Emergency Energy Tariff
I am aware of the impact that global energy price rises have had on consumers, and I welcome the action taken by the Government to support the most vulnerable.
To support consumers, the Government is maintaining the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) until April 2024. As you may know, the EPG limits the amount that consumers can be charged per unit of gas or electricity. Although energy prices are currently below the level at which EPG payments would be made, its continuation through winter will protect consumers from price spikes.
Alongside this, the Government is providing targeted support to the most vulnerable. At the Autumn Statement 2022, the Government announced a substantial support package for the most vulnerable for 2023/24, including £300 of Cost of Living Payments for Pensions, a £150 Cost of Living Payments for those in receipt disability benefits, and £900 of Cost of Living Payments for those on means tested benefits. Additionally, to empower local authorities to provide discretionary support to those most in need, the Government has provided £1 billion of extra funding to the Household Support Fund, bringing the total of the Fund to £2.5 billion.
Moreover, as you may know, benefits and the state pension were increased by 10.1%, in line with inflation, in April 2023.
More broadly, to shield consumers from fluctuations in the global energy market, the Government is taking steps to safeguard Britain's energy supply and power up Britain. Alongside the measures I have outlined, the Government will bring forward legislation to reduce dependence on higher emission imports from overseas, including from countries like Russia.
I believe that, where appropriate, solar panels can put unused roof space to good use and are an important technology in helping to reduce carbon emissions. I would like to assure constituents that the Government is committed to widespread deployment of rooftop solar.
I understand that the Government’s ambition for 70 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2035 will require a significant increase in both ground mount and rooftop solar. Ministers have been clear that the extensive deployment of rooftop solar on domestic, industrial and commercial property to make effective use of available surfaces is a priority.
You may be interested to know that the Government held a consultation seeking views on simplifying planning for installing rooftop solar. This includes proposals for a new permitted development right which would enable the construction of solar canopies in ground level non domestic car parks without a full planning application. In addition, the Government is seeking to bring more properties into scope of existing permitted development rights to install rooftop solar panels on domestic and non domestic buildings. I look forward to reading the consultation outcome.
While I share your view that rooftop solar has an important role to play in helping us decarbonise the power sector, it is worth noting that the suitability of solar panels on rooftops is limited by the type of building and its location around the country. Some roofs are not suitable for solar panels due to structural strength or the direction of the building. To help households who would like to install solar panels, VAT has been cut on energy saving materials. In addition, the Government has set out plans to significantly reduce energy use in new homes and new non domestic buildings from 2025. As a first step towards this standard, an interim uplift to energy efficiency requirements is in force and the Government anticipates most developers will comply with the requirements by installing solar panels on new buildings.
I have been assured that the Solar Taskforce will focus on further measures to unlock the potential of rooftop solar.
Onshore Wind (Planning)
Protecting the beauty and local amenity of our countryside, especially here in North Devon, is something I consider with the utmost importance. At the same time, I recognise the need to boost our national capacity for renewable energy.
I therefore welcome that the Government has introduced changes to the planning system in England so planning permission for onshore wind would depend upon a project commanding local support and being able to satisfactorily address any impacts identified by the local community. These changes were consulted upon earlier this year.
I appreciate that there are a range of views on onshore wind, which is why I agree with Ministers that local authorities, who know their areas best, are best placed to make decisions on onshore wind. Under the new planning measures, it will be possible to take forward onshore wind projects where they can demonstrate local support and address planning impacts identified by the community. I understand that local authorities will be able to more flexibly address the planning impact of onshore wind projects as identified by local communities, with further government guidance set to be published on this.
The Government has been clear that local areas that support hosting onshore wind should directly benefit. A separate consultation has been held on proposals for improved rewards and benefits to be offered to communities backing onshore wind farms, including potential energy bill discounts. I understand that the responses received are being thoroughly analysed and the consultation outcome is expected later this year.
It is encouraging to know that renewable energies fuelled 42% of the UK’s electricity generation in 2022, up from seven per cent in 2010. Onshore wind is one of the most cost effective electricity generating technologies and an important part of our energy mix, so I welcome the Government's action to ensure onshore wind projects supported by local people can be approved more quickly.
I supported clauses in the Energy Bill to ensure this progresses not because I am keen for further large windfarms to be developed here - I believe we have housed our share. I am keen for individual turbines to power particularly our vital farmers, so they can proceed without a single objection blocking them.
Regarding energy, the Government remains firmly committed to its net zero target. However, oil and gas will be required in the transition to net zero; simply turning off the taps would mean we would have to import oil and gas, leaving us susceptible to global circumstances. I am reassured that supporting the production of domestic oil and gas in the nearer term will be coupled with the accelerated deployment of wind, new nuclear, solar and hydrogen energy.
When it comes to food, I am assured that the UK is largely self sufficient in many products. Overall, we produce 61% of all the food we need and 74 per cent of that which we are able to grow in the UK. This has been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and the Government’s Food Strategy commits to keeping it at broadly that level in future, with the potential to increase it in areas such as seafood and horticulture.
Further, significant investments are being made across the food system. This includes more than £120 million in the seafood fund; £270 million across the farming innovation programme; and £11 million to support new research to drive improvements in understanding the relationship between food and health. My ministerial colleagues have assured me that the Food Strategy will set the UK on a path to boosted food production, ensuring that everyone has access to healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food.
I also note your calls for wildlife and habitats to receive robust protection. The Environment Act 2021 is a robust piece of legislation through which Ministers have set targets to tackle some of the biggest pressures facing our environment. They will ensure progress on clean air, clean and plentiful water, less waste and more sustainable use of our resources, a step change in tree planting, a better marine environment, and a more diverse, resilient and healthy natural environment. In addition, the Act includes a new, historic legally binding target to halt the decline in species by 2030, as a core part of the Government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. I welcome that the final targets were published and then approved by Parliament earlier this year.
Finally, the transport decarbonisation plan sets out how the UK plans to decarbonise public transport by 2050. The Government is accelerating the rollout of zero emission buses and trains in order to deliver this; twelve hundred miles of railway have been electrified in England and Wales since 2010, and 4000 zero emission buses have been funded across the UK.
Green New Deal
I would like to assure constituents that the Government is fully committed to reaching net zero by 2050. Ministers are taking a pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach to meeting net zero. The UK is committed to meeting our obligations under the agreements made in Paris and Glasgow to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The UK is going far beyond other countries in terms of our 2030 decarbonisation target and the transition to clean energy, delivering tangible progress while bringing down energy bills.
Further, I know that the Government is going further for both households and investors by embracing new green industries. This includes bringing forward new reforms to energy infrastructure which will give the industry certainty, speed up planning for the most nationally significant projects to ensure that strategically important projects, or those ready first, will connect first. Ministers have also committed to a target to deliver up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, ensuring the industry has confidence the UK remains the best place to invest in offshore wind. In addition, the Government has announced new Future Fellowships, which will support our leading scientists and engineers to develop real and practical green technologies and is supported by up to £150 million of new funding.
Regarding nature, the Government has legally binding targets to halt nature’s decline, clean up our air and rivers and support a circular economy. The UK played an instrumental role in a new global agreement for nature at the UN nature summit COP15 in December 2022. The Environmental Improvement Plan sets out how the Government will achieve its ambitious environmental targets and also includes a new commitment that everyone should be able to access green space or water within a 15 minute walk from their home, such as woodlands, wetlands, parks, and rivers.
