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The covid pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for businesses in every part of the country and in virtually every sector of the economy, but the Government have met them with unprecedented levels of support. While the last Labour Government bailed out the banks while dole queues doubled, this Government have provided support—whether through the furlough, grants, loans or business rates support—on a scale that I think few could have anticipated from any Government of any political colour before the pandemic. Of course, things have still been extremely difficult—many businesses have struggled from one week to the next, and sadly some have not been able to survive this long—but for many, many businesses, the support provided has made the difference between survival and going to the wall.
Every part of the economy has been affected and many businesses have suffered, but some have been hit harder than others, particularly the hospitality sector and the businesses that rely on its success. It was a brutal December for the sector; December usually accounts for about a quarter of hospitality’s trade for the year, but we have now had two Decembers in a row that were well below normal trading levels. The support announced before Christmas has allowed most hospitality businesses that qualified to get through the Christmas period into the new year and stand a chance of surviving, but we also have to look at the supply chains.
There are businesses that may not be immediately within the hospitality sector, but that rely on it. Brewers, catering, event management and, for that matter, hair and beauty rely on large events. We need to make sure that local authorities are prioritising businesses like those with the discretionary support that is available, and I would encourage Ministers to make it clear in guidance for discretionary support that those businesses are precisely the kind of businesses that that support is aimed at.
But of course what businesses need more than anything is to be able to do what they do best—provide the goods and the services that consumers or other businesses want to buy—to get back to some kind of normal. The last thing we need would be to have taken the advice of some of the Labour Members before Christmas, and had further restrictions sooner and for longer, or endless furloughs.