allowing owners who are genuinely unable to pay to defer their tax payments with a modest interest charge. That deferred amount could be paid later on the sale of their property or home, avoiding any debt-related issues associated with council tax collection. Those measures aim to alleviate the impact on individuals while ensuring a fair and manageable transition to the new system.

Of course, there would also be impacts on local government finance. For councils that would generate less revenue from a proportional property tax compared with their current council tax, the shortfall would need to be supplemented through central Government grants or funds redistributed from councils generating higher PPT revenue. The arrangement is not new, and it is a long-standing feature of local government finance. It could be seamlessly incorporated into the proportional property tax system with the following principles.

First, the Government could fully recognise how the proportional property tax affects the revenue-raising capacity of councils when formulating the funding arrangements for local government. Secondly, councils could be granted new powers to independently generate additional revenue. Some councils may experience a decrease in revenue-raising capacity, but there are opportunities to introduce new revenue-raising powers, such as planning reforms and charging more for increased house construction. Again, that would be beneficial for counties such as Cumbria, Devon and Cornwall that are facing the accommodation and short-term let issues that I mentioned earlier.

Thirdly, while some councils might be sceptical about the transition to proportional property taxes because it could result in severe revenue-raising capacity issues, it is important to note that it is the residents in such areas who will benefit most from a decrease in property tax bills. Finally, the policy may also create incentives for companies and individuals to relocate to areas with lower proportional property tax rates, benefiting those communities and eventually increasing the revenues for local authorities. The measure rebalances the local economy and helps level up left-behind areas in one fell swoop.

If taken up, the measures would address the impact on local government finance by ensuring a balanced transition, exploring new revenue sources and considering the overall benefits and adjustments that can be made to accommodate different council circumstances. The reform is crucial for my constituents in Barrow and Furness. It will benefit 96% of the households there, with an average annual saving of £600. It is no surprise that 58% of voters in my constituency support the policy, with only 9% opposing it, according to polling by J.L. Partners. Nationally, voters overwhelmingly back the policy by a ratio of 3:1—in the north it is 9:1. A majority of voters in every constituency support the reform. I fundamentally believe that we should lead with policy and not follow polls, but those are numbers that are worth paying attention to.

Council tax and stamp duty are fundamentally flawed, and many of us recognise that. Politicians from most of the parties represented in this Chamber, along with think-tanks such as Bright Blue, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute for Public Policy Research, and campaign groups such as PricedOut, Generation Rent and the Intergenerational Foundation, have endorsed the transition to a proportional property tax. Prominent economists from respected publications, including the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, and The Guardian have also endorsed the reform.

The policy would significantly increase the disposable income of individuals across the country, directly benefiting households and improving the quality of life in local communities. It would free up properties, encouraging efficient use, and, crucially, it is based on the principle of fairness. It represents a genuine and impactful stride towards levelling up and advancement for all. I look forward to listening to what my hon. Friends and colleagues have to say.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (in the Chair)
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I remind Members that they should bob if they wish to speak. I intend for the first Front Bencher speech to start at 5.08 pm, so I would be grateful for brevity in speeches and interventions.

--- Later in debate ---
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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I shall not sum up further than the Minister has so ably done already, other than to thank you, Mrs Harris, for chairing and to thank Members from both sides of the House for putting politics to one side, embracing an idea and fighting for it. From Fife to Dorset, and from Cumbria to Durham, I think we have put together a rainbow coalition in support of reform. I am glad my hon. Friend the Minister is listening to the calls for reform. We have a piece of work to do to convince him about the democratic deficit of the proposals, but I am convinced we can do it.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (in the Chair)
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Before I put the question, I thank all Members for their discipline and consideration this afternoon in making sure that all who wanted to speak had an opportunity to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of alternatives to Council Tax and Stamp Duty.