My ministerial colleagues and I recognise that we cannot tackle climate change without protecting nature. I understand that the Prime Minister will set out the next stage in our ambitious environmental agenda ahead of COP28. I look forward to hearing more about this in due course.
Energy Bill - NC2 and NC3
I have been assured that the Government is committed to ensuring that unabated coal has no part to play in future power generation, which is why the Government is phasing it out of our electricity production by 2024. Coal’s share of the UK's electricity generation has already declined significantly in recent years, from almost 40% in 2012 to around 2% in 2021.
For energy security reasons, it is vital that we maintain all options that are open to us. That does not in any way impede achieving net zero. The planned phase out date of October 2024 is extant and something that the Government is working towards. However, it is important to ensure that, as part of the UK's electricity baseload, we have access to the relevant energy sources the UK's energy security before this date. Therefore I cannot support these amendments.
International Climate Finance
Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet and tackling it is the number one thematic foreign policy priority of HM Government (HMG), in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 13.
UK ICF supports developing countries to reduce poverty and respond to the challenges caused by climate change and environmental degradation. Investments help developing countries to adapt and build resilience to the current and future effects of climate change; pursue low carbon development; support sustainable management of natural resources; increase access to clean energy; and reduce deforestation.
Already, it is evident the UK's ICF is successfully supporting developing countries to counter these climate related challenges. Indeed, I welcome HMG’s ICF Strategy, published in March 2023, that presents the headline achievements of ICF since 2011. The Report confirms that UK ICF has supported 95 million people in adapting to the effects of climate change, improved the access of clean energy for 58 million people, and saved 410,000 hectares of land from deforestation.
Under the UK’s COP Presidency, almost all developed country climate finance providers made new, forward-looking climate finance commitments, with many doubling or even quadrupling support for developing countries to take climate action. One year on, the Climate Finance Delivery Plan Progress Report has reaffirmed that the climate finance goal will be met by developed countries by 2023 latest, with over $500 billion mobilised over the five year period 2021 to 2025.
In support of this, HMG committed to, and is delivering on, doubling its ICF spend to £11.6 billion between April 2021 and March 2026, compared with the previous five-year commitment of £5.8 billion between April 2016 and March 2021. So far, the UK has spent over £1.4 billion ICF in the financial year 2021/22 and figures for the financial year 2022/23 will be published in 2022/23. However, recognising the existential threat climate change is already posing around the world, the Prime Minister has used COP27 to announce that this Government will commit to triple funding for climate adaptation as part of that budget, from £500m in 2019 to £1.5bn in 2025.
The Foreign Secretary also attended COP27, and used the summit to call for tangible action to deliver on the commitments made at COP26. Leading the way, he announced a range of significant UK investments worth more than £100 million, including £20.7 million in Disaster Risk Financing.
Another significant outcome of COP27 was the establishment of the Transitional Committee under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to develop recommendations on new funding arrangements for responding to loss and damage. The UK continues to play a leading role by encouraging all members of the Committee and other parties to the UNFCCC to consider how new and additional resources can be delivered to support vulnerable countries in the future.
In addition, the UK confirmed new financial support for Egypt’s flagship COP27 initiative, the ‘Nexus on Food, Water and Energy’. This funding will help to develop projects, including solar parks and energy storage innovations, and is expected to mobilise billions in private sector finance.
While there is more global work to be done in the coming years, I am confident that the world will look back at the progress achieved at COP26 and thereafter as the beginning of the end of climate change.
Energy Charter Treaty
The UK is committed to addressing the urgent need for climate action at home and abroad through our ambitious net zero targets and international commitments. The new clause would initiate procedures for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the energy charter treaty. The Government completely recognises that the treaty needs to be updated to reflect the current energy landscape, which is why we worked hard for two years at negotiating to modernise it.
Britain has long advocated modernisation of this treaty, recognising the urgent need to address climate change and align the treaty with modern energy priorities, international treaty practice and climate commitments. In its unmodernised form, the treaty is focused on trade and investment in fossil fuels. Some major renewable energy technologies are outside its scope. Ministers wanted to bring the treaty into line with modern energy priorities, international treaty practice and international commitments on climate change. Unfortunately, the European Union and its member states were unable to endorse the adoption of modernisation at the energy charter conference.
Since the adoption of modernisation was postponed at the Energy Charter Conference in November 2022, my colleagues have been closing monitoring developments on treaty modernisation, including the positions of contracting parties such as the EU.
In a context that continues to develop near weekly, Ministers are carefully assessing how to take forward their priorities in relation to the treaty, but the Government cannot accept the new clause, which would require the UK to initiate procedures to withdraw.
The Energy Charter Treaty and the UK's Climate Goals
Britain has long advocated modernisation of this treaty, recognising the urgent need to address climate change and align the treaty with modern energy priorities, international treaty practice and climate commitments. In its unmodernised form, the treaty is focused on trade and investment in fossil fuels. Some major renewable energy technologies are outside its scope.
I understand that since the adoption of modernisation was postponed at the Energy Charter Conference in November 2022, my colleagues have been closing monitoring developments on treaty modernisation, including the positions of contracting parties such as the EU. This is an evolving situation and it is right that ministers assess it carefully in advance of further international talks. It is also important that the views of civil society, business and Parliament are used to inform an appropriate response.
I am informed that the Government holds regular meetings with members of the treaty modernisation group with future meetings due in the summer and the annual Energy Charter Conference due in late 2023. I am told Parliament will be kept informed of relevant developments regarding the UK’s position and will ensure to follow this matter closely.
High Street Rental Auctions (Pubs)
I recognise how valuable our pubs are to the many people who enjoy them. Not only are they important parts of local economies, but they also bring people together and are the very lifeblood of our communities.
It is always disheartening to see a pub forced to close its doors permanently. I completely understand that closures can be hard for owners and communities. I also recognise the very real wider persistent issue of vacant high street units which the proposed new high street rental auction process is aiming to address. Shops and buildings being left vacant for prolonged periods of times is a blight to our high streets, has a direct and negative impact on footfall and risks businesses shutting down.
As you will know, the Government is consulting on the design of high street rental auctions, including a new permitted development right to allow buildings which do not fall under the Commercial, Business and Service Use Class (such as pubs) to change use as part of the new high street rental auctions process. I would encourage you to share your views. You can do this by searching:
I want to assure you that the Government has been clear that the permitted development right, if introduced, would not allow for physical works to be carried out to the premises that amount to development. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has said that: “Where such building works are necessary, a planning application or listed building consent would be required. The premises will revert to its former use at the end of the period of the lease, unless otherwise agreed and planning permission obtained…”.
It will be for individual local authorities, who know their area best, to use their discretion when it comes to using the new powers for high street rental auctions. I want to be clear that the intention of these new auctions is not to interfere with properties whose landlords are actively seeking to fill their premises, but rather to provide a tool to local authorities where vacancy rates are a significant issue and landlord cooperation is low.
There are existing mechanisms to support community groups to step in where pubs are at risk of being lost without intervention. Listing a pub as an Asset of Community Value allows communities to have up to six months to bid to buy it if it has been put for sale. In addition, the Government’s the £150 million Community Ownership Fund is helping community groups buy assets such as pubs so that they can continue to serve their local area.
