New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: The Chancellor will know that food and drink wholesalers – such as Harvest Fine Foods in my constituency – supply both the hospitality sector, where 70% of sales are made, and the public sector, where the other 30% are made. With the closure and reduction of much of the hospitality sector, and without any targeted Government support, wholesalers are on the verge of collapse, and, with that, the supply of food to institutions such as care homes, prisons, schools and hospitals is at immediate risk. Will he or the Financial Secretary therefore meet the Federation of Wholesale Distributors to discuss  the need for business rates relief to be extended to wholesalers to prevent the dire scenario of the public sector finding – 

[Mr Speaker: Order. Dr Julian Lewis, you know better than to take advantage of me; it is not fair to others. Who wants to answer the question?

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Steve Barclay): It is in order to address such pressures that we have set out such a comprehensive package of support that applies universally, including to the businesses to which my right hon. Friend refers. Through his question, he points to another substantive point, which is that suppliers supply to different sectors. One of the challenges with the Opposition’s proposals to extend the furlough was that they were never clear which sector they wanted to extend it to. The fact that suppliers supply multiple sectors, including the public sector, is a good illustration of why that proposal is flawed.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi: The Chancellor will be aware that wholesalers play a fundamental role in the food and drink supply chain, and, among other things, provide vital resources to our schools, hospitals and care homes; yet many are still struggling and do not have enough Government support. Bidfood, which is based in my Slough constituency, has seen an almost 50% downturn in its sales volumes, and has been forced to make 7% of its workforce redundant. Why has this company been ignored? Given the increased lockdown measures that are proposed, what measures will the Chancellor put in place to support struggling wholesalers 

Mr Speaker: Order. Chancellor, I have cut the hon. Gentleman short. I have done you a favour; now, do not take advantage.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman raises a similar point to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) –in a co-ordinated attack. Such businesses have not been ignored. I appreciate that they are treated slightly differently from the hospitality businesses which they serve, but, for the reasons that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out, it is tricky when there are businesses involved in the supply chain. The hon. Gentleman talked specifically about the business in his constituency facing reduced demand. The job support scheme is specifically there for businesses that are open but facing a reduced demand. That will allow them, rather than making redundancies, to receive a wage subsidy from the Government to help top up those employees’ wages. I hope that the company will look at that.]