This week, Neil spoke in the budget debate. He praised the tireless efforts of NHS workers, local authorities and charities in their response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Neil called upon the Government to cut bureaucracy to ensure COVID-19 support funding is readily available and distributed quickly.
He also praised the Government’s further Budget announcements, including a £2.5 billion pothole fund, no red diesel tax for farmers, £1.5 billion for Further Education Colleges and a further £5.3 billion for flood defences.
"It is a great pleasure to speak in this Budget debate… I welcome the Chancellor’s first Budget. He came into the hot seat and delivered an excellent Budget, but the coronavirus has meant that the six days from the time that he delivered the Budget to now is a long time, so I look forward to his statement this evening.
I am encouraged by the tireless efforts of NHS staff, and I very much pay tribute to what the previous member just said: we need to thank medical staff throughout the NHS for all the excellent work that they are doing to tackle coronavirus because it is unprecedented, though we can make all sorts of predictions. We need to be out there and sort it out. That is why the Government have introduced clear measures that will help.
We are going to come under greater pressure over the coming weeks and months, so I welcome the £5 billion emergency response outlined in the Budget. The funding will ensure that the NHS will receive the support that it needs. Even with that large sum of money, we will probably need to keep it under review. I welcome, too, the Government’s commitment to support local councils—the £500 million hardship fund will help local authorities to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. The Government, however, must ensure that that funding is readily available and distributed quickly. We must cut bureaucracy to ensure that individuals and businesses get the support that they need. Very often, we are laudable in this place—Governments of all colours always want to take action—but we must make sure that we take action quickly.
Many local businesses have contacted me rightly to express concern about how COVID-19 will affect them. Government measures to suspend business rates and refund sick-pay payments for smaller firms are welcome, but the Government need to be ready to provide more emergency payments to support those businesses. My fear, especially for smaller and, indeed, all types of businesses, is that if they cannot pay their bills the knock-on effect on all other businesses and employees will be huge. This is unprecedented, and we need to take action.
The scientific knowledge and understanding of the virus are constantly changing. We need to ensure that the Government have the flexibility to adapt as the situation unfolds. Across Devon, we have seen an outpouring of offers of support for all those affected. I wish all charities and organisations well across the country, especially in my constituency, so that they come together and keep communities together, because we will very much need to do so through this very, very challenging time."
You can view the full speech here.