I do hope that this response has provided you with some assurance. Please be assured that I will be carefully scrutinising the outcome of the Government’s consultation, and also work to ensure our local authority to support our pubs.
Amendments to the Energy Bill
The aim of the Energy Bill is to help increase the resilience and reliability of energy systems across the UK, support the delivery of the UK’s climate change commitments and reform the UK’s energy system while minimising costs to consumers and protecting them from unfair pricing. To enable this, the Bill is structured around three key pillars: liberating investment in clean technologies, reforming the UK’s energy system so it is fit for the future, and maintain the safety, security and resilience of the UK’s energy system.
More specifically, the Bill includes provisions to ensure market frameworks and governance arrangements are geared towards strengthening energy security and becoming a net zero energy system while minimising costs to consumers. This includes reforming the current energy code governance framework including granting Ofgem new functions to provide strategic direction and oversight on codes and creating a new class of more independent code managers to deliver an improved system for consumers and competition.
Regarding the hydrogen levy, its precise impact on energy bills will depend on future policy design choices and market conditions. This means there is currently uncertainty regarding possible consumer bill impacts. I supported my Honourable Friend, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and other MPs from the Conservative Environment Network to ensure that the hydrogen levy will not be put on household bills. After meeting the Secretary of State for Energy, Security and Net Zero, Grant Shapps in June, I am glad that he has confirmed that they will be no hydrogen levy on household bills/.
Finally, the Bill includes new clauses which will give the Secretary of State the power to make changes to the existing Energy Performance of Buildings regime to ensure that it is fit for purpose and reflects the UK’s ambitions on climate change, including to support achieving the UK’s target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The future Energy Performance of Premises framework will need to play an increasingly important role if the UK is to achieve this goal. Energy certificates provide consumers, building owners and occupiers, and third parties with information on the energy performance of the premises stock and support effective decision making on improving the energy efficiency of premises. I will continue to work closely with the Department to ensure that we effectively decarbonise our energy supplies as we work towards net zero.
Support for Disabled People
Please note that I do not sign any Early Day Motions (EDMs). These have no chance of becoming law, and according to the House of Commons Library, cost £271 each to publish. I do not feel that this is a good use of taxpayer’s money, nor do I feel that this is an effective way to raise an issue in Parliament.
I understand that disabled people and their families can encounter many hidden costs, from specialised equipment to travel expenditures. I therefore welcome the publication of the Health and Disability White Paper, a significant milestone demonstrating this Government's commitment to ensuring disabled people and people with health conditions can lead independent lives and fulfil their potential. It sets out an ambitious policy reform package that will transform the health and disability benefits system, including abolishing the Work Capability Assessment so that there will be only one health and disability functional assessment, the PIP assessment, which will also undergo improvements.
I also note that the Chancellor has announced that the Government is providing £1 billion of extra funding by extending the Household Support Fund to March 2024, bringing the total of the Fund to £2.5 billion. The fund has been available to local authorities in England since October, enabling them to distribute targeted funding within local areas to help those who need it most.
To help with travel costs, many local authorities also offer free or discounted fares, and I am encouraged by updates to the Access to Work programme, which enables people to access a blended offer that provides support both at home and at someone’s normal place of work.
It is vital that our welfare system supports those who need it, and I would emphasise that a record £64 billion was spent in 2022/23 on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions. I know my colleagues across Government continue to monitor research and campaigning from a wide variety of sources as they consider the future of welfare and disability policy.
The Government has published a National Disability Strategy, which focuses on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most across all aspects and phases of life, including education, housing and transport. Following a High Court ruling, 14 of the over 100 policies included in the Strategy have been paused. While the Government appeals the ruling, Ministers remain focused on their continued commitment to supporting disabled people.
Energy for All Manifesto
I appreciate the concerns constituents have raised, and please let me assure you that the Government is continuing to work tirelessly to support households with their energy bills and ensuring the UK’s transition to net zero.
The Government recognises the concerns over consumer energy bills. Throughout the winter the Government has given significant amounts of financial support to support households. With the Government paying half the energy bills of most British households.
This included a £400 grant for energy bills for all which gave households a monthly discount on their electricity bills between October 2022 to March 2023. Further, a non repayable £150 cash rebate is being provided for homes in Council Tax bands A-D, equivalent to 80 per cent of all households and £144 million of discretionary funding for local authorities to support those not eligible for the council tax rebate. This means that hard working families will receive £550 with lower income families receiving even more help.
The Government will continue providing this year’s cost of living payments and next year it will provide extra one off payments of £900 for the 8 million households on means tested benefits. Furthermore, as announced in the Spring Budget, the Energy Price Guarantee has been extended at £2,500 for an additional three months to the end of June 2023 to further support households with energy bills.
However, the Government recognises there is still more to be done to support households and further support our transition to net zero. Furthermore, UK levy funded support for renewable power since 2010 has totalled around £80 billion. In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor also announced an unprecedented £20 billion investment in the early development of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), to help meet the Government’s climate commitments.
The Government does not give any subsidies to fossil fuels, and follows the approach of the International Energy Agency, which defines fossil fuel subsidies as measures that reduce the effective price of fossil fuels below world market prices. The Government has further committed to phasing out global fossil fuel subsidies, and to further changing the way oil and gas is licensed in the UK.
The Powering Up Britain has further reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to phase out fossil fuels. It will reduce the reliance on imported fossil fuels, while boosting home grown renewable energy. To achieve this the Government will continue to support the energy sector to move away from expensive and dirty fossil fuels. However, I am sure you can understand that we cannot simply pull the plug on all fossil fuels overnight without this having a huge consequences all over Europe. However, the Government is going to make better use of the oil and gas in the UK by giving the energy fields of the North Sea a new lease of life. You may also welcome that between 1990 and 2019 the UK decarbonised faster than any other country in the G7.
To ensure that energy companies pay their fair share, the Chancellor increased the energy profits levy from 25 to 35 per cent in the Autumn Statement and will apply until 2028 even if energy prices fall. With over £39.9 billion raised from windfall taxes in the medium term. The Government believes that the current rate is balanced and fair and will not deter investment.
Ensuring that homes are heat efficient is vital. The Government is investing £6.6 billion over this Parliament on clean heat and improving energy efficiency in buildings, reducing our reliance on fossil fuel heating. In addition, £6 billion of new Government funding will be made available from 2025 to 2028.
Warm This Winter Campaign
I understand anxiety over rising prices and inflation. I want to assure you that the Government will continue to listen and ensure that the policies in place help those who need it most.
Covid-19 and Putin’s war in Ukraine have caused immense challenges for our country, with energy prices rising and families facing significant cost of living pressures.
I therefore welcome the Government’s action on energy bills. The Government is maintaining the Energy Price Guarantee at £2,500 until June 2023, saving the average household £160 for this period. This measure will ensure that households are supported through spring when energy costs are expected to remain high and until the effects of reduced wholesale prices are expected to feed through into lower household bills later this year. Taken together, the Government is subsidising around half of household energy bills.
Moreover, at the Autumn Statement 2022, the Government announced a substantial support package for the most vulnerable for 2023/24, including £300 Cost of Living Payments for pensioners, £150 for people on disability benefits, and £900 for people on means tested benefits. The Government is also providing £1 billion of extra funding by extending the Household Support Fund to March 2024, bringing the total of the Fund to £2.5 billion.
