The packages of economic support announced by the Government are welcome but there are gaps in them and some people and businesses are not covered. I have written to the Chancellor about two such examples.
The first is people who started new jobs at the beginning of March. They find themselves not eligible for support from the wage furlough scheme just because they changed jobs at the end of February. This has left some people in real difficulty.
The other situation is businesses who pay their rates collectively through an umbrella organisation rather than as individuals. This means for example, that market traders in Bilston Market can’t get access to the rates holidays available or the cash grants for businesses based on rateable value because they are not assessed individually for rates.
It’s important that Ministers look at examples like this with flexibility or there is going to be some very arbitrary decision making in the roll out of these schemes.
Full text of letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer:
I am writing about two aspects of the financial support packages which you have announced in recent weeks. I appreciate these packages were designed and announced quickly and it is not surprising that they did not cover every conceivable outcome in a complex economy. However that is all the more reason to show some flexibility and adapt to unforeseen situations when constituents raise them.
The first issue is staff beginning new jobs in March. Right now they are excluded from the job retention programme. So someone who started a new job at the beginning of March is treated very differently – and much less generously – than someone who was on the books of that employer at the end of February. This has left people starting jobs in March in great difficulty. Many have been laid off with no access to the furlough scheme. I understand that the Government is wary of fraud and companies creating lists of phantom workers, but that cannot be a reason to leave genuine employees in such a situation. Is it possible to look again at the cut off date on the furlough scheme to avoid this arbitrary treatment of new starters in March?
The second issue is access to help for small businesses who pay their business rates collectively rather than being individually assessed. There will be many instances of this but one such is Bilston Market in my constituency. The businesses there pay rates but the rateable business is the market as a whole, not the individual traders. This means they pay towards a collective market rate bill and are not assessed individually. Right now this prevents those businesses from access to the rates holiday or the small grants scheme which is based on rateable value. The local authority is sympathetic to their plight but is currently hamstrung in responding by the criteria for help under the Government scheme. As with the new starters the question is can the rates holidays and grants for SMEs schemes take account of small businesses who pay their rates collectively rather than individually? Failure to do so is cutting off a vital lifeline to traders in my constituency, and no doubt to many other small businesses who are part of similar collective arrangements around the country.
As I said, I do have sympathy with Ministers and officials trying to design these schemes in such a short space of time. But the problems created by these gaps in the schemes are real and urgent for my constituents and many others.
I would be very grateful if you could look into these two issues as a matter of urgency.
Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP