The government must use lessons from Europe to guide the budget

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak - Credit: Getty Images

CHRISTINE JARDINE calls for the government to clean up the mess left behind by Brexit and its failed Covid support schemes.

This week will be a pivotal moment for our economy and for all our futures.

When the chancellor gets to his feet to deliver the budget, millions of people who have seen their lives, their businesses and their families suffer for the past year will be hoping that his words will herald the start of recovery.

To do that what we need most from tomorrow’s budget is boldness, creativity, and above all else, renewed optimism for small businesses.

From florists and hairdressers to the café owners and dry cleaners, it is the small businesses in our local communities which have been hit hardest by this pandemic.
Their shops and premises have been shuttered up, they’ve been told they must not open until it's safe again, and it is pushing them close to bankruptcy. 

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If the chancellor allows that to happen 2.5 million people could lose their jobs and a million businesses could go to the wall.

 It is these small businesses, often family-run or with fewer than 10 employees, which have felt ignored and cast aside by this government time and time again in this crisis. Freelances and self-employed who have been excluded, some completely, from financial support are crying out for help.

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Yes, there are support schemes. And yes, the government has borrowed billions in trying to limit damage to the record-breaking 9.9% reduction in the economy in the past year.

Yet too often the support has been a piecemeal, knee-jerk reaction without the long-term strategy that businesses need to give them the clarity and confidence to plan for the future.

Now is the moment when we need to hear the long-term strategy for getting our economy out of this. 

Investment. Growth. Recovery. They are the keywords.

All of it comes at a time when business is already reeling from this government's determination to plough ahead with a Brexit deal which has hurt so many of them and could have been, at least, delayed. 

Hidden behind headlines about coronavirus, are worrying stories from our small businesses.  

Around 150,000 British sellers on Amazon hit with new Brexit charges to an eel exporter left cursing his decisions as he is shunned in the global marketplace. 

It’s become clear that far from removing red tape, more has been added. It is no surprise that almost half of British exporters said the exit from the single market and custom unions had a negative impact on their businesses.

The chancellor must now clean up this mess. 

We need bold, practical, creative solutions to help those who for years have made up the backbone of our economy. We can’t just look in the short-term, as the government tends to do, but at the path stretching into the future. 

This is why the Lib Dems are calling for a recovery strategy that puts small businesses first.

Furlough needs to last longer and go further to help more people. 

The impact of Covid-19 will not be a thing of the past by the summer and so the measures designed to keep the economy going must last longer too.

And we want specific help for those people whose years of investment in time and money have been destroyed because they followed the rules the government set and stayed safe.

The chancellor needs to take our suggestion for a scheme to compensate small businesses for lost revenue of up to 80%, over a six-month period. 

They have suffered through no fault of their own and it is only right and fair the government compensates them for this. 

We can see this type of scheme already working successfully in Germany and its time our small businesses got the same sort of support.

We must learn from how other countries, in particular our neighbours with similar economies, are doing better than Britain.

But first we need the chancellor to extend the business rates holiday, so that it is available to businesses outside of retail, leisure and hospitality. 

Any business with a physical premise would benefit from this. It could be a small design consultancy based in a trendy Manchester office space or a family-run manufacturing firm in a Bedford industrial park. 

These proposals would see small businesses through the coming months as we look over the economic abyss. However, that won’t be enough from the chancellor.

In this once in a lifetime moment, we need long-term sustained solutions to put our economy back on track. We need long-term programmes of support to provide jobs for decades to come for a younger generation already hit by this pandemic.

Tomorrow the chancellor must set out a budget with small business at its heart. This government can no longer fail the small businesses which are integral to our local communities and the backbone of our economy It is time to clean up the mess that is Brexit, and failed COVID business support schemes.

It is now or never to save our economy and provide hope for the future to those suffering the most. 

Christine Jardine MP is the Treasury spokesperson for the Lib Dems

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