Labour calls on Ministers to set out clear blueprint for business ahead of 2nd December or risk many going bust in Winter crisis
Labour is today calling on the Government to set out a clear blueprint for business so they know what restrictions they will face after the 2nd December – the provisional date when the national lockdown will end. Labour is setting out that the Business Secretary should come to the Commons by Wednesday at the latest, with one week to go until lockdown ends, to give businesses clarity about how and whether they will be able to operate.
For many shut down businesses, including those in the hospitality, retail and beauty sectors, December is a critical month with profits from Christmas trade supporting them through the winter. Non-food retailers take a fifth of their annual turnover in November and December, twice that in January and February.
With many firms facing a Winter cash crisis, after a year of tumbling turnover, Labour argues that it is critical for government to set out when businesses will know if they are allowed to re-open, on what basis they will be able to re-open, and under what restrictions, so that they can plan.
Labour is therefore asking Ministers:
- What the criteria is for the national lockdown ending and businesses reopening.
- To decide, and announce, with at least one week’s notice whether or not businesses can reopen from 2nd December – allowing businesses to forward plan, stock up, notify staff and begin taking bookings.
- Whether the guidelines for businesses that were in in place before the national lockdown will remain the same; and if not, when the new guidance will be issued.
- What financial support will be available for businesses in different Tiers, and how Ministers will plug the gaps for those excluded, including the self-employed.
Every day of lost trade threatens business viability at a crucial time of year. With only three weekends before Christmas in December, businesses cannot afford to only be told at the last minute whether the lockdown will end; whether guidance will change; and in what tier or under what social restrictions they will be operating. Hospitality businesses need days to restock, brewers need time to brew beer, hairdressers and beauty salons need to make bookings in advance, restaurants need to know who they can take bookings from, and suppliers need to be prepared, and all businesses need to know whether to take staff off furlough. According to the ONS there are more than 160,000 businesses reliant on bookings and Christmas trade who particularly need advance notice to reopen – including beauty salons and hairdressers, pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, and event caterers.
Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to focus on the country, not the “Downing Street psychodrama” and make sure businesses and workers are made aware of any changes in a managed way, through a statement to Parliament, or at the bi-weekly press conferences – rather than on the front pages of national newspapers the night before the 2nd.
Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Minister, said:
“Businesses are at the end of their tether and have very little slack in their budgets to risk reopening without a clear plan, due to mixed messages from government hitting cashflow and confidence.
“That’s why Ministers must end the dither and delay and urgently set out a blueprint for businesses desperate to plan ahead. The Prime Minister has wasted weeks on the Number 10 psychodrama, instead of putting a clear plan in place.
“This Government’s incompetence has cost struggling businesses far too much. Gaps in support mean many face a bleak Winter, whilst late guidance and shifting sands because Ministers haven’t got a grip on the virus, threaten the futures of so many more.”
Rachel Reeves comments on the NAO Investigation into government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic
Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, commenting on the NAO Investigation into government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic, said:
“This report confirms that this Tory government’s approach to procurement has fallen far short of what this country deserves. Lessons must be learned.
“The National Audit Office has shown how, at best, this incompetent government can’t even get basic paperwork right.
“At worst, that the government may be deliberately attempting to cover their tracks, avoid scrutiny or withhold information from the public while wasting taxpayer money.
“From paying for useless PPE to a maintaining Serco’s failed contract tracing system, we have seen disastrous decisions which have squandered public money and held back our country’s response to Covid-19.
“The country deserves to have confidence their money is being spent effectively by the government – and to know without doubt that friends and donors to the Conservative party aren’t profiting from this pandemic.”
Labour calls for emergency legislation to “stamp out dangerous anti-vax content”
Ahead of the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine, Labour has today called on the Government to urgently bring forward legislation that would include financial and criminal penalties for companies that fail to act to “stamp out dangerous anti-vaccine content”.
Ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport this week refused to say how many posts and groups the unit tasked with tackling online disinformation has reported.
But analysis by the Labour Party reveals that dedicated anti-vaccination groups with hundreds of thousands of members on social media are still churning out disinformation – despite the Government and social media companies’ announcement last week of new measures to tackle the issue.
Writing to the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP, Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens MP and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP warn that the spread of disinformation online presents a “real and present danger” to vaccination efforts and call on the Government to bring forward online harms legislation.
The pair say that if the Government works with Labour on the issue, the party will provide votes to pass legislation.
The Government announced an agreement with social media giants last week. But the detail of the agreement revealed that the only commitment was not to profit from or promote flagged anti-vax content, raising questions as to why these groups aren’t simply being closed down.
Labour’s analysis shows:
- Anti-vaccine social media groups unmasked by the Center for Countering Digital Hate months ago still remain open and active in spreading misinformation.
- Numerous openly anti-vaccination Facebook groups containing nearly 100,000 Facebook users can be found within seconds of logging on to the platform in the UK.