Regarding insulation, the Government provides support to households to improve their energy efficiency. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, Home Upgrade Grant, and Local Authority Delivery schemes will deliver energy efficiency upgrades to around half a million homes. With £13.3 million going across Devon as part of the Home Upgrade Grant.
The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) has also been extended until March 2026 at an increased value of £1 billion per year.
Regarding renewable energy sources, I welcome that the UK’s renewable capacity is up 500% since 2010. However, in recognition that more must be done, the Government is accelerating renewables with annual Contract for Difference auctions. I want to be clear that the more cheap, clean power we generate here in the UK, the less exposed we will be to global gas markets.
Moreover, the recently introduced Energy Prices Bill includes powers to help address the link between high global gas prices and the cost of low carbon electricity, allowing consumers to benefit from the ‘green dividend’ of low priced clean energy.
The Government has also launched the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements. It considers a range of enduring reforms, including ways of increasing investment in low carbon capacity, making gas fired generation the price setter for electricity less often and reforms to the wholesale market so that volatile gas prices do not set the price of cheaper renewables, which could have the effect of decoupling gas and electricity prices.
Protecting the beauty and local amenity of our countryside is something I consider with the utmost importance. At the same time, I fully appreciate the need to boost our national capacity for renewable energy.
That is why I welcome the Government's plans to introduce changes to the planning system in England whereby planning permission for onshore wind would depend upon a project commanding local support and being able to satisfactorily address any impacts identified by the local community. The Government consulted on these changes and I understand that responses received to the consultation are being analysed. I look forward to reading the Government's response in due course.
Separately, the Government has said that it will seek views on developing local partnerships for supportive communities to enable those who would like to host new onshore wind to benefit, for example through lower energy bills.
I appreciate that there are a range of views on onshore wind. I firmly believe that local authorities, who know their areas best, are best placed to make decisions on onshore wind sites. The Government has been clear that strong environmental protections will remain in place, with valued landscapes such as National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt protected.
Onshore wind is one of the most cost effective electricity generating technologies and already accounts for approximately a quarter of installed renewable capacity in the UK.
I am aware that buildings are responsible for around 30% of our national emissions. Decarbonising homes and buildings not only helps the UK work towards net zero emissions, but also creates an unparalleled opportunity for job creation and innovation. In fact, heat is one of the hardest things to decarbonise.
I have been assured that the Government understands the potential of heat pumps in driving down carbon emissions, as do I, and consequently has set an ambitious target of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028. A £60 million Heat Pump Ready programme will help to reach this target and provide funding for pioneering heat pump technologies.
The ambitious Heat and Buildings Strategy marks a step change in improving energy efficiency. From 2035, all new heating systems installed in UK homes will either use low carbon technologies, such as electronic heat pumps, or will support other new technologies, such as hydrogen ready boilers, where the Government is confident fuel can be clean and green.
To encourage consumers to install low-carbon alternatives, a new £450 million three-year Boiler Upgrade Scheme will offer households £5,000 for low carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps and £6,000 for ground source heat pumps. This scheme is open to domestic and small non domestic properties, running from 2022 to 2025. More information about eligibility can be found at:
The strategy also announced that the Government is boosting funding for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, by investing a further £800 million over 2022/23 to 2024/25, and the Home Upgrade Grant, by investing a further £950 million over 2022/23 to 2024/25. This aims to improve the energy performance of low income households’ homes, support low carbon heat installations, reduce fuel poverty and build the green retrofitting sector to benefit all homeowners. More broadly, the strategy will support 240,000 green skilled jobs by 2035 and deliver £6 billion Gross Value Added by 2030.
Most recently, the Government has announced a new long-term commitment to drive improvements in energy efficiency to bring down bills for households, businesses and the public sector with an ambition to reduce the UK’s final energy consumption from buildings and industry by 15 per cent by 2030 against 2021 levels. New funding worth £6 billion will be made available from 2025 to 2028, in addition to the £6.6 billion provided in this Parliament. To achieve this target, a new Energy Efficiency Taskforce will be charged with delivering energy efficiency across the economy.
Mileage and Fuel Rates and Allowances
The Government sets the Approved Mileage Allowance Payments (AMAPs) rates to minimise administrative burdens. AMAP rates aim to reflect running costs including fuel, servicing and depreciation. Depreciation is estimated to constitute the most significant proportion of the AMAP rate.
Employees can claim up to 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles and the 25p per mile for subsequent miles. The mileage thresholds reflect that the AMAP rates are designed to cover both a proportion of fixed costs, such as insurance and VED, as well as ongoing costs such as fuel.
Employers are not required to use the Approved Mileage Allowance Payments (AMAP) rates. Instead, they can agree to reimburse a different amount that better reflects their employees’ circumstances. Where payments exceed the relevant AMAP rate, there will be an Income Tax and National Insurance charge on the difference. It is therefore ultimately up to employers, including individual public sector organisations, to determine the rate at which they reimburse their employees.
All elements of taxation, including mileage rates, are kept under constant review. Changes to mileage rates would be considered as part of the normal process leading up to future budgets, but I would like to see these rates increased to reflect the rapid increase in fuel prices this year and have raised with the Treasury.
I welcome that voluntary organisations are allowed to make payments under the AMAP scheme to their volunteer drivers.
Fuel Duty and Prices
In recognition of the unprecedented circumstances pushing up fuel prices, I welcome the decision announced at the Spring Statement 2022 to cut fuel duty by five pence for a full year across all fuel duty rates.
The decision to freeze fuel duty for the twelve consecutive years prior to this cut had already saved the average driver over £1,900 compared to the pre-2010 escalator.
I welcome that for the first time since 1926, money raised through car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) is now being spent directly on the roads. Around £28bn is being invested in England's strategic and local roads, an amount equivalent to all VED receipts. I was also very pleased to see the announcement in the Spending Review that £1.7 billion has been made available for local highway authorities in England (outside London) for 2021-2022 to improve the condition of local roads and associated infrastructure.
I am aware of reports regarding future fuel duty rates. No changes or decisions were made regarding fuel duty at this Autumn Statement. The figure in the OBR's commentary stems from their assumption that the temporary 12-month cut to fuel duty will end in March 2023 and that the annual indexation for fuel duty uprating is Retail Price Index, as is normal practice. The existing cut of 5 pence per litre is scheduled to remain in place until March 2023, and any changes to future rates will be made in the Spring Budget in the usual way.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Fair Fuel APPG’s Pre Budget Reception due to my other parliamentary duties, however please be assured I will continue to follow this matter closely.
Business and Human Rights
HM Government (HMG) is committed to promoting the protection and respect of human rights in business, both at home and abroad.
The UK was the first country to create a National Action Plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), widely regarded as the authoritative international framework to steer practical action by governments and businesses worldwide on this important and pressing agenda.
This plan sets out what is expected in regard to the conduct of UK businesses, including compliance with relevant laws and respect for human rights; treating the risk of causing human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue; adopting appropriate due diligence policies; and consulting those who could potentially be affected. HMG expects all UK businesses to respect human rights throughout their operations, in line with the UNGPs, including in regard to their supply chains.
