MPs accuse Rishi Sunak of snubbing calls to fix furlough scheme gaps

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has snubbed calls to support thousands of small businesses in England on the brink of collapse that would have benefited from financial help in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to an all-party group of MPs.

Hairdressers, cleaners and people who started self-employment before the pandemic hit are amongmore than 1 million workers who have missed out on government support in England, the Treasury select committee said.

This contrasts with efforts made in all the other countries of the UK to fill in the gaps left by the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, which only applies to those who have registered as self-employed since April 2018.

In a letter to Sunak highlighting the committee’s growing frustration with the Treasury’s stance, the committee’s chair, Mel Stride, called on the chancellor to adopt measures the MPs set out in a report published in the summer that “have not been addressed”.

Sunak is expected to expand the Treasury’s support for the economy when he delivers a one-year spending review on Wednesday, but a widening of job subsidies is not expected to be part of his plans.

Stride, a Treasury minister during Philip Hammond’s tenure in No 11, has become increasingly irritated at repeated snubs by Sunak and his officials, who have refused to budge from their position.

Stride said: “The committee deeply regrets that the concerns in the first report of our inquiry into the economic impact of coronavirus, Gaps in Support, have not been addressed.

“There are still many who are excluded from both these schemes through no fault of their own.”

He said the Scottish government’s newly self-employed hardship fund, which is administered by local authorities, was an example of the efforts made outside England to help struggling small businesses.

Wales has adopted an “extra-economic resilience fund” that is worth almost £300m and will be directed at businesses close to going bust or missing out on the current scheme funded from Westminster.

Stride said he was particularly impressed with the work of the the Northern Ireland executive, which has set up an individuals emergency resilience programme and ringfenced further amounts to assist individual artists and freelancers in the arts industry.

“It has also set up a Covid restrictions business support scheme. This scheme aims to help small businesses that do not have premises, such as driving instructors, mobile hairdressers and also businesses, such as cleaners and caterers, that have not been forced to close but act as part of the supply chain to businesses forced to close,” he said.

Sunak has defended the Treasury from accusations that it failed to protect many vulnerable businesses by arguing that local authorities have the responsibility and funding to address local concerns.

However, with many councils on the brink of bankruptcy, the committee has argued that England needs an overarching scheme that mimics those found in other UK nations.

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