- Worryingly, anti-vaccination disinformation is spreading unchecked on newer forms of social media. On TikTok the hashtag ‘#vaccinesaredangerous’ has had almost 800,000 views – and warnings about misinformation are almost non-existent.
- The spread is not limited to social media companies: the Government’s own petitions website lays bare the growing organised threat posed by anti-vaccination groups, with dozens of anti-vaccination petitions, some with almost 200,000 signatories.
- Videos featuring prominent anti-vaxxers on YouTube are still featuring advertising generating income for the platform.
- Groups engaged with tackling extremists warn that anti-vaccination conspiracy is proving ripe recruiting ground for the far right.
Jo Stevens MP, Labour’s Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, said:
“The Government has a pitiful track record on taking action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation. It has been clear for years that this is a widespread and growing problem and the Government knows, because Labour has been warning them for some time, that it poses a real threat to the take up of the vaccine.
“This is literally a matter of life and death and anyone who is dissuaded from being vaccinated because of this is one person too many.”
Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said:
“Despite Big Tech’s promises, Google is still funding anti-vax misinformation websites by placing advertisements on them, while Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube give well-known anti-vaxxers a platform to spread dangerous conspiracy theories and lies to millions of users.
“Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Big Tech has made bold claims of intent, but failed to follow through with effective action. It is vital that there are sanctions when social media companies fail to fulfil their duty of care to users and society at large. The Government must stop falling for Big Tech’s excuses, and introduce financial and criminal penalties for failures that lead to serious harm.
“We have all done our bit to contain Coronavirus. It’s beyond time for social media companies and regulators to do their bit too.”
- The Government this week refused to say how many posts and groups the unit tasked with tackling online disinformation has reported https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2020-11-10/113582
- Petitions on the Government’s website around vaccines have attracted nearly 200,000 signatures https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/323442
- Last year the UK was stripped of its measles-free status. This was linked to ‘‘fears that growing numbers of people are not getting immunised because of “dangerous” myths about vaccines.’ Link
- Latest figures show that fewer children are being vaccinated against potentially fatal illnesses. The number of children receiving the five in one vaccine (which whooping cough is part of) also fell to 95.1% of children, the lowest rate since 2008.
Rachel Reeves demands clarity from the government over the award of the contract to Admiral
Over £130 million has been spent on communications consultancies since January. The amount does not include existing spend on special advisors and civil servants working on communications and press. 23 different communications consultancies have been used by the UK Government since the year began. A majority of this spend is also with a single agency, Manning Gottleib OMD, paid £113,290,408.50 in 2020 alone, as part of a four-year media buying deal with the UK Government for £600 million.
A director of the PR firm paid £670,000 to advise the government’s Covid-19 vaccine tsar is a business associate of Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings’ father-in-law.
Details of the link emerged as Boris Johnson issued a statement of support for Kate Bingham after she came under fire for the contracts with Admiral Public Relations and Marketing. According to Companies House filings, revealed by the Financial Times and HuffPost UK, Admiral’s officers include public relations professional Georgina Collingwood Cameron and Angus Collingwood Cameron, who is company secretary. Mr Collingwood Cameron is also listed as director since 2004 of Chillingham Castle Wild Cattle Association, alongside the castle’s owner Sir Humphry Wakefield, whose daughter Mary is married to Mr Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser.
Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves demanded clarity from the government over the award of the contract to Admiral, which was made without competitive tendering. “These revelations raise yet more serious questions about how taxpayer money is being spent during the pandemic and how the government is being run,” said Ms Reeves. “The public deserve urgent answers as to how a small PR agency with close links to the PM's closest advisor was simply gifted such a large contract – and what exactly was delivered for such a price tag. We know Dominic Cummings doesn’t think the rules apply to him, but this is no way to treat taxpayer money. The prime minister must be transparent about the processes he has put in place to allow such potential breaches of public trust.”
Venture capitalist Ms Bingham – the wife of Tory minister, South Herefordshire MP, Jesse Norman – was appointed in the summer to head the government’s vaccine task force and is understood to be leaving the role next month. She faced criticism for discussing the government’s investment priorities in vaccines with US financiers at a $200-a-head event. The Sunday Times revealed this weekend that she had hired Admiral to provide PR services, despite having access to civil service press officers.
Over £130 million has been spent on communications consultancies since January. 23 different communications consultancies have been used by the UK Government since the year began.
As questions swirl around the Government’s decision to spend £670,000 on PR consultants for one official, the analysis reveals the amount of taxpayer money being spent on agencies – including many with established links to senior Tories.
The amount doesn’t include existing spend on special advisors and civil servants working on communications and press.
A majority of this spend is also with a single agency, Manning Gottleib OMD, paid £113,290,408.50 in 2020 alone, as part of a four-year media buying deal with the UK Government for £600 million.
The figures also show how spend peaked at £36 million in July, with close to £35 million spent in September.
The Government’s spend on outsourced consultancies during Covid-19 has come under question, after it was revealed that some consultants were being paid up to £7,000 a day.