As President and host of COP26, the UK has led the way on securing agreement from 141 world leaders to work together to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 under the Glasgow Leader's Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Signatory countries account for over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, including first time commitments from Brazil and China. At home, HMG has introduced world leading due diligence legislation through the Environment Act to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains.
The UK's Presidency of the G7 in 2021 and the resulting commitments from G7 members to tackle forced labour in global supply chains clearly demonstrates our country's commitment to ending modern slavery. I have no doubt that Ministers will continue these efforts going forward.
North Devon has many fantastic pubs and they are the heart of our local community so I appreciate these concerns.
The Government recognises the impact rising energy prices have on businesses of all sizes. Ofgem, the independent energy market regulator, and the Government are in regular contact with business groups and suppliers to understand the challenges and provide support. Our priority is that costs are managed and supplies maintained.
In April 2023, the Energy Bill Relief Scheme will be replaced by the Energy Bill Discount Scheme (EBDS) will run until March 2024. The EBDS will support businesses and other non-domestic customers by providing a discount on gas and electricity unit prices. Eligible consumers will receive a per unit discount to energy bills during the 12 month period from April 2023 to March 2024. The relative discount will be applied if wholesale prices are above a certain price threshold. For most non domestic energy users in Great Britain and Northern Ireland these maximum discounts have been set at:
electricity - £19.61 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a price threshold of £302 per MWh.
gas - £6.97 per MWh with a price threshold of £107 per MWh
I appreciate the calls for the introduction of a commercial energy price cap, although I am unaware of any plans by Ofgem to do this. I have signed the APPG for Beer's letter to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Statement asking for extra support for our vital pubs and hospitality businesses.
I understand that there are issues around so called self disconnecting from prepayment meters. During these challenging times, I understand that some households are struggling to keep their energy meter topped up and are therefore being disconnected from their energy supply. I would first like to say that is very distressing that so many households find themselves in this situation.
Since Ofgem’s confirmation of the first price cap rise, the Government has put forward an ambitious support package to help both lower and middle income earners with the immediate adjustment. This includes a £400 grant for energy bills for all, council tax rebates, the Energy Price Guarantee, and specific funding for low income households.
More specifically, I welcome that the Business Secretary has written an open letter to CEOs of energy companies to ensure that they are providing this support to their prepayment customers.
This comes alongside a five point plan to tackle bad behaviour by energy suppliers. The Government is calling for suppliers to voluntarily stop the practice of forced prepayment switching as the answer to households struggling to pay bills and make greater effort to help the most vulnerable. Further, it is requesting the release of supplier data on the number of warrant applications they have made to forcibly enter homes to install meters.
Additionally, list of supplier redemption rates for the Energy Bills Support Scheme vouchers will be published urgently showing who is meeting their responsibilities and who needs to do more; launching of a government public information campaign reminding and informing eligible consumers to redeem their Energy Bills Support Scheme vouchers and how to do so. This will be through both advertising and direct communication channels, targeting the most vulnerable and those most likely not to have redeemed vouchers. Finally, the Government will be coordinating with Ofgem to ensure they take a more robust approach to the protection of vulnerable customers and conduct a review to make sure suppliers are complying with rules.
As I understand it, Ofgem rules already require energy suppliers to offer a prepayment service only when it is safe and reasonably practicable to do so, and that applies whether a meter is smart or traditional. There are clear obligations on energy suppliers regarding customers in payment difficulty, and a prescribed process for occasions on which a warrant is required.
There are clear expectations for suppliers in respect of the steps to be taken before they install a prepayment meter owing to debt, or switching a smart meter from credit to prepayment mode. Those steps include conversations to discuss debt repayment, budget management and energy efficiency measures, and referrals to debt advisers and charities. Before a prepayment meter is chosen as the debt repayment pathway, its safety must be assessed, as well as the customer’s ability to pay.
On standing charges, the Government wants to ensure that the market is as competitive as possible, so that people can access fair deals and we do not get the poverty premium that I mentioned earlier. Under Ofgem rules, charges must reflect the cost of delivering the service. It can be the case that there is a higher cost to suppliers for operating supplies for those on prepayment meters. It is important that we continue to look at that to see whether there might be better ways to ensure those customers are treated more fairly.
Ofgem has rules in place that restrict the force fitting of prepayment meters on consumers in vulnerable situations. Energy suppliers are required to follow specific processes before switching a customer to a prepayment meter. This includes considerations of whether a consumer’s vulnerability makes a prepayment meter a poor choice, for example where a consumer is ill or disabled. Ofgem requires all suppliers to provide a Priority Services Register for vulnerable consumers with additional, non financial needs.
I also welcome the next stage of the Household Support Fund and cost of living payments being made available for 2023/24, including a second £150 Disability Cost of Living Payment. I would urge anybody who is concerned about making payments to contact their energy supplier, to use the benefits calculator on GOV.UK, and to look at the support for the cost of living from the Household Support Fund through their local authority.
The United Kingdom was the first major economy to legislate for net zero carbon emissions and since 2000, the UK has decarbonised faster than any other G7 country.
Protecting the beauty and local amenity of our countryside is something I consider with the utmost importance. At the same time, I fully appreciate the need to boost our national capacity for renewable energy. I understand onshore wind is a key part of the Government’s strategy for low-cost decarbonisation of the energy sector. Achieving net zero by 2050 will require increased deployment across a range of technologies, including onshore wind.
It is for this reason, as part of the new Energy Security Strategy, the Government will be consulting on developing partnerships with a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills. In addition, onshore wind prices are down 50% since 2013.
The Energy White Paper stated that there will need to be sustained growth in the capacity of onshore wind over the next decade alongside solar and offshore wind. Therefore, in March 2020 the Government announced that onshore wind and other established renewable technologies such as solar PV will be able to compete in the latest Contracts for Difference (CfD) allocation round. The round is now open and will aim to deliver up to double the renewable capacity of the last successful round in 2019 with £285 million a year.
Furthermore, the Hydrogen Strategy made clear that Scotland has a key role to play in the development of a UK hydrogen economy, with the potential to produce industrial-scale quantities of hydrogen from offshore and onshore wind resources, wave and tidal power, as well as with Carbon Capture Usage and Storage. The Energy Security Strategy also indicates that there will be 12,000 jobs in the UK hydrogen industry by 2030, 3,000 more than previously expected.
Offshore and onshore wind developers are required to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of any planning application. The Environmental Impact Assessment seeks to protect the environment by ensuring that the planning authority considers any significant effects as part of the decision-making process and that the local community are informed of any impacts.
For onshore wind projects in England, the local authority is the primary decision maker for all sizes of schemes. Planning tests were introduced in 2015 that ensure that local
communities have the final say on onshore wind farm developments. This means that a local community can raise concerns based on the publicly available information in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and a development cannot be granted permission if these concerns have not been addressed.
I appreciate that you would like to see further investment in onshore wind and I do welcome new plans to consult on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure. We have many onshore wind farms here in North Devon and I would be looking for very significant local support for any other large windfarm. However, I do believe additional turbines, again with local agreement given how windy we are, should be considered given the current issues with energy security and our pursuit of energy sovereignty, as well as the need to move away from fossil fuels as we move towards net zero.
The Energy Charter Treaty
The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which is the largest international agreement of its kind, continues to play a crucial role in promoting investment in the energy sector and fostering international cooperation on energy, including in the development of renewable energy worldwide.