Russia: UK Companies

Simon Fell Excerpts
Wednesday 7th December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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I understand why people make the link between what they have heard alleged about the shareholding of a particular company and how that should be spent, in an ideal world. I cannot comment on an individual company or its commercial interest and I am not going to, but I understand why people make that point. It therefore falls to us to talk about where we can act. The hon. Member talks about humanitarian assistance. We have given more than £6 billion of assistance—military aid and humanitarian assistance—and that is second only to the United States in scale. It is having a huge impact. We can safely say that the world, and least of all Vladimir Putin, did not expect Ukraine to fight back as it has done. One reason for that is the armaments and training provided by the United Kingdom.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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European payments for Russian oil and gas have totalled more than €100 billion since the illegal invasion of Ukraine began. I welcome the efforts of this and other Governments to end the use of that oil and gas, but the fact remains that millions of barrels of oil a day are still being resold through third-party countries back into our markets. Can the Minister give us some detail about the efforts to stop that illegal resale, which is just giving succour to Putin and his illegal war?

Oral Answers to Questions

Simon Fell Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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We have many measures in place to support people’s jobs. We know about the figures for record levels of payroll employment and also the increase in the national living wage earlier this year. I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman’s support for the UK infrastructure bank that we are currently legislating for, which is a really important part of our determination to drive regional and local growth across the UK.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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10. What fiscal steps his Department is taking to support the credit union sector.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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The Government support the credit union sector and recognise the contribution that they make to our financial services sector more broadly and to the communities that they serve. The Government have released £100 million of dormant assets funding to Fair4All Finance to support the financial wellbeing of people in vulnerable circumstances.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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I should declare an interest as a former chair of a credit union. Credit unions are some of the largest providers of low-cost credit and are more important than ever given the cost of living issues at the moment, but there are significant barriers hindering their growth, not least legal restrictions on the size of their common bond area. I know that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is amending the Credit Union Act 1979 soon, so what plans does he have to look at issues such as this to support credit union growth and to give as many people as possible an opportunity to stay away from doorstep lenders and loan sharks?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is an expert in this area, given his role in Barrow. We will be amending the Credit Union Act 1979 shortly, which will allow credit unions to offer more services such as hire purchase, conditional sale agreements and so on. With respect to the common bond—that being the link for all credit union members—we will need to see evidence that it supports the needs of the sector, but I have been working closely with the Association of British Credit Unions Limited, the trade body for 70% of credit unions, on its “Vision 2025” document. I visited its conference recently, and we will bring measures forward shortly in the financial services and markets Bill.

Tackling Fraud and Preventing Government Waste

Simon Fell Excerpts
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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I am slightly surprised to be called so early in the debate, but very grateful. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who spoke a lot of sense about Companies House in particular. I welcome the Opposition’s use of their time on this debate, as this is an important matter that goes to the heart of competence in what the Government are supposed to deliver: good decision making while acting prudently with the public purse. Let us be clear that fraud and waste of public funds are entirely unacceptable.

Before I continue, I should point to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For 10 years, before becoming an MP, I worked in fraud and financial crime, and the organisation I worked for chaired the Joint Fraud Taskforce. I should perhaps also start with an apology. I have heard the phrase “single transferrable speech” a few times in this place, and this might be my opportunity to make one. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) secured a debate on economic crime, and I will repeat some of the points I made in that debate, if the House will indulge me.

We would be right to be dismayed by some of the unrecovered sums from the various covid support measures, but we should not be quite so quick to jump down the Government’s throat. The recovery of such moneys, as the Minister said, takes time, and we must be realistic that the headline figure will look very different in six months’ time, let alone 12 months’ time. Having spoken to Ministers about this, I am reassured by their determination to drive down those figures further and further, and by the measures that they have already taken, but this is another reminder that we should be considering an economic crime Bill as a matter of urgency.

Here is where the single transferrable speech kicks in. I met the National Crime Agency a few years ago, and it had mapped an organised crime group and followed how it laundered the proceeds of economic crime, picking up money along the way from our constituents who had been defrauded, from people running small boats across the seas, from organised crime and from the dark web. The chain runs from telephone fraud across the channel and to the poppy fields of Afghanistan, and these groups are not rag-tag bunches of criminals; they are organised, they are not chancing their arm and they are deeply successful. They are not paying tax, and there are many of them out there.

