Just over a week ago on Tuesday 10th November three Conservative MPs asked one of their Ministers a very simple question. Sadly his response was disappointing on several fronts. He is Alok Sharma and his role is head (Secretary of State) of the Department called Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The people all asked the same question were Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire), Jack Bereton (Stoke on Trent, South) and Nusrat Ghani (Wealden). The question was “What steps his Department is taking to support the manufacturing sector” and although I don’t work in the manufacturing sector, nevertheless I do work in the Wealden District in the Business sector so I am familiar with Nusrat Ghani who I have met a couple of times. Once when she came to our company and once when she came to the Chamber of Commerce in Uckfield where our company is based. The first response from Alok Sharma was actually positive if a bit basic in terms of content.
I want to thank those in the manufacturing sector for the brilliant work they are doing to support the economy and keep it going. Despite the national restrictions, the manufacturing and construction sectors can continue to operate and are doing so. Thus far, the manufacturing sector has benefited from about £5 billion of furlough grants and £4 billion of government-backed loans.
The business I work in can be nominally described as part of the construction sector and certainly we have worked throughout both of the lockdown periods to an extent along with extensive benefits from the Furlough arrangements. So we do understand this initial response. However all of the three Conservative MPs were able to ask second questions and as it happens the second question from Nusrat Ghani and the answer from Alok Sharma demonstrated his broad lack of understanding.
NG: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. I wish to seek further assurances on behalf of my three local chambers of commerce—Hailsham, Crowborough and Uckfield. What further support can be provided for small and medium-sized manufacturing firms in my constituency, not only during covid, but during transition next year?
AS: I know that my hon. Friend works closely with her three local chambers of commerce in Hailsham, Crowborough and Uckfield. On planning for transition, whatever our future trading relationship with the European Union things will change for businesses and they do need to prepare. My Department and my fellow Ministers and I have been communicating and engaging directly with businesses, and we will continue to do so.
There were two element of the response from Sharma that were a bit concerning and one that what deeply concerning. The first few words relate to the fact that although Nusrat Ghani has been to our Chamber of Commerce on at least one occasion, but she also cancelled another visit to the Chamber so she could organise her own event specifically for businesses in her constituency that she wanted to promote her political party to. She certainly doesn’t work closely with Uckfield or any of the other Chamber of Commerce’s. Equally the last few words were concerning which was a claim that his Department and his fellow Ministers have been engaging directly with businesses. I am sure that they do engage with businesses such as JCB and Wren Kitchens and others that help to fund their party, in the same way as Nusrat Ghani attempted to get funding from businesses in our area. However there are certainly no indications that the Government is engaging with businesses outside of their political network in a meaningful way. However the really concerning element was the item in the middle in bold. On Thursday of this week which was just over a week after this discussion, there was a deadline for our Government to publish their deal with the EU. Sadly they missed that deadline and there are no indications of when it will be achieved. The challenge is that we now have approximately 6 weeks to go before we leave the EU. We have not struck a deal yet and the website from Sharma’s Department tells Businesses to assume the worst and that there will be no deal. Unfortunately that will be devastating for our own business and many others. The Website tells all businesses to assume their will be new rules for businesses on the 1st January, but the reality is that if there is a trade deal, the rules will become very different depending on what the deal will be. The crucial issue is that we need a credible business Minister to get hold of his colleagues and force them into making a deal with the EU or else we will be in a real mess on 1st January. Anyway here are some of the actions we need to adopt until then which come from Sharma’s website!
Changes for businesses and citizens
You need to act now if you’re:
- importing goods from the EU
- exporting goods to the EU
- moving goods to or from Northern Ireland
- travelling to the EU
- living and working in the EU
- staying in the UK if you’re an EU citizen
Get the complete list of what you need to do for you, your business and your family.