For the last two years, those party to the ECT have been negotiating its modernisation to ensure that it is aligned with common climate objectives. I am encouraged by the announcement, on 24 June 2022, of an agreement to this end.
It is important to note that, as of today, the UK has never faced an investor-state dispute under the ECT that has proceeded arbitration. However, the new terms of the Treaty, due to be signed in 2022, will limit costly legal challenges from fossil fuel investors in the UK, reducing the risk to British taxpayers and ensuring the benefits of the ECT remain.
Furthermore, the modernised treaty will protect the UK Government’s sovereign right to change its own energy systems to reach emissions reductions targets in line with the Paris Agreement. It has a stronger climate focus, clarifying that states can regulate to reach emissions reductions targets, and includes new protections for green and low-carbon technologies.
The UK tabled terms which mean new investments in all types of fossil fuels lose protection under the ECT following entry into force. Existing investments in fossil fuels will lose protection under the ECT ten years after entry into force of the modernised treaty, except for existing investments in coal which would lose protection from 1 October 2024. This position includes some exceptions for abated gas, which will play a key role in the UK’s net zero transition.
Scaling up cheap renewables presents one important way in which to ensure our energy independence and green transition over the coming years. It is for this reason that I strongly welcome that, as part of the new Energy Security Strategy, ministers are looking to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, which could grow up to five times by 2035. To support solar deployment, the Government are consulting on the rules for solar projects. I understand that consultations will include changes to encourage deployment, while ensuring communities continue to have a say and environmental protections, including around land use, remain in place. I further welcome Government plans to review permitted development rights to make it easier for rooftop solar to be deployed on households, as well as public and commercial buildings.
There are several other initiatives that ministers have set out in order to achieve net zero by 2050, one of which is to increase the energy efficiency of houses, schools, hospitals, and other buildings across the country – pledging £9 billion to the cause. Recently, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a £562 million boost to make 50,000 households in social housing and domestic properties warmer and greener, including the installation of solar panels.
The Government is also extending the VAT relief available for the installation of energy saving materials (ESMs). This relief is being increased further by introducing a time-limited zero rate for the installation of ESMs. A typical family having roof top solar panels installed will save more than £1,000 in total on installation, and then £300 annually on their energy bills.
More specifically, the Government supported over 830,000 small solar projects through the Feed-in Tariff between 2010 and 2019. This has helped cut the cost of household solar panels by more than half since 2011. Now, through the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, households that use solar water heating could get money towards renewable heating costs in their home. I am pleased that more than £1 billion of the green recovery fund has been set aside to upgrade the efficiency of our buildings’ energy and heat. Additionally, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) supports small-scale low-carbon electricity generation. The SEG gives small generators, including homes with solar panels, the right to be paid for the renewable electricity they export to the grid.
Moreover, the Contracts for Difference scheme is a Government-led initiative that supports low-carbon electricity generation. This policy provides the developers of projects with high upfront costs and long lifetimes with direct protection from volatile wholesale prices to incentivise investment in renewable energy such as solar farms. The next bidding round of the scheme is now open and for the first time since 2015, established technologies, including onshore wind and solar, will be able to bid. The Government is seeking up to 12GW of electricity capacity from these technologies, with a £285 million budget. This will support investment in all parts of Great Britain, particularly Scotland and Wales.
The Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill
Mutuals, co-operatives and friendly societies make a valuable contribution to the UK economy, and I welcome the role that they and their members play in our communities. Co-operatives added £39.7 billion to the UK economy in 2021, employing over 250,000 people up and down the country.
I welcome Sir Mark Hendrick’s Bill, which will give the Government the power to create regulations to provide much-needed protections for mutuals. I will be sure to continue to engage with ministerial colleagues and others as this Bill progresses through Parliament.
I also spoke in the second reading of this Bill, details of which can be found here: www.selainesaxby.org.uk/co-operatives-mutuals-and-friendly-societies-bill-second-reading-28th-october-2022
Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions
There are strong views on this issue, and I appreciate that my position will not please everyone. The UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship, built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields.
The UK’s position on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the physical viability of a two-state solution. The UK regularly raises its concerns on this issue with the Israeli authorities and urges them to reverse their policy of settlement expansion. However, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is deeply complex: settlements are not the only obstacle to peace. The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and antisemitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
While the UK should not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel wherever necessary, I know Ministers believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution. I agree. Imposing local level boycotts can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.
The 2022 Queen's Speech set out plans to bring forward a Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill which would ban universities and local councils from organising boycotts, sanctions and disinvestment against other countries. This will stop public bodies pursuing their own foreign policy agenda with public money. I understand that the legislation will ban public bodies that are already subject to public procurement rules from conducting their own boycott campaigns against foreign countries or territories.
Foreign policy is rightly the reserve of national government. I believe that councils should prioritise securing long-term returns from their investment rather than dividing communities and making political statements. It cannot be right for councils to have the power to make divisive decisions which set different parts of the community against each other.
Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment, I am unable to attend the briefing event on 30 November. However, I would like to assure constituents that I will follow any developments surrounding the proposed Bill closely.
Support for Pubs
Pubs up and down the country, and especially here in North Devon play a vital role not only in the economy but in our local areas, supporting a sense of community and pride of place. After nearly two years of difficulties as a result of the pandemic, I am glad that pubs have returned to business as usual.
You will be reassured to know that through the new Energy Bill Relief Scheme, the Government will provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers whose current gas and electricity prices have been significantly inflated in light of global energy prices. This will include all UK businesses and will be equivalent to the Energy Price Guarantee put in place for households.
This will see the Government set a Supported Wholesale Price which is a discounted price per unit of gas and electricity. This price is expected to be £211 per MWh for electricity and £75 per MWh for gas, less than half the wholesale prices anticipated this winter.
It will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after 1 April 2022, as well as to deemed, variable and flexible tariffs and contracts. It will be applied until 31 March 2023, running for an initial 6 month period for all non-domestic energy users. The savings will be first seen in October bills, which are typically received in November.
The Government will publish a review into the operation of the scheme in three months to inform decisions on future support after March 2023. The review will focus in particular on identifying the most vulnerable non-domestic customers and how the Government will continue assisting them with energy costs.
Further the Government is freezing alcohol duty for beer, cider, wine and spirits next year and will continue with important reforms which modernise our alcohol duty system. This will save 3p off a pint of beer and 12p on a glass of wine. An 18-month transitional measure for wine duty will also be introduced. Draught relief to cover smaller kegs of 20 litres and above to help smaller breweries will also be extended.
The Government is committed to supporting our pubs and I welcome the fact that the Government’s long-term strategy for the hospitality sector includes an extension to pavement licences, making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue to make outdoor dining a reality with seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drinks. This will be implemented through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
Funding is also helping make it easier for community groups to protect and take over local assets, like pubs, which are at risk of loss without community intervention. The £150 million Community Ownership Fund allows community groups to buy assets so that they can continue to serve their local area. I am aware that rural pubs were among the local assets allocated funding in the scheme's first round, giving them a new lease of life for generations to come.
In order to ensure that the UK is no longer dependent on the global energy market and the actions of malign actors, the Government has made clear its aim to ensure the UK is a net energy exporter by 2040. As part of this ambition, the Prime Minister has announced the end of the moratorium on extracting shale extraction, where there is local support.