As sure as eggs is eggs, some of the people who have been exploiting these Government schemes are connected to organised crime. They know how to manipulate the system, and they know how to avoid all the very good, robust checks that the Government mandated for the covid schemes. One of the things we need to do is tighten up the system and, again, there should be an economic crime Bill.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly thoughtful speech, and so far I agree with all of it. Does he share my concern that the cut in Government aid means the National Crime Agency has had to put on ice its plan to grow the international corruption unit to look at this international form of organised crime?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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I do not know enough of the detail to answer that question responsibly, but what would unlock the power of the NCA is far more access to data and data sharing. If we can get people sharing robust, high-quality information from the public sector and the private sector, the NCA could draw down on some of this economic crime with the tools it already has.

Some of the people responsible for misusing and misappropriating Government funds are engaged in high-level economic crime, but we need to consider the circumstances of the time. These support schemes, as has been said, were set up in very quick order, and they were designed to help people and businesses that were facing a very imminent precipice. I think we all acknowledge that furlough and income support saved thousands of jobs and helped to aid the recovery and the buoyant economy we are now seeing as we leave the pandemic.

The Chancellor has been clear that he will do everything he can to get that money back and to go after those who took advantage of the pandemic, and the taxpayer protection taskforce, which has had a £100 million investment, is a welcome measure. It is a good demonstration that the Government are working together and pulling together.

We should also consider what has already been achieved. Last year, the Government stopped or recovered nearly £2.2 billion-worth of potential fraud in bounce back loans and £743 million in overclaimed furlough grants, but we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. Fraud is the No. 1 volume crime in the UK. It is an epidemic that is out of control, and we simply do not have enough of a grip on it. I will repeat myself: we need an economic crime Bill to give law enforcement the tools they need to collaborate better with the private sector.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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The hon. Member’s experience is really useful in this House. I have found, through a case involving one of my constituents, that the perpetrators of fraud are not being pursued and that the victims of fraud are being targeted, particularly by HMRC, for tax liabilities that should rest with the perpetrators. Does he agree that an economic crime Bill is really necessary to protect the victims of fraud, not just from the perpetrators but from tax liabilities?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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The hon. Member makes a valid point. Too often, people are subject to fraud and they get almost no response whatsoever. That undermines faith in the system and in policing. In some truly terrible cases, it has a huge emotional and psychological impact on the victims.

As I was saying in answer to the previous intervention, we need to give law enforcement, the public sector and the private sector the tools they need to better share information so that they can drive some of this stuff down and start to turn the ship. Prevention is better than cure and, as great as the taxpayer protection taskforce is, we need to invest early on in spending a fraction of the money on stopping the money walking out the door, rather than trying to recover it after the fact. Data sharing is the key to that.

As the MP for Barrow, the home of the national deterrent, it would be remiss of me not to linger on some of the points that have been made by the Opposition on defence spending, which has been called out as an area of waste. I have read the report that this claim is based on, and I have to say that I am somewhat sceptical about some of its claims. It is of course crucial that the Government improve on the procurement of defence matériel, and on the contracts they sign. Some of the details in that report do raise eyebrows. They relate to accounting adjustments, extensions and overruns, which are not the same as waste, let us be honest. Going into the detail of the report, we see that two of the programmes commissioned by the Opposition account for half the waste being claimed: Nimrod, which accounts for £3.7 billion; and aircraft carriers, which had a £2.7 billion overspend priced in.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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The hon. Gentleman seemed to cast doubt on the reliability of some of the reports that Opposition Members have relied on. I know that he has a keen constituency interest in the MOD’s nuclear activities. The Public Accounts Committee published a report on the management of contracts for defence nuclear infrastructure—the nuclear infrastructure part of the MOD—and found a total overspend of £1.35 billion. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the reliability of that report, which was unanimously agreed and backed by a Committee with a Conservative majority?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid point. I am not throwing the entire report under the bus, but I think we have to be sceptical of some of the claims that were made in it. When I sit down with the managers in the shipyard in Barrow, it is clear that the programme is moving on and that we cannot look at it as a static object that is being built. The requirements are changing, and what will be delivered is also changing. There is a cost attached to that.

