“We went big, we went early” the Chancellor said, describing the £407 billion package of support put in place as the pandemic took hold a year ago.
Last week, Rishi Sunak set out much more detail in the Budget about what’s going to happen over the coming year to help the economy bounce back, as the vaccine rollout continues at pace and restrictions ease. I know people often find politics tedious and adversarial, but the Budget is one of those set piece events in Parliament where decisions taken affect everyone – jobs, livelihoods, and businesses alike.
So, what does the Budget mean for East Devon?
First of all, the welcome extension of the furlough scheme to September will help keep thousands of staff on the books.
Around 7,400 people in the East Devon constituency – stretching from Sidmouth to Exmouth and up to St Loyes in Exeter – are currently on the scheme. This extension provides peace of mind that as the economy reopens this summer their jobs are better protected.
While furlough usually grabs all the headlines, I’ve been in touch with some people in East Devon who have not been technically eligible for some of the support out there to date, not least those who became self-employed last year. This group will now be eligible for the self-employed grants now that 2019/20 tax returns have been submitted. Fantastic news.
Overall, the biggest win in the Budget is for our hospitality industry, who will receive new restart grants and business rate relief. Crucially, the extension of the VAT cut to 5% for hospitality and tourism is something I’ve been calling for over several months and I raised it directly with the PM and the Chancellor in Parliament and every opportunity I had.
Unless you’re in the trade running one of our fantastic cafés, restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, or pubs in our area, you might not of heard of this tax relief covering food, drink, tickets and bookings. But it’s a real game-changer for an industry hit hard by the pandemic – allowing them to cut prices for customers or make better operating margins.
Straight after the Budget, I joined a call with local hoteliers and traders in Sidmouth and surrounding areas, who were pleased with the measures set out to support hospitality in the Budget. I’m acutely aware, however, that when all of our high street properly re-opens doors from 17th May, they cannot be hampered by unnecessary restrictions. I didn’t support some of the restrictions they’ve faced including the curfew and that's why I didn't vote for it when it first appeared before Parliament last September. I’m glad these will be gone when our hospitality industry reopens in the sunshine.
East Devon businesses have been some the safest environments out there and people should have every confidence of going back, meeting friends and family, or just having a quiet drink after what has been an exceptionally difficult year.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 10th March 2021 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.