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“Support our pubs now, or risk losing them for good,” says Darren Jones

Darren Jones joins with 24 MP to call for urgent support to protect pubs from the economic fall-out of Coronavirus restrictions.

Thriving pubs are a source of pride throughout Bristol and are vital community assets worth protecting. Earlier this Month, Darren urged the Chancellor to extend much-needed financial support to protect pubs by cutting Beer Duty. While pubs and hospitality rebuild from this pandemic, they need support in meeting their overheads. By changing the Pubs Code to allow pubs to renegotiate rents, the Government would finally starting meeting their promise to protect pubs and the livelihoods connected to them.

Steps such as these are necessary to prevent the closure of more pubs in Bristol North West. Sadly, the Eastfield Inn was forced to close after 9 years of doing business in Henleaze. The small business Minister needs to come forward now and announce a policy to halt further closures.

You can read the full letter sent by Darren and other MPs below:

 

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Your March Update:

Your Voice in Parliament

As your voice in Parliament, I have been focussing on the roll out of testing and vaccinations in our city, as well as lobbying for the economic support we need to come out of this pandemic on a stable footing, ready for recovery. As part of this, I have started a new Parliamentary committee on data poverty, working with the Government and internet providers to introduce a low cost ‘social tariff’ for broadband got families on lower incomes. With internet providers already signing up to provide cheaper broadband for low-income families, you can follow our progress here. I’ve been meeting with experts on anti-poverty policy throughout February. I expect to announce exciting news soon about a broader piece of work on child poverty; building on progress made in January.

I have also been preparing for the Spring Budget, expected to be presented in Parliament tomorrow. This budget is the Chancellor’s last opportunity help the millions of people who have been unfairly excluded from financial help so far. Having consulted with constituents excluded from covid support, businesses struggling in lockdown and industry leaders about our national strategy, I’ve written to the Chancellor spelling out Bristol’s expectations for this Budget. We need a change in approach from the Chancellor that goes beyond flashy branding and headlines. We need a compressive skills-focussed jobs program, targeted support for highstreets, retail and hospitality, proper funding for nurseries and early years; as well as a review of the employment rights system that places Britain bottom in Europe for sick-pay. Ahead of the budget, you watch a summary of my Business Committee’s recommendations and read my personal thoughts about what’s needed next for the United Kingdom to succeed.

My work on climate change has also increased in priority, with the UK hosting the UN international summit – COP26 – this November. As chair of the energy committee, I have been closely involved with the Government and the COP team on preparations for November, as well as our own domestic work in the UK to decarbonise by 2050.

I’ve also been involved in Bristol’s bid for the ‘Great Western Freeport’ to Government. I have many reservations about the Government’s policy on freeports – which would designate parcels of land in Avonmouth and Severnside as having tax and/or customs benefits – but the West of England may as well take part and so I have lent the bid my support, albeit with several conditions. If you’d like to know more about this, please do get in touch.

Your Champion in Bristol

Bristol is making huge strides in the campaign to get our city vaccinated; we’re currently the seventh best performing region for the roll-out. A huge thank you to our local GP surgeries, pharmacies and other health and social care staff and volunteers for working so hard to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible. With the success of the community surge testing effort in Bristol and beyond, I am confident our city is in a great place to start opening back up. I welcome the Prime Minister’s roadmap to lift lockdown restrictions, but this strategy must be accompanied with continued economic support until the restrictions have been fully lifted. In a pre-budget report from my Committee in the House of Commons, I have set out our cross-party expectations of the budget for workers and businesses.

I know some constituents are anxious about when our loved ones will get their vaccine appointment or are hesitant about getting a new vaccination. Last month, I sat down with Dr Tim Whittlestone to discuss how the vaccine approval process works, what you should expect when you go to your vaccine appointment and why it is important to get the jab. You can watch our full video and subtitled highlights here: darren-jones.co.uk/vaccine. As this roll-out progresses, I am continuing to engage fully with our regional NHS Clinical Commissioning Group overseeing Bristol’s vaccination effort. My casework team and I have been successful in raising and resolving edge-cases for vaccine eligibility. I’m confident that we’re in a fantastic place to complete our roll-out, support people nervous about getting the vaccine and drive down hospital admissions.

My next topic-focused online briefing will be on the use of Neonicotinoids, the Environment Bill and Agriculture Act. I’ll be hosting more of these throughout the summer; picking a policy area based on what constituents are most frequently writing to me about. For this briefing and Q&A, on April 14th, I’ll be joined by the Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture, Luke Pollard MP. You can sign up for tickets to join us on Zoom, and watch my initial video briefing summarising my position on our current Environment and Agricultural strategy, as well as the use of pesticides on bee populations, at http://darren-jones.co.uk/aabriefing/. I hope to see some of you on April 14th!