We need to question the constant undercutting of our national deterrent. This is a real concern. To make a political point, which I rarely do in this place, the Leader of the Opposition did not come forward and back the AUKUS deal, which will lead to a considerable number of jobs and skills, and will bottom out the supply chain, not just in my constituency but across the country. That is a tremendous opportunity for us, in partnership with Australia, and we need to support such deals. We need to show across the House that we are backing them. I have digressed, but I hope it was worth it.

I praise the Chancellor and his team for their work to cut down on fraud and waste, but much more can and should be done. I return to my point that we need an economic crime Bill; as the hon. Member for Glasgow Central says, it needs to reform Companies House, make it transparent who owns property in the UK, and introduce an offence of failure to prevent economic crime. That would strike the right balance between shining a light and providing a disincentive of peril to stop bad actors going ahead.

My other point is that there needs to be enhanced data sharing across the public and private sectors and an emphasis on fraud, so that when our constituents are hit by fraud—when they get that phone call or that scam email—they can be relieved to know that there is support for them and that we will go after the perpetrators. Fraud so badly affects so many of the people we represent. We need to step up and deal with it.

Covid-19: Household Debt

Simon Fell Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) for securing this important and timely debate.

I am not alone in seeing the impact of covid-19 on household debt in my mailbag and through surgeries. I suspect I am also not alone in this place in seeing the divergence between those who have managed over the past year to cut their costs and increase their savings and those who are just about managing, who now find themselves in an even more perilous position. Data from the Office for National Statistics backs that up, with evidence that some households, particularly those with low incomes, have run down their savings over the past 12 to 18 months and increased their debt during the pandemic. We have to be keenly aware of that divergence as we emerge from covid.

As I walk around Barrow, Dalton or Ulverston in my constituency, I see the households that have spent some of the past year fixing up their gardens and houses—I have to say that I am a little jealous of them—and those who have allowed their houses to fall into disrepair. Of course, it is no official measure, but it is clear that in the same streets we are seeing families rubbing up against each other, some of whom are thriving and some of whom are struggling. Renters, parents, carers, disabled people and many of those who shielded over the past year are the people we must ensure are not left behind as we move through covid. We must be ready to ensure that that schism is not permitted to widen further or their debt burden to increase even more.

I pay credit to the Government for their significant efforts to support families through the pandemic. Furlough, the universal credit uplift, the national living wage increase, the local housing allowance uplift and the hardship fund are all measures that have not just kept families afloat but kept them going in these uncertain times. Extending the UC uplift was the right thing to do. I am grateful to the Chancellor and his team for listening to Back Benchers such as myself when we made the case for it, but we are about to go into a period of uncertainty. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s views on what a further extension of that programme might look like and how it might support vulnerable people.

We are right to focus on jobs now—getting people into work, earning more and getting the skills they need to get back on the ladder. We should also look at the support schemes that are working and how we can support them. Christians Against Poverty is a great example, as is StepChange. Yet the fact remains that not everyone will be able to make the jump into a job, or to make it as quickly as others. A robust safety net has to be in place to support them, otherwise we are derelict and failing in our duty. The Kickstart and Restart schemes targeted at young people and those at risk of long-term unemployment will be key to that. I pay tribute to the Department for Work and Pensions team in Furness, which is working so hard and with great enthusiasm to deliver those schemes. Only a few days ago, my local DWP team announced that Lisa, our local youth work coach, will be working in a different office—in a place called Drop Zone in the centre of town—alongside local council officers, job providers and others. That visibility and change in circumstances is really innovative and great to see. I want more of that as we try to help those who really need it right now.