The wholesale price of gas and energy has increased in the UK and Europe due to various factors, including an increase in demand as economies across the globe reopened after lockdowns. In light of Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, which has also contributed to further global gas price rises, the Government has been clear that it’s right we move away from dependence on Russian gas and and increase self-reliance with our energy sources.
In April 2022, the Government commissioned the British Geological Survey to advise on the latest scientific evidence around shale gas extraction. I know that this report was submitted to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Further, I am glad that the Energy Security Strategy was published, which outlines how cleaner and more affordable energy will be made in Great Britain to boost our long-term energy independence, security and prosperity. The Strategy sets out how the Government will accelerate the deployment of wind, new nuclear, solar and hydrogen, whilst supporting the production of domestic oil and gas from the North Sea in the nearer term, which could see 95% of electricity by 2030 being low carbon.
Renewable energy is cheaper than gas and therefore one long-term solution is to move in that direction. I welcome that the UK renewable capacity is up 500 per cent since 2010. However, the Government recognises that more must be done, and so is accelerating renewables with annual Contract for Difference auctions. I want to be clear that the more cheap, clean power we generate in the UK, the less exposed we will be to global gas markets.
Action on the Cost of Living Crisis
Current inflation is being driven by rising energy costs, provoked by surging demand after the pandemic as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which in turn has put pressures on living costs. The Government has already taken steps to help the lowest-income households through these extraordinary times: reducing the Universal Credit taper rate; increasing the National Living Wage; freezing fuel duty for the twelfth consecutive year; and launching a £500 million Household Support Fund.
Since Ofgem’s confirmation of the price cap rise, which is now in effect, the Government has put forward an ambitious support package to help both lower and middle-income earners with the immediate adjustment. This includes a £400 grant for energy bills for all which the Chancellor has not only recently doubled, but the clawback mechanism has been cancelled, meaning this will not have to be repaid.
I strongly believe that properly regulated private markets are the best way to meet the ongoing needs of energy customers and the environment. While I appreciate your strength of feeling on this issue, I am unaware of any plans to nationalise the energy sector. This would hit the energy companies at a time when the Government needs to encourage them to produce more as we need to transition to cleaner fuels.
The independent regulator, Ofgem, monitors energy prices and the broader energy market, and I understand the Centre for Policy Studies published a report in 2018 which found that the cost of nationalising the UK's energy industry would be £55.4 billion.
Further, the UK does not have a comprehensive, single wealth tax, but it does have several taxes on assets and wealth. These taxes operate across many different economic activities, including the acquisition, holding, transfer and disposal of assets, and income derived from assets. The UK’s taxes on wealth are broadly equivalent to those of other G7 countries. Any decision to modify our tax regime is a matter for the Treasury and careful consideration will be given to any proposed amendments.
I understand that further measures are being considered so I will continue to put pressure on my colleagues in Government and ensure that your concerns are heard.
Energy Charter Treaty
Those party to Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) are currently negotiating its modernisation to ensure it is aligned with common climate objectives. The Government supports the process to modernise the Treaty in a way that advances the global energy transition, such as the right for states to regulate to reach emissions reduction targets and ensuring a stronger focus on climate security.
I note that you would rather the UK withdraw from the Treaty entirely but I know that the Government considers it important to remain party to the ECT and support its modernisation. Ministers believe a renegotiated Treaty will remain valuable in supporting clean energy investment in the future.
The clean energy transition requires significant investment. The ECT plays an important role in protecting British and global investments of this kind and thus facilitating progress toward net zero. As such, I think the Government is right to remain committed to the Treaty, whilst working to bring about its modernisation in the interests of all.
It is worth noting that there has never been a successful investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claim against the UK. Nor has the threat of potential disputes ever affected the Government’s legislative programme.
Energy Profits Levy
Oil and gas companies are currently seeing extraordinary windfall profits due to global spikes in commodity prices, driven in part by surging demand after the pandemic and Russia’s war. As a result of high energy prices, millions of households across the UK are struggling to make their incomes stretch to cover the rising cost of living. That is why the Government has introduced a Levy which will be charged on profits of oil and gas companies at a rate of 25 per cent, on top of the existing 40 per cent headline rate of corporation tax, raising around £5 billion over the next year to support households. It will be temporary, and as the oil and gas price decreases to normal levels, the Levy will be automatically phased out.
The Government is sympathetic to the argument to tax these profits fairly, as well as incentivising investment which is critical to growing our economy. This is why significant investment incentives will be built into the new Levy. A new Investment Allowance will double the overall investment relief for oil and gas companies, so companies will have a significant incentive to reinvest their profits. For every £1 an oil or gas company invests, they will pay 91 per cent less tax – so the more a company invests, the less tax they will pay. This relief will be available straight away, rather than waiting for profits which is normal for existing investment reliefs.
As I understand it, the Government will also examine the scale of large profits made by the electricity generation sector and consider the appropriate steps to take.
There is no doubt that communities are key to decarbonising the UK economy, and I am glad that the Government is supportive of community energy.
Ofgem has existing flexibility to award supply licences that are restricted to specified geographies and/or specified types of premises. Furthermore, following a consultation process, since February this year, Ofgem is welcoming applications from community interest groups, co-operative societies and community benefit societies to the industry voluntary redress scheme. This is enabling groups to apply for funds to deliver energy related projects that support energy consumers in vulnerable situations, support decarbonisation and will benefit people in England, Scotland and Wales.
To support community energy projects, the Government has funded the Rural Community Energy Fund. This £10 million funding scheme was delivered through the Local Energy Hubs which support rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects, which provide economic and social benefits to the community. Since its launch in 2019, the fund received 1,668 enquiries, 203 applications and awarded millions of pounds worth of grants to projects focusing on a variety of technologies, including solar, wind, low-carbon heating and electric vehicle charging.
The Government has also introduced other UK wide growth funding schemes, such as the Community Renewal Fund and the Towns Fund, through which it is enabling local areas to tackle net zero goals in ways that best suit their needs. In addition, I know the Government encourages community energy groups to work closely with their local authority to support the development of community energy projects within these schemes and plans to reintroduce the Community Energy Contact Group to strengthen engagement with the sector.
The Energy White Paper, published in December 2020, also committed government to review the overall retail market regulatory framework and, through this review, the Government will assess what changes may be needed to allow for new supply propositions to come forward. I understand the Government will engage with community stakeholders as part of the review and I will follow any developments closely.
Energy Price Cap
As the UK economy continues its recovery from the pandemic, we must confront the global inflationary pressures caused by the world economy coming swiftly back to life. Much of this inflation is being driven by the rising cost of energy due to increased demand worldwide, and that feeds through into pressures on the cost of living.
We must be honest that there are limited levers the Government has to deal with these global problems. The Government has already taken steps which include reducing the Universal Credit taper rate, increasing the National Living Wage, freezing fuel duty for the twelfth year in a row and launching a £500 million Household Support Fund to help the lowest-income households with their bills.
However, the Government recognises that it must go further to help families with pressures on the cost of living. We must also be honest that over time, households will need to adjust to higher energy costs, but the Government can help ensure the adjustment to higher prices is smaller initially and spread over a longer period.