Finally, thank you to all those that attended the Excluded UK Bristol North West forum in February. I’ve written to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Budget with your feedback, alongside a report from my Committee which calls out the discrimination in financial support between employed and self-employed workers, and for recent mums who have taken parental leave in the past three years. I was also delighted to host so many residents to discuss Bristol’s Clean Air Zone last week, the feedback from which I have now sent to our Mayor. Although this is a change put onto Bristol from the Government, and a chance to fix our city’s air pollution problem, I’ve sought assurances that it will not disproportionally impact local business constituents or residential communities.

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Fix the flaws in previous budgets so Britain can recover and grow, Darren writes to Chancellor

The Spring Budget, expected on Wednesday, March 3rd, will be the Chancellor’s last chance to help the millions of people that have been unfairly excluded from COVID support so far.

Ahead of the budget, Darren wrote to the chancellor outlining the steps that need to be taken to protect livelihoods in Bristol and set the country on the correct path to recovery and growth. These recommendations come after consultation with constituents excluded from covid support, businesses struggling in lockdown and industry leaders.

Darren’s letter calls for action to:

  1. Extend support for those excluded from COVID support including self-employed and new mothers
  2. Finally put in place a multi-year funding plan for nurseries, maintained nursery schools and early years learning.
  3. Keep the £20 uplift in universal credit for families hit hard by this pandemic.
  4. Extend that uplift to unpaid carers, currently receiving only £67.50 per week.
  5. Revamp their business communications strategy so that Bristol’s businesses are not left in the lurch or bearing the cost of more COVID adaptations if we see another COVID case spike.
  6. Target extra support to retail and hospitality, including a cut in beer duty to support our pubs and restaurants.

You can read the full letter here:

 

 

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Chancellor should seek long-term solutions to fire up business recovery, Darren writes for The Times

Ahead of the March budget, Darren urged the Chancellor to address the long-term challenges the British economy faces beyond the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Business Select Committee, that Darren chairs, have published its recommendations for the Spring Budget focusing on fixing the flaws in the Chancellor’s pandemic strategy. The Treasury’s strategy at this stage in the pandemic will set the foundation of the economy that we rebuild in the coming years. Key inequalities have been highlighted in the Chancellor’s current plan, including gaps in support for new mothers and self-employed people, that will have knock-on effects in the years to come.

You can read the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy report here, and read Darren’s article in The Times here. Or read below:

Chancellor should seek long-term solutions to fire up business recovery

The financial support provided to businesses and workers since March 2020 has been unprecedented. However, as we reflect today in the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee’s pre-budget report, alarming gaps in support have arisen which the chancellor has a crucial opportunity to put right next week.

The eligibility criteria for financial support have resulted in discrimination between different types of worker. Self-employed workers were especially discriminated against compared to employed workers. Inequalities continue to be perpetuated, such as ineligibility for recent mothers who have taken parental leave. The chancellor should use this budget to help those workers who have not been supported so far — this is most likely the last chance to help them.

Our report also expresses concern about the long-term prospects for employment in our country. The impact of Covid is just one tectonic plate shifting the British economy, alongside Brexit and the net-zero transition. Retail and hospitality workers have been especially hit, with a disproportionate impact on women and young people. Potential job losses in key industrial sectors, such as automotive manufacturing, also raise significant structural concerns for the British economy and fears about the impact on employment prospects in the communities affected. The government’s recent skills white paper is welcome, but a wider cross-governmental approach to education, training and skills is needed, targeting support to the workers most affected during this pandemic.

In good news, we have welcomed the remarkable ability of businesses and workers to adapt and innovate during the pandemic. Digital transformation has taken place more quickly than we could have hoped. Building on these developments and innovations will be key for our economic recovery. However, many businesses have become saddled with Covid debts during the pandemic and they will need help. As we recommend in our report, the government should consider how best to help businesses invest in their own growth and job creation, and how to deliver improvements to productivity and decarbonisation in this new era of company Covid indebtedness.

Some businesses have been able to succeed during the pandemic, with some deciding to return public funds. Unfortunately, other successful businesses saw access to low-cost government backed finance as a commercial opportunity. We conclude that more transparency is needed about which companies received what public support.

Companies that acted in bad faith, by passing on state-financed dividends to wealthy shareholders or taking the cover of the pandemic to use approaches such as “fire and rehire” in restructuring their businesses, have clearly acted unacceptably. With reforms to company reporting and audit, and the Employment Rights Bill also on the government’s agenda, we should take a broader look at corporate governance and move the dial on what it means to be a good corporate citizen in the UK.

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change for many workers, businesses and communities in a negative way. High streets across the country have seen a dramatic loss of retail businesses and, sadly, we are likely to see more retailers close their doors — not least because a solution to outstanding commercial rents has yet to be found. At this crucial time, there also seems to be confusion in government over the UK’s industrial strategy and the role the state should play in supporting the economy. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that government action and financial support is targeted effectively — we cannot afford to spend money everywhere, but the costs of not taking any action would be incalculable.