We cannot allow household debt to rack up. The Breathing Space scheme is welcome. Many of my constituents have sung its praises to me. It provides important short-term relief, and we must take this time to look at the principles behind it and how we can sympathetically help families who may be building up problem debt. I declare an interest as the former chair of the Barrow and District Credit Union, but I think there is a role that such organisations can and should play to help individuals and families as we emerge from this crisis. I hope that the Government will consider supporting them in order to support our communities more. They are well connected to debt advice charities, they work very closely with the local third sector and, perhaps most important in this regard, they help to steer people away from short-term lenders and loan sharks. In many ways, they are some of the very best parts of our civil society and some of the least known.

You will be relieved that I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Bone. We have to be alive to the fact that gaps exist, and the road ahead for many of our constituents will be difficult, especially as we try to keep them out of debt. We have to rise to that challenge. Some of the issues related to this topic are crucial; they worry away at the fabric of our society. By focusing on debt, financial exclusion, dependency, loneliness and skills, we are providing people with a ladder. We have an opportunity to make a real and lasting change for those in our communities most in need. We have to grab that opportunity and take it.

Economy Update

Simon Fell Excerpts
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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No one is saying that next month those businesses have to repay their bounce back loans. We have already extended the furlough and we have provided a huge amount of support to the businesses concerned. I have addressed some of the questions in relation to the business relief, VAT, the extension of the furlough scheme, the restart grants of up to £18,000 and the £2 billion of discretionary grant funding to local authorities. A comprehensive package of support has been offered, and it is simply not the case that these loans must be immediately paid back or that support has not been extended in line with the road map.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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Visiting businesses across Barrow and Furness last weekend, I had one clear message from both those who run the businesses and the staff: they are incredibly grateful for the support they have had from the Government, especially the furlough scheme, but they asked for continuity and certainty that these schemes will continue through the delay in the road map. With that in mind, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the schemes will continue through this time and that, if the high street faces future shocks, the Treasury will look sympathetically at what measures it can put in place to support businesses there?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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One thing my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has shown throughout the challenges of the pandemic is his nimbleness and willingness to respond to changing circumstances, but part of the design of the package of support was that, if there was a delay to step 4, it would be accommodated through the continuation of measures such as the furlough, the self-employment income support scheme, the business grants, the business rates relief and the loans programme. That was part of the design, but throughout the pandemic it has very much been the Chancellor’s ethos to respond to changing needs.

Economic Update

Simon Fell Excerpts
Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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With regard to our support for the self-employed, it is worth noting—not that you would know it from what the hon. Lady said— that almost 3 million people have benefited to the tune of around £20 billion. I do believe that that is comprehensive. It is certainly more comprehensive and generous support than has been provided by almost any other country I can find. Of course, we always look at other suggestions we receive, and I will continue to do that.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con) [V]
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As the pandemic continues, it is only right that the Government provide further financial assistance to support jobs and businesses. That is why I welcome the £4.6 billion of funding for grants that was announced last week, which will benefit people and businesses across Barrow and Furness. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that in the long term we have to return to sustainable public finances in order to build resilience to similar shocks in the future, whatever they may be?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent and insightful point. This is about resilience in the public finances—he used the word well. We have faced two supposedly once-in-a-generation shocks in the space of 10 years and we do not know what the future holds. What we do know is that we want to encounter the next shock that comes along in as strong a position as possible, because ultimately that will enable us to respond in as comprehensive and generous a way as we have here. That is why, over time, we must rebuild our public finances to that position of, as he said, resilience and strength.

North of England: Economic Support

Simon Fell Excerpts
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing the debate.

Walking around communities like ours, it is clear that businesses are struggling and are worried about the future where once, really not that long ago, they felt optimism. Furness’s economy has thrived in the past, almost in spite of its infrastructure—our roads are terrible; our rail network, although improving, is a branch line and not fast with it. People live in Furness for the amazing community, and businesses stay there because of its deep pool of skills and knowledge—from advanced manufacturing to life sciences and green energy—but it is not hard to think that we are running with our shoelaces tied together. We are achieving not because of our environment, but in spite of it; we are achieving because of those people.

