The text of the speech made by Darren Jones, the Labour MP for Bristol North West, in the House of Commons on 9 September 2020.
My simple request of Ministers today is that they summon the confidence to target support where it is needed most. The Chief Secretary said today to the House that he would not do that because a number of questions need answering. I may be old-fashioned—I hope he listens, as he leaves the Chamber—but I am sure it is for Ministers to answer the questions, not to sit back and wait for others to do their homework for them. If the Chief Secretary is not willing to provide sector-specific support, perhaps he could set out at the Dispatch Box why he is not willing to do that, as opposed to posing questions to Members in this House and deflecting from the call to arms.
Supporting the industrial foundations needed for our recovery and our future growth is right not just in terms of industrial policy, but in terms of spending taxpayers’ money.
The Government are understandably borrowing significant amounts of money, but they must spend every pound prudently. Wasting a few billion here and a few billion there is not acceptable when there are so many jobs and businesses on the line.
Ministers today might refer to HMRC reports that an estimated £3.5 billion has been fraudulently claimed from the furlough scheme, but that is the obvious pitfall of an open-to-all scheme. Bespoke packages of support to strategically important sectors would be negotiated directly with those businesses, with the due diligence and obligations that come with that. I hope that Ministers, too, will have the sophistication to differentiate support for the strategically important sectors—important for the foundations of our economy and our future growth—and the vast number of jobs in the broader economy that fish around them. If strategically important sectors cannot reopen or get back to work, the knock-on effect for bus drivers, security guards, coffee shops and the like, as well as the hospitality, creative and tourism sectors that rely on workers having money to spend, is clearly significant.
I have confidence that the Government are able to meet those challenges. In addition to sector-specific support, including for sectors that will take longer to reopen, that means two things. First, we need to ensure that we have an adequate test and trace system that gives employers, workers and unions the confidence to return to the workplace. It is not working; getting it right is crucial to retaining jobs in the economy. Secondly, we need the Chancellor to bring forward a fiscal investment in people, as well as a fiscal investment in infrastructure, with proper redundancy support services attached to skills and training opportunities in every part of the country.
British businesses are up for that challenge, from bringing forward R&D projects and decarbonising to pulling together in the national interest. This pandemic has shown the powerful partnership that can be formed between Government, businesses, workers and unions during times of crisis. We should try to hold on to that collective endeavour as we seek to recover and build the British economy, but that requires Ministers to step up to that challenge, to answer the questions that are being posed of them, and to take the necessary action to protect jobs and businesses across the whole of the country.