I am working to collate the concerns of people in Bristol West and put them to the relevant ministers. Below is a letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy, requesting that he consider some of the people and businesses currently falling between the announced support schemes:


Alok Sharma MP
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
1 Victoria Street

31 March 2020

Dear Mr Sharma,

Support for businesses in my constituency currently falling between gaps

First of all, I hope you are well. Never has that hope seemed more genuine and less of a cliché – I really hope all your teams are doing well as well as I’m sure they are working flat out.

I’ve been heartened of course by the recent announcements of government support packages for business and I’m pleased to say that many of my local businesses, large and small, are as pleased as I am by the way government is stepping in to help those businesses which are otherwise thriving and which we want to thrive when this is all over.

I’m sure you are already receiving letters from MPs who are, like me, worried about the businesses we want to survive but do not currently qualify for help they need.

Please let me know if you can consider any or all of the above requests and if so, what assistance you need from me.

I’d be grateful if you could consider the requests below sympathetically. I’m a big fan of the businesses in my constituency, I work closely with them, they provide good quality jobs and are entrepreneurial and imaginative I don’t want them to fall down if we could have helped them.

First, I’ve put some requests specifically for your department. Second, I’ve summarised the requests I’ve put to the Secretary of State for DWP which relate to keeping businesses afloat but are specific to the schemes for supporting employed and self-employed people.

Questions for BEIS

  1. Businesses which do not appear to be adhering to the rules on social distancing

Some constituents tell me about employers who do not appear to be adhering to the rules. This includes forcing some people to travel to work who are in the vulnerable categories, others who are unable to practice social distancing at all at work, lack of PPE for example in care homes. I’ve circulated the government guidance about safe working and about travel but I’m afraid that some businesses do appear to be operating in contravention of the government guidance. This may well be from lack of knowledge and I’m writing to businesses if employees contact me but I’m concerned about the lack of consistency affecting the slowdown of the spread of the virus.

What additional guidance are you providing to businesses about whether and how they should open? What methods are you using to ensure that the guidance is adhered to? What suggestions do you have for any employees who feel that their employer is expecting them to work in unsafe conditions which break the guidance?

  1. Problems with insurance

I know that companies have huge variation in what insurance cover they previously took out. I also appreciate that sometimes companies have under-insured for business interruption. However, there are some who are insured for business interruption and whose business is definitely interrupted by the government rules on social distancing but their insurer is refusing to pay out on various grounds relating to the manner in which the business has been interrupted.

What guidance are you issuing to the Association of British Insurers to help businesses in my constituency to stay afloat

  1. Businesses which do not have a rateable value

Any grant or loan which relies on a rateable value automatically excludes those which do not pay rates by virtue of the arrangement on which they rent their business premises or operate. For example, my own constituency office is in a shared building in which there are many previously thriving businesses. Rates are paid by the building management company, so none of the businesses pay rates directly and cannot claim grants.

This particularly affects small businesses in serviced offices and co-working spaces, especially small companies in the creative and digital industries, often in the early stages when life is precarious enough. Nonetheless, there is often a good business model underpinning these businesses.

Please find a way to include businesses with no rateable value or rate rebate in the system of grants and loans.

  1. Banks allegedly not operating the CBILS properly

Some of the businesses in my constituency are reporting that bank staff do not seem to be aware of the CBILS guidance and that some are expecting guarantees and other requirements which do not seem to meet the spirit and purpose of the CBILS. This is leaving smaller businesses in real difficulties. I’ve directed them to the banks which have contacted me to confirm they are not requiring guarantees but I’m still concerned about those anomalies affecting some businesses not in touch with me.

What guidance have you issued to banks about the scheme and what further actions can you take to ensure the scheme is being operated as the government intended?

I’d appreciate a response to the above suggestions as soon as possible, as my constituents are really struggling and extremely worried.

Secondly, for your information and in case you have some of the answers, my questions to the Chancellor.

Business support – questions for Chancellor and copied to Secretary of State for DWP

  1. Can you consider giving specific assistance for these people who are usually continuously employed but on a series of PAYE contracts and therefore not qualified for either scheme?
  2. I know we can’t afford to pay for everyone but can you please consider a tapering arrangement for the SEISS so that self-employed people can be recompensed fairly?
  3. If it is not possible to change the cap for self-employed people as above, would you consider offering a grant for dentists as way to support some of the necessary fees dentists must pay to continue their practice?
  4. Please find a way to include businesses with no rateable value or rate rebate in the system of grants and loans.
  5. Please extend support mechanisms to businesses who directly rely on supplying the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors.
  6. What assistance are you providing for company directors who are usually on an income below the SEISS threshold of £50,000?
  7. What assistance can you provide for people who are only recently self-employed but can demonstrate that their self-employment is genuine?
  8. What assistance can you provide to women whose recent average earnings have been reduced by a period of maternity leave?
  9. Please can you find a way to compensate people living off a mixture of employment on PAYE and genuine self-employment?

I hope you understand that in the absence of Parliament and the associated opportunities to raise concerns and offer suggestions to government, writing a long letter like this feels like the only option I have to fight for my local economy and businesses.

Take care in these difficult times.

Yours sincerely,

Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West


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