The extra financial support for businesses announced by the Treasury will not be used as an excuse to justify prolonged lockdown restrictions, Rishi Sunak has said.
Facing calls from Tory MPs to get areas of the country “back to Tier 1 as swiftly as possible”, the Chancellor promised that “the support we’ve put in place today will not be used as an excuse, not to do that”.
Mr Sunak’s comments came as Conservative chair of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride called for the UK’s chief economist Mark Gregory to join Number 10 press briefings on Covid-19.
Making a statement in the House of Commons, the Chancellor announced billions of pounds of extra help for firms and workers hit by coronavirus restrictions.
The Treasury’s new package includes making the Job Support Scheme, which replaces the current furlough system, more generous and grants of £2,100 available for firms in Tier 2 areas of England.
Responding to Mr Sunak’s statement, Tory MP Julian Sturdy (York Outer) said: “Does (Mr Sunak) agree that the best way to support York’s wider economy is to get us back to Tier 1 as swiftly as possible and can he assure me that the support announced today will not be used to justify prolonged additional restrictions for longer than is absolutely necessary?”
Mr Sunak replied: “The best way to help businesses and protect people’s jobs is to allow businesses to trade and allow the economy to function as normally as possible. The support we’ve put in place today will not be used as an excuse, not to do that.”
Fellow Tory Mr Stride called the UK’s chief economist to appear alongside the country’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty at future Downing Street briefings.
“Could I draw (Mr Sunak’s) attention to the minutes of the SAGE meeting on September 21 which state, in the context of lockdowns, and I quote, ‘policy- makers will need to consider analysis of economic impacts and associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment. This work is under way under the auspices of the chief economist’.
“So could (Mr Sunak) update the House on the progress made by the chief economist and will he agree with me that to ensure a balanced public debate, the chief economist or similar economic expert should join the epidemiologists for Number 10 Covid press briefings?”
Mr Sunak responded: “The party opposite did reference the SAGE minutes but seemed to forget that that part of the minutes which struck very rightly that balance between protecting jobs and protecting lives as well.
“He can rest assured that that is what we on this side of the House and in this Government will always do. I may spare the chief economist the pleasure of the press conferences.”
Meanwhile, Conservative Scott Benton (Blackpool South) called on Mr Sunak to go further in terms of support for hospitality businesses such as hotels.
Mr Benton said: “Hundreds of hotels in my constituency stand to lose thousands in lost bookings, but because they have not been mandated to close, they will not be entitled to the additional support packages.
“Will (Mr Sunak) take steps to ensure that businesses, such as small hotels which are completely unviable under Tier 3 restrictions, can access grants and the extended Job Support Scheme?”
Mr Sunak replied: “I am happy to tell (Mr Benton) that the money that we have provided for Lancashire for overall business support as it entered Tier 3 can be used precisely to help the businesses that he rightfully mentions that are being impacted by the restrictions even though they are open – that is what that funding is there for the county council and other local authorities to do.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds called on Mr Sunak to apologise to individuals whose businesses have already collapsed due to a lack of financial support.
She said: “Will he apologise to those who have already lost their jobs, seen their businesses slip through their fingers in those areas which have not had that support until now?”
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