The budget must clearly set out a continuation of financial support measures for businesses and workers in line with continued public health restrictions, but the occasion also serves as a valuable opportunity for the chancellor to reflect on the long-term lessons for our economy. Will the budget set out a vision for Britain in the decade ahead, that understands the reshaping of the British economy now taking place, or will the chancellor stick to short-term announcements which fail to provide the confidence businesses and workers need?

Darren Jones is a Labour MP and chairman of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee

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Darren warns British Gas against the use of Fire and Rehire tactics.

Today, Darren took evidence from Mr O’Shea, the CEO of Centrica PLC, the parent company of British Gas. Mr O’Shea was questioned on the use of controversial Fire and Rehire (Section 188) notices by Darren and the Business committee.

You can watch highlights of Darren’s questions to Mr. O’Shea here:

The Business Committee evidence session took place as Centrica was accused by GMB of ‘bullying‘ its 20,000 employees into accepting worse pay and working conditions during the COVID19 pandemic. So far 80% of Centrica employees have accepted these new employment conditions.

Darren wrote to Mr O’Shea in October 2020 asking for an explanation about the use of Fire and Rehire notices during the early stages of negotiations with trade unions. Darren cited this tactic as an ‘extreme measure’ and asked for transparency about how the decision to threaten workers with Section 188 notices was taken. You can read Darren’s letter in full below.

 

 

 

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Darren urges Government to avoid another Arcadia/Debenhams collapse

Following Arcadia entering administration and putting thousands of jobs at risk, Darren called on the Government to urgently support the retail sector, including retail supply chains.

Darren wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma, asking the Government to outline their plan to support large retail businesses and their complex supply chain of smaller and independent businesses. The collapse of large retailers like Debenhams has a devastating effect on local communities and both the people directly employed by the stores and those within its supply chain network.

Darren asked Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, to do more to support the small businesses caught in the storm of large retail collapses.

DJ UQ Arcadia BEIS

Commenting on the stress placed on businesses by Government’s COVID induced recession, Darren called for a taskforce to be set up to limit further damage to livelihoods:

“It has been a dark week for bricks and mortar retail in the UK. While many will point to issues relating to the management record and business models at Arcadia and at Debenhams, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has hit the high-street hard and, sadly, looks likely to bring job losses and store closures to many communities across the country. I hope the Secretary of State will come forward with more detail on the support the Government will provide to the retail sector.

The Government should be doing more to bring stakeholders together to find a solution to commercial rent debts as well as support for small businesses in the retail supply chain. I hope the Secretary of State will look again at setting up a Retail Taskforce with tenants, landlords, banks, supply chain businesses and Ministers to find solutions before more damage is caused.”

 

 

 

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Stop ignoring child poverty, warns Darren to Chancellor

Following a disappointing Financial Statement from the Chancellor this winter, Darren questioned the Government’s commitment to eliminating child poverty.

Despite rates of child poverty increasing in the UK, the world 6th richest country, this winter’s financial statement does nothing to address the system causes of child poverty. The statement also fails to dedicate budget to helping families during the winter period that are suffering from in-work poverty.

Speaking in Parliament, Darren raised this issue to the Chancellor directly. You can watch the exchange here:

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Darren calls for clarity over COVID-19 Business Rules

Darren, as Chair of the Business Committee, has written to Alok Sharma, Secretary of State, asking for urgent clarifications about the COVID-19 rules and restrictions for businesses once England’s national lockdown ends at the start of December.

Darren and the Business Committee took evidence from Excluded UK, UKHospitality, Marston’s PLC, PureGym and more to understand the effectiveness of support available to businesses and the impact of Coronavirus restrictions. These insights were used to scrutinise the BEIS department’s guidance and support made available to businesses, as well as how taxpayer’s money has been targeted and businesses have been consulted.

Speaking of the importance of delivering clarity of businesses ahead of the Christmas trading peroid, Darren said:

“On Tuesday, business leaders in retail, leisure and hospitality warned of devastated high streets and even higher job losses unless urgent action was taken by Ministers to confirm what will happen after the second lockdown. Businesses need urgent clarity on the rules they will be required to follow under any new tiered system of restrictions so that they can make plans for their staff, sites and suppliers.

“Christmas trading is a crucial period and the Government needs to target support – alongside required public health measures – to help, especially for retailers who have been deemed non-essential during the second lockdown. Specifically, Ministers need to better target support and bring stakeholders together to find a solution to commercial rent debts. Ministers also need to take steps to ensure that businesses and unions are more involved on issues relating to local lockdowns, such as the system of curfews, so that safe and responsible trading can take place.”

You can read Darren’s letter to the Secretary of State below: