Ed Miliband – 2020 Speech on the Business and Planning Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Ed Miliband, the Labour MP for Doncaster North, in the House of Commons on 29 June 2020.

May I start by thanking the Business Secretary for the constructive conversations that he and I have had on the Bill? As he knows, we support the measures contained in it.

The wider context to this Bill is the economic crisis that we face, the scale of which we have not seen for a very long time. As an Opposition, we have tried to work constructively with Government. Indeed, we have welcomed a number of steps that the Government have taken. We called for the furlough scheme and indeed have welcomed it, though we believe that too many people remain excluded from support. We called for the 100% underwriting of Government-backed loans, and we have welcomed the bounce back loans, too. We have also supported the Government on the difficult decision to move from 2 metres to 1 metre-plus where 2 metres cannot be observed, although we do have concerns about the test, track and trace system.

I hope that we can agree that the past few months have shown the power of Government to step in and protect jobs and businesses at a time of crisis. My case today is that that power has not gone away, and neither has the need for it to be exercised. The Government must not shrink from that, because, let us be clear, we are not at the end of this economic crisis, but just at the beginning of it.

Let me deal first with the provisions in the Bill. It is a short Bill and there is a large degree of agreement on it. The headline provisions, as the Secretary of State has said, will enable the hospitality industry to reopen quickly and serve a greater number of customers in a safe environment. We welcome the temporary loosening of planning regulations to enable bars, restaurants and cafés to serve customers outside their premises. I take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) has made about the need for some caution here. It is important that local authorities continue to have discretion in these matters because they are best placed to make the judgments about the local impacts. It is also right to put on record the concerns of the shop workers’ union, USDAW, which has worried about the safety of staff. The guidance is very clear about the mitigation and reduction of risk that is needed if 1 metre-plus is in place, and I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that that is really important, and that it is also very important that the Health & Safety Executive takes a tough line in enforcing safety as well.

We also welcome the measures in enabling construction sites to get back to work more easily through extended working hours. Again, and I am sure that Members across the House will agree with me, it is in the interests of local residents that local authorities have discretion in these matters.

Meg Hillier

I think we agree about the need for local authorities to have discretion, but they also need resources. In my borough, we have more than 1,300 licensed premises in a very small area of London, and a lot of licensing officers are needed just to deal with the flow of applications. Does my right hon. Friend not think that the Government need to address that?

Edward Miliband

My hon. Friend in her customary eloquent way anticipates my next point. We have seen—and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), the shadow Secretary of State for local government, for giving me the exact figures—£10 billion of costs loaded on to local authorities during this crisis, and only £3.2 billion provided by Government, despite the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government saying that the Government would stand behind councils and give them the funding they need. We have another Bill that puts yet more pressure on local authorities, but with no clear plan about how they will be reimbursed, and our new clause 5 speaks to that issue.

We also welcome the changes to transport licensing and the removal of the unfair relationship provision in the Consumer Credit Act to ensure that bounce-back loans are more easily accessed. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the detailed discussions that we had about that particular provision.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill and, as I said, there is cross-party agreement on them. Obviously, there will be detailed discussions in Committee. However, I have to say to the Secretary of State and the House that we are under an illusion if we think that the measures in this Bill will go much of the way towards addressing the crisis that we face: 4 July represents a reopening of pubs and restaurants, but it does not represent recovery.

It is important to note that many sections of our economy employing hundreds of thousands of people, including gyms, leisure centres, live entertainment venues, beauty salons, conference facilities, night clubs and swimming pools, will still not be able to open for public health reasons. We support those public health decisions. Other parts of our economy will open only with severe restrictions, including large parts of our hospitality industry, which employs 3 million people or one in 10 of the whole workforce. The British Beer and Pub Association says that 25% of pubs will not be able to reopen even at 1 metre. The Government themselves acknowledge, in the scientific assessment of the change to 1 metre, that the hospitality industry will lose 25% to 40% of its revenue even at 1 metre distancing. That revenue translates into a risk to hundreds of thousands of jobs. Live performance remains prohibited, which affects the theatre sector, employing 290,000 people. Manufacturers, too, are reeling from the fall in domestic and worldwide demand.

I say all that not to cast doubt on the public health measures being taken or to speak against the Bill, but to point to the wider context, which is that the Government are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the furlough, for example, demanding an employer contribution from August and a cliff edge at the end of October. The shadow business Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), received this letter from a venue in Manchester in the past week:

“As the Government furlough scheme draws to a close, I will be making very difficult decisions this week so that I can give notice during the period of 80% furlough contribution to commence a redundancy consultation with the majority of my venue staff. With zero income and no appropriate financial Government support, I have no choice but to make these decisions.”

We are not asking the impossible of Government; we are saying, “Look at what other countries are doing”, whether that is Spain, Italy, New Zealand, France or Germany. They are taking a sectoral approach to the furlough. They are saying that specific sectors are more affected by the public health measures and that, therefore, the economic measures have to match that.

Richard Fuller

The shadow Secretary of State will be aware that the Government measures taken across the economy, which he has welcomed, already raise issues of fairness between those who fall one side of the line and those who fall on the other side. What is his proposal for those sectors? Some businesses will fall just to one side, but who will be the expert to understand who fits where? I am all up for it if he can reconcile that, but there are risks, are there not?

Edward Miliband

Of course there are, but just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should not do anything. The grants programme that the Government introduced was done by sector—retail, hospitality and leisure. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about boundaries, and some business organisations would raise that issue, but I worry that technical concerns about boundaries, which have been overcome for the grants scheme, stop us doing something that makes real sense.

Kevin Hollinrake

What the right hon. Gentleman says about the sector-based nature of the grants scheme highlights the problem in his argument. All MPs in this place, I am sure, have been contacted by people—in the hospitality supply chain, for example—who were not getting support. It is so difficult to take a sector-based approach. Will he concede that that is not as easy as he thinks?

Edward Miliband

Of course it is not easy, but the hon. Gentleman’s implication is that nothing can be done for those sectors that are obviously more affected by the public health measures.

Kevin Hollinrake indicated dissent.

Edward Miliband

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. If things can be done, they should be done, but my point is that the strength of the Government response is that it has been comprehensive. It has used the power of Government and it has not necessarily taken a one-size-fits-all approach. I am worried—we see this in the evidence that has been brought forward—about the one-size-fits-all approach.

Kevin Hollinrake

I speak as a business person as well as a Member of Parliament. In my view, the Chancellor made the job retention scheme very generous, continuing it a lot longer than many thought it would; and rather than have a sector-based scheme to help some people and not others, he has tried to help all employers and make it flexible for all the different categories of employer.

Edward Miliband

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we have had the furlough, but I disagree that it should be cut off at the end of October, because I really worry about the economic impact. We have 2.8 million people already claiming unemployment-related benefits, and I worry about the implications for these other industries.

The tragedy is that the Government have spent £22 billion on the furlough, but I fear that we will throw away some of that investment by not recognising that specific sectors face specific challenges. I urge the Business Secretary—he knows this, as he talks to the same people that I do—to use all the powers of his office to make representations to the Chancellor to find a way of fixing that, so that we have a sector-specific approach to the furlough, including an extension beyond October.

Just as I do not believe that the furlough should be abruptly ended, I believe that there are issues of access to loan finance. As I have said, the bounce back loans scheme has been successful at getting money out of the door, but the same cannot be said of the other small business loan scheme, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. In the case of CBILS, only half of all applications have been approved, and the supposed freeing up of the scheme as a result of bounce back loans being made available is yet to materialise. We still do not know why 48,000 out of 98,000 CBILS loans are stuck in a holding pattern, and we do not know how many have been rejected and how many are still in the queue. One of the things we are asking for in the Bill is for the Government to publish data on the true number of rejections and the total number of inquiries.

The problem is not just with the small loan scheme. We have seen a wave of job losses in manufacturing, from Rolls-Royce to McLaren to Jaguar Land Rover. Make UK is predicting that as many as 170,000 jobs could be lost this year in the manufacturing sector alone. Any talk of levelling up will come to nought if we lose those jobs—I am sure that sentiment is shared across the House—and I urge the Secretary of State to look at the international comparisons of France and Germany, which have protected and supported strategic sectors of the economy, such as steel, aerospace and automotive, in a number of different ways. That is why our amendment to the Bill calls on the Government also to publish the true number of rejections in respect of the larger loan scheme, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and explain why 400 larger businesses have not been able to access support through the scheme. Again, we do not know whether they are stuck in a holding pattern and still waiting in the queue or have just been rejected. These sectors are calling for tailored Government support to help them through the crisis, but it has not been forthcoming. The big point is that, from hospitality to leisure to manufacturing, this is a general recession, but it was also much more acute in specific sectors, and the Government need to recognise this far more in their response.

If one part of the Government’s strategy is about shielding sectors of our economy from the sectoral recession, the other part must be about job creation and employment. We are to have a speech tomorrow from the Prime Minister. It is a shame that we do not have a Budget; I do not really understand why we do not have a Budget in what is potentially the worst recession in 300 years. If now is not the time for a Budget, I do not know when is the time for a Budget, but there is a speech tomorrow and big promises are being made about it.

The Bill rightly talks about what can be done in the construction sector. The way to help the construction sector is not just to tweak the operational hours, although that is important, but also to deliver on some of the promises the Government have made. Again, I think this view can be shared across the House; I do not often quote the Conservative manifesto approvingly—[Interruption.]—or at least not enough, but it promised £9.2 billion for energy efficiency in public and private buildings. Conservative Members all stood on that manifesto and I am sure that they support it.

We know how behind the Government are on building retrofits. The Committee on Climate Change recently said that there has been “negligible progress since 2015” and that the challenge of retrofit and renovation has gone “largely unaddressed.” We know that investing in retrofit is the ultimate win-win. This is the ideal opportunity—it would help the construction sector, not just in relation to operational hours, and could create tens of thousands of jobs—but today there are reports that it is being blocked by none other than Dominic Cummings. Apparently, he is uninterested and thinks it is “boring old housing insulation”. The Secretary of State and I have a good relationship, and I am happy to give way to him so that he can say that the £9 billion is going to happen. We need the £9 billion, so I am happy to give way. He has overruled Dominic Cummings on Sunday trading; now is the time to overrule him on this.

Let us also bring forward the £12 billion of social housing spending that has been promised. All these things are important, and they are also part of job creation. I think the idea that we need a green recovery is shared throughout the House, as least at the level of principle. Some people—assiduous readers—will have read over the weekend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s rather long speech, which mentioned Franklin Roosevelt 17 times. [Interruption.] I see Members nodding. Let me tell the House about Roosevelt: he put 3 million people back to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. We need that kind of ambition on retrofit; on manufacturing low-carbon engines; on adapting our towns and cities to walking and cycling; on creating green spaces; and on reforesting and rewilding. We need what I call a zero-carbon army as part of a youth jobs fund.

We should see all these things as part of the green new deal because—this is the point—we face an unemployment emergency in this country. We should be under no illusions: a million young people are forecast to be out of work this year. We need a scale of action that matches that. That is my point. The Government measures we have supported over the past few months have recognised the power of active government in a crisis like this. My appeal to the Government is not to shrink from that now, because we are just at the beginning.

To conclude, we welcome the Bill as a step to help the hospitality and construction industry to reopen, but it is not nearly enough. The Government have shown that they are willing to take action, but we face the deepest and sharpest recession, possibly for hundreds of years, and Government power has to be continued to be used. The decisions taken by the Government in the coming weeks will determine how many jobs are lost and how many businesses survive. The commitment to do whatever it takes cannot be a hollow promise. We are calling for an extension to the furlough for specific sectors; an urgent job-creation programme with a green recovery at its heart; and real action on infrastructure, not just words. I urge the Government not to step back when our economy, our businesses and our workers desperately need support.