It’s been a busy week here in Birmingham, and it was great to participate virtually for the first time in Parliamentary debates. It’s certainly a different experience speaking via Zoom without being present in the Chamber, but I’m very glad that the House authorities have enabled us to continue to ask questions to Ministers during the coronavirus pandemic.
My first-ever virtual contribution was during the Finance Bill. I very much welcome this week’s announcement by the Chancellor on the bounce-back loans which are now 100% Government backed, but we are still so far behind other countries, particularly Germany, Switzerland, and the US, on measures that are being taken to get money through to the SMEs that are really struggling at this time. So often we describe SMEs as the lifeblood or the engine of our economy, and yet we are not backing that up in our actions, failing as we are to get the right level of support to them quickly enough in this crisis. That is why we have seen multiple announcements made to correct defects in previous announcements, and that is simply not good enough. I understand the argument that we must not place too high a burden on future generations, but if we fail to take adequate action right now, we will place a burden on them that is higher still. We must try and limit the damage to our economy and that means supporting SMEs far more than we are doing at the moment.
Our economy has fundamental weaknesses that have led to various challenges, including those that particularly affect our constituency – long-term unemployment and the plight of the working poor. We cannot allow these weaknesses to continue after the crisis is over and, as the new Shadow Chancellor has said, we need a new economic settlement. I welcome the new 2% tax on revenues of search engines, social media platforms, and online marketplaces which derive their value from UK users. This is not a measure that will deal with the unfair differential tax treatment between brick businesses and click businesses, and it won’t deal with Amazon either, but it is a step in the right direction. I do not think that once we come through the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, people will continue to accept the ridiculous situation whereby huge multinational companies do not pay a fair share of tax while our hard-working SMEs face a huge tax bill. We will need a well-resourced Government to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus and while future generations should not bear the burden, neither should our SMEs.
I was also pleased to speak in the debate around cladding and fire safety. I spoke of the difficulties facing the Islington Gates development and Brindley House in our constituency, where residents face colossal bills due to unsafe, flammable cladding. The Government has not moved quickly enough in dealing with cladding that is not of the ACM-type found on the Grenfell Tower, and it took far too long to reach the point where they introduced a £1 billion fund, largely due to the sustained and determined campaigning from members across the House, the Labour front bench and campaign groups such as UK Cladding Action Group, the Birmingham Leaseholders Action Group, and the Manchester Cladiators. I want all Government ministers, but particularly those in the Housing Department, to imagine the stress of receiving a bill that represents much more than you earn in a whole year, and that coming at a time when you’re having to tighten your belt thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. For ordinary people to have to deal with the consequences of national regulatory failure s unconscionable, particularly given that they have done nothing wrong. In other parts of the insurance sector when insurance companies have been unwilling to provide affordable cover for reasons such as flooding, the Government has stepped forward with the Flood Re scheme and I urge them to consider stepping forward for cladding insurance in a similar way. It offends every part of our British values, our sense of fair play and decency, that people are facing ruin through no fault of their own. You can The Government must correct this national failure. Today, I’ve written to the MCHLG alongside cross-party colleagues on Birmingham City Council, asking them to take immediate intervention regarding the case of Brindley House. You can read more about that letter here.
Here in Birmingham, I’m pleased to hear that the situation regarding the payment of business grants by Birmingham City Council is now improving. To date, the Council have paid out more than £92 million to over 7,000 businesses and a further 5,000 cases are being processed. The Council are also processing the awards for business rates relief with over 6,000 businesses due to receive over £175 million in relief with an additional £2.3 million granted to nurseries. These grants and relief are a vital part of the support that will give businesses the best chance for recovery after the crisis. We need to ensure that everyone who is entitled to support is receiving it. If your payments are still outstanding, please do get in touch with my office.
Finally, congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on welcoming their new arrival. I am glad to hear that mother and baby are doing well and wish them all the best at this exciting time.
As ever, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!