In some areas we are not achieving. There are wide and deep economic and health disparities between wards that neighbour each other. We have excellent teachers, doctors, nurses and public servants, but our geography—it takes two hours to get from Barrow to Carlisle—means that those same public services are stretched, and covid has only made those challenges worse.

This Government were elected to level up, and there has never been a more pressing time to do it. Let us be clear that we are not asking for handouts; we are asking to be put on a level footing, and to be given the chance to stand on our own two feet. If we want to tackle some of those economic and health disparities in our communities, we need to trust those communities. We need to use covid as an opportunity to open up and empower civil society to step in, to start focusing on families now and not when they hit crisis points. We need to focus on prevention and not cure.

Some villages in my constituency do not have broadband of any type. They often cannot get phone signal, so let us level them up. Let us redouble efforts to get the infrastructure they need. Let us focus on the areas where we can meaningfully grow skills and recover. Cumbria is ideally placed to be the beating heart of a green industrial revolution. Let us think what an industrial strategy looks like and build on a base of offshore wind, nuclear and gas—and build towards hydrogen and tidal energy too. We have the skills, so enable us to do it. A northern economic recovery plan is what we need from the Government, for communities and constituencies across the north, so that we can build our way out of this pandemic.

Additional Covid-19 Restrictions: Fair Economic Support

Simon Fell Excerpts
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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Coronavirus has presented a huge national challenge rarely seen at this scale outside a time of war. In tackling it, we have been forced to make accommodations that sit uncomfortably with us all. Those accommodations and compromises form part of a delicate compact that we have with the British people: that they surrender some of their civil liberties and freedoms, and in return, we keep them safe. It is a simple transaction, and it is a pure one. That bond of trust is delicate, though, and once that trust is broken, it is hard to find again. I fear that we stand on the precipice, with that bond at risk of permanent damage or even fracture.

The first national lockdown was a response to an escalating pandemic of which we knew little, except that if it went unchecked, it would be deadly in more ways than one—to lives, to the capacity of the NHS to extend its care, and to our economy and our ability to prevent people from falling into poverty. It is right to recognise that as the nature of the pandemic has changed, so should our response. The virus is spreading at different rates through our countries and communities, so a regional and local approach is needed in terms of both restrictions and an economic response. Understandably, the public have coronavirus fatigue. The tone of my mailbag has changed. People were once willing to put their faith and effort into the national sacrifice and, as the weather turns, a tone of reticence is setting in. We need to turn the tide on that.

The Government’s response to this crisis has been rooted in fairness. Over £200 billion has been made available in one of the most comprehensive economic responses in the world, protecting jobs, incomes and businesses through this pandemic. That has been provided on the principle that, just as the virus does not discriminate, nor should our resolve or response to it.

But as we move to a local approach, I fear that our core principle of fairness is at risk. Recent events risk injecting politics and division into the one part of our lives where we need it least right now. That not only threatens the compact we have with the British people but delays crucial action to protect the public. It has created an outpouring of anger and envy. Politics has its place, and I have no right at all to pontificate about an elected representative standing up for their community, but these discussions should take place with an eye to the impact they have on the national and local resolve to work as one to bear down on this virus. It is for both sides—Government and local leaders—to do that.

As local leaders elsewhere have shown, constructive talks can yield results for their areas, supporting the local economy and providing surge funding for local track and trace. While I continue to make representations to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that more can be done for hospitality and events venues in places such as Barrow, I firmly believe that these talks should take place in a spirit of co-operation rather than opposition. We have an opportunity to restore trust and regain the momentum behind this collective effort, but as the pandemic has evolved, so has our economic response to it. We must remember that our words and actions resonate far beyond this place, and if we are to retain that bond of trust with the public, we must find common ground once again.