As I write this, I’m about to speak in a debate here in Parliament about those people and sectors of the economy that have suffered the most from COVID-19 and its attendant social restrictions.
Last weekend was Small Business Saturday, and I spent the day visiting businesses in Frome to hear about their experiences of remaining viable – and competitive – against the backdrop of colossal and unprecedented challenges.
With the vaccination programme starting this week, we know that the threat of the virus will recede. But it’s equally clear that the battle to mitigate the economic cost of the virus is just beginning. And as I wandered through Frome, talking to business owners and those in their supply chain, I was reminded that the economy is like a pointillist painting – composed of countless apparently discrete specks of colour that, when one steps back, merge into a cohesive and co-dependent whole.
Recognising this, the Government has provided huge support to countless businesses and individuals across the country. And the breadth and pliability of this state-sponsored safety net is without parallel in peacetime – and rivals that stitched together by any of our neighbours in Europe.
But some local businesses have not been able to access the support they need to remain open, plan ahead, and unleash their entrepreneurial energy. There have been cases where people have responded to the crisis by taking on part-time work in critical sectors such as social work and education – but have then been unable to access government support as a consequence. This is self-defeating and actually serves to disincentivise work – at a time when economic activity has never been more individually and collectively important.
That’s why I’ve joined the ‘Excluded’ APPG which seeks to square these circles and examine ways in which those who have been unable to access support can be helped. And in this afternoon’s debate, I’ll be highlighting specific cases brought to me on Saturday, I’ll be doing that, mindful, as I said above, that it’s never been so important to protect those individual specks of entrepreneurial colour that make up our national economic picture.