Ed Miliband: 'Businesses are facing a crunch moment in the coming days and weeks - whether they survive or fail'

New Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband has warned the coming days and weeks present a “crunch moment” for businesses on whether they survive or fail following coronavirus.

Saturday, 11th April 2020, 5:45 am

Doncaster North MP Mr Miliband, who this week returned to Labour’s frontbench under new leader Sir Keir Starmer, praised businesses which have pivoted to support the national effort to tackle the virus.

He said: “At this worst of times, we have seen once again the best of our country. The Yorkshire Post is rightly showing the extraordinary efforts by our businesses to meet the needs of our NHS, from providing protective equipment to ventilators. We should all thank them.

"What we also know is that many businesses are facing a crunch moment in the coming days and weeks—whether they survive or fail.

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Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband. Photo: JPI Media

And he said more would need to be done for businesses for whom the current support package does not work.

More than £330bn of loans and guarantees to help firms survive the current crisis have been launched by the Government.

When this was launched last month Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “We know that businesses are in urgent need of access to funding during these unprecedented times. [The loan scheme] will make it easier for banks to lend and businesses to borrow. This will ensure that credit keeps flowing to where it is needed, when it is needed.”

And speaking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday Mr Miliband said: “Labour is committed to working with the Government at this critical time of national crisis to support our businesses. I recognise the steps that the Government has taken, now is not the time for point-scoring party politics.”

But he said the Government did need to look at whether the package they had put in place was working for everyone it needed to.

As well as loans and grants, the Government’s job retention scheme aims to help employers hold on to their workers by paying 80 per cent of their wages.

VAT can be deferred and business rates relief is also available.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Government would do “whatever it takes” to keep companies going during this time.

But Mr Miliband said: “There is some early evidence that [the loan scheme] is too slow and cumbersome, we need money out of the door immediately to save Yorkshire’s businesses.

“The Government also needs to look at those businesses for whom loans aren’t going to work. Some may not yet be in profit but need equity finance.

“We are also deeply concerned about the self-employed who for one reason or another, will miss out on the help that is available and will have to wait until June.”

The spirit of working together but identifying gaps was shared by Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP for Rother Valley and member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

He said he was now receiving up to 500 emails a day from constituents looking for help in interpreting exactly how the help on offer fits their unique circumstances.

But he said the package the Government had put together - and the speed at which it had been done - was “unbelievable”, and would have taken months in normal circumstances.

“We’re all learning together, the Government as much as anyone else because this is an unprecedented situation,” he said.

“The Government has made the right choice that we need to protect businesses and livelihoods and we can’t let people go to the wall.”

But he said there were inevitably people who had fallen through the cracks, and his job both as a constituency MP and on the select committee, was to highlight those cases to the Government.

“I would say people are very, very happy with what the Government’s doing,” he said. “And I think a lot of people appreciate we are in unprecedented times, and there are things that have fallen through the gaps.

“And that is one of the big jobs of an MP at the moment, to highlight where businesses and people have fallen through the gaps and they can then plug them.

“And as we’ve seen with this week’s announcement on charities, we’re constantly trying to plug the gaps and make it work better. Of course we can’t give everything to everyone all the time but people do understand the Government’s doing what it can do.”

He said another example was on the self-employed, where MPs lobbied the Government on the concerns of their constituents.

“Generally it’s going well,” he said. “But clearly there are still some gaps, at the moment I’m dealing with one in my constituency with a home care business, not a care home, and they’re falling between the cracks due to the size of their businesses, and that’s something which we all want to raise.”

Mr Miliband said all Labour was asking - and it seems to be accepted by the Government - was to be flexible

“Our request to the Government is to be willing to change and improve what is on offer to meet the moment,” he said.

“To get through this crisis, we really do need to be in it together, and this must mean proper support being made available.

“So many people and businesses are stepping up, the Government must also do everything it can to help.”