Nadhim Zahawi answers MPs’ questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
My Department is working closely with the Treasury on the coronavirus job retention scheme and the wider Government response. In developing the scheme, the Government have prioritised helping the greatest number of people as quickly as possible.
While the additional flexibility is welcome, the job retention scheme does nothing for those outside its arbitrary limits, such as my Livingston constituent, stonemason Jason Hoffman, who has a small limited business and makes up a modest salary with legal and tax-efficient annual dividends. Jason does not qualify for the scheme, is not eligible for universal credit and cannot furlough himself because he could not bid for work and his business would collapse. How many small businesses like Jason’s will be destroyed before this Conservative Government finally listen and include them in the scheme? What comfort can the Minister give to my constituent today?
As I said, we have tried to prioritise helping the greatest number of people as quickly as possible. To make sure that other people can be helped, including those who are self-employed, a scheme for them is also available. We have tried to do as much as we can through grants, as well as through local government, including £617 million in discretionary grants for businesses that may not be registered for business rates, which can get the additional help that was announced in the past 48 hours.
I am not entirely sure whether the Minister or the Secretary of State are listening. The truth is that the coronavirus business loan scheme is not working, partly because some lenders do not trust the Government to stand foursquare behind their loan guarantee without moving the goalposts at a future date. Loganair is just one of many businesses in my constituency with an urgent need to access the scheme through an overly cautious and risk-averse lender. What can the Minister and his colleagues in the Treasury do about that?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s counterpart in the Scottish Government, Fiona Hyslop, to whom I speak every week, as I do to Ken Skates in Wales and Diane Dodds in Northern Ireland, thinks that the schemes are working well. We have improved them as we have reviewed them. We have also launched the bounce-back scheme, which is much simpler, of between £2,000 to £50,000, and can get money in the bank within 24 hours.
Profiteering in PPE is completely unacceptable, and I want to be clear that no one should seek to exploit this health emergency for financial gain.
That is a disappointing answer. The problem has been exacerbated by the Government’s failure to stockpile PPE. There are numerous examples of people exploiting this situation, so it will only get worse if the Government do not act quickly. Will the Minister commit to legislating to take power to act against operators who exploit the situation?
The Competition and Markets Authority has already written to the small number of firms suspected of profiteering, and the Secretary of State has recently met business and consumer representatives to discuss what further action might be necessary to address the issue. I have to put on record that the vast majority of firms are acting responsibly. So many across the UK, such as BrewDog, Diageo and hundreds of small operators, are supporting the national effort to tackle covid-19. As I said, the Secretary of State always keeps the options open for tackling profiteering.