On Tuesday 23 June the IPT held its first ever virtual event. This came after a period of no events due to the coronavirus pandemic preventing events taking place on the Parliamentary Estate. With lockdown restrictions being eased and the Government switching their focus to rebuilding the economy, it was the natural time to begin a series of events where legislators and business can come together to discuss their preferred path forward.
Darren Jones MP, recently appointed chair of the influential Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, chaired the event. He was joined by two guest speakers: Adam Marshall, Director General at the British Chambers of Commerce and Martin McTague, Policy and Advocacy Chair at the Federation of Small Business.
The disruption to business and jobs caused by the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in unprecedented economic support from the Government, including the furlough scheme and emergency loans. The general feeling from within the (digital) room was that the measures introduced were welcome and represented the scale of the challenge for business.
There was also a broad consensus that, although existing measures had been substantial, the Government must extend support through the next period where there will be continued cash pressure on businesses. There were several suggestions of what this stimulus might look like. Two popular options were a temporary reduction in VAT and employer’s National Insurance contributions. There were some suggestions over converting business loans into grants or university fee-style loans. Though it was pointed out this might unfairly penalise businesses that chose not to apply for loans.
Smaller businesses might benefit from the introduction of harsher penalties for late payers. The FSB recently produced a report where, of the 6,000 small businesses they surveyed, 30% said their payments had more or less frozen. Another 62% said payments were still being made but significantly slower than usual. One suggestion to help small businesses with this specific issue was to give the small business commissioner increased powers to act against slow payers.
The announcement of the one-metre plus rule, as opposed to the two-metre social distancing rule that has been in place since March, was generally welcomed. Attendees noted that for businesses to properly benefit from loosening restrictions, they will need access to PPE to properly protect their workers, as well as clear guidance before 4 July, when many businesses will start reopening. The Government’s intention to ‘Build Back Better’ was welcomed, particularly in the context of a recovery plan providing a broader economic stimulus and investment in new and green technology.
Overall, the call on the Government was to introduce quickly and easily implementable measures that avoid confusion. This will help all businesses benefit immediately. Some at the event expressed their concern at a perceived lack of roadmap through this rebuilding stage. Though there was optimism that the Chancellor will rebuild public confidence through a bold economic statement, due in July.