Following Ofgem’s confirmation that the energy price cap will rise by £700 from April, the Government have announced a three-part plan to help with household fuel bills immediately and protect people against half of this increase, worth £350 per household, in a total package of support worth £8.6 billion. This package consists of a £200 ‘smoothing’ rebate on energy bills for all households, to be paid back over the next five years at £40 per year, starting from April 2023, a non-repayable £150 cash rebate for homes in Council Tax bands A-D, equivalent to 80% of all households, helping both lower and middle-income families and £144 million of discretionary funding for local authorities to support households not eligible for the council tax rebate.
The Government is also continuing with plans to increase the Warm Homes Discount and extend eligibility by one-third to 3 million vulnerable households which is worth £150.
I appreciate you are disappointed that Ofgem raised the cap in April which will affect around 22 million customers. I understand that the increase is driven by a record rise in global gas prices over the last 6 months, with wholesale prices quadrupling in the last year. I am encouraged that Ofgem is working to stabilise the market and over the longer term to diversify our sources of energy which will help protect customers from similar price shocks in the future.
Although those protected by the Energy Price Cap are paying a fair price, these customers may also be able to reduce their energy bills further by shopping around for a better deal. Changing energy provider has never been easier and switching energy can be done online or over the phone. Comparison sites provide useful information on which providers can give customers the best deal and, as a result, changing energy provider is likely to save households money on their energy bills. Almost 500,000 energy customers switched to a new supplier each month in 2020, according to figures from the industry group Energy UK.
I understand anxiety over rising prices and inflation. I want to assure you that the Government will continue to listen and to ensure that the policies in place do help those who need it most. I have made my ministerial colleagues aware of my constituents' concerns and I strongly welcome the range of measures put in place, including the new three-part plan to help households with their energy bills during this challenging period.
A rise in the National Living Wage will mean an extra £1,000 in the pockets of millions of people. The Government has also cut the Universal Credit taper rate and increased work allowances, which represent an effective tax cut for low income working households in receipt of UC worth £2.2 billion in 2022-23. Furthermore, broad changes to the tax system are benefitting 31 million workers and mean that the first £12,500 a person earns will be completely tax-free and money has been made available to councils to distribute as hardship funds.
I will be working with my Parliamentary colleagues to ensure the Government continues to help ordinary households up and down the country as our economy continues to recover from the shock of Coronavirus.
Business, Human Rights and Environment Act
Please be reassured that HM Government is committed to promoting the protection and respect of human rights in business, both at home and abroad.
The UK was the first country to create a National Action Plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), widely regarded as the authoritative international framework to steer practical action by governments and businesses worldwide on this important and pressing agenda.
This plan sets out what is expected in regard to the conduct of UK businesses, including compliance with relevant laws and respect for human rights, treating the risk of causing human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue, adopting appropriate due diligence policies and consulting those who could potentially be affected. HMG expects all UK businesses to respect human rights throughout their operations, in line with the UNGPs, including in regard to their supply chains.
HMG is also taking a number of steps, through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to ensure no British organisation, public or private, unwittingly or otherwise, is complicit, through their supply chains, in human rights violations. Section 54 of the Act established the UK as the first country in the world to require businesses (with a turnover of £36m or more) to report annually on steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
I am assured that HMG will continue to develop its approach in line with the 2015 Act.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department of International Trade also produce guidance to assist businesses in exercising such due diligence in countries where particular concerns around human rights exist.
As President and host of COP26, the UK has taken a leading role in efforts to protect our environment. At COP26, the UK led the way on securing agreement from 141 world leaders to work together to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030 under the Glasgow Leader's Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Signatory countries account for over 90% of the world’s forests, including first-time commitments from Brazil and China. At home, HMG has introduced world-leading due diligence legislation through the Environment Act to tackle illegal deforestation in UK supply chains.
Alcohol Duty and Support for Pubs
The Autumn Budget 2021 confirmed that duty rates on beer, cider, wine and spirits will be frozen for another year, a move which will save consumers £3 billion over the next five years, and provide further support to the hospitality industry and its suppliers as they recover from the pandemic. Duty rates on draught beer and cider will be cut by 5%, taking 3p off a pint and further supporting pubs.
I was glad to see the announcement in the Autumn Budget 2021 that, following a review, the alcohol duty regime is to undergo a major simplification. The old system was outdated system that set rates based on historical anomalies, and a new regime will be fairer to both consumers and producers, and promote product innovation in response to evolving consumer tastes.
This radical simplification of the duty system will reduce the number of main rates from 15 to 6, and tax products in proportion to their alcohol content.
All tax categories, such as beer and wine, will be moved to a standardised set of bands, with rates for products between 1.2-3.4% alcohol by volume (ABV), 3.5-8.4% ABV, 8.5-22% ABV, and above 22% ABV. Above 8.5% ABV, all products across all categories will pay the same rate of duty if they have the same proportion of alcohol content. Registration and payment will also be simplified, and the practice where individual products have different administrative rules will end.
The new progressive manner in which alcohol is taxed will ensure higher strength products incur proportionately more duty, and these rates will be the same across all product categories. This change will address the problem of harmful high-strength products being sold too cheaply, and the new rates for low strength drinks below 3.5% ABV will encourage manufacturers to develop new products at lower ABVs, giving consumers greater choice and greater options to drink responsibly.
I welcome the introduction of a new small producer relief which will build on the previous success of the Small Brewers Relief, which will benefit cidermakers and other producers of lower ABV drinks. This will allow small producers to diversify their product range to other products below 8.5% ABV while still benefitting from reduced rates.
I am acutely aware that pubs have faced considerable challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, and that the economic effects of fighting the virus will last longer for businesses than the duration of any restrictions. I am therefore encouraged that they have been provided with significant financial support and relief.
In response to the rise of the Omicron variant, the Government is providing businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors with one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises. Businesses most in need will be eligible for further support through the Additional Restrictions Grant, which local authorities have discretion to allocate within their areas. The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme has also been reintroduced to help support businesses through what is often their most profitable time of year.
Throughout the pandemic, pubs have benefitted from a range of grants such as the one-off Restart Grants which were made available to help businesses reopen safely, worth up to £18,000 for hospitality, leisure, accommodation, personal care and gym businesses. The reduced VAT rate of 12.5% and option to defer some VAT payments until March 2022 are continuing to support businesses, as is the UK-wide Recovery Loan Scheme which has been extended until June 2022.
Announcements made in the 2021 Spending Review will directly help to support pubs as they adapt and recover from the pandemic, with a five per cent cut to duty rates on beer and cider. I am told that this is the biggest cut to these duties in 50 years and almost 100 years, respectively. The hospitality industry will also benefit from frozen alcohol duty rates which will continue from 2021-22 into 2022-23.
Expanding on the business rates holiday introduced in response the pandemic and the 66 per cent relief which remains in place for 2021-22, a new relief will be introduced for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties. This will see over 90 per cent of retail, hospitality and leisure businesses receive at least 50% off their business rates bills in 2022-23.
Looking to the future, I welcome the fact that the Government’s long-term strategy for the hospitality sector includes an extension to pavement licences, making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue to make outdoor dining a reality with seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drinks. There is also an intention to make these licences permanent. On top of this, pubs will be given more flexibility through a 12-month extension of temporary permissions for the off-sale of alcohol.
Evidence continues to be collected on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and I am confident that the Government’s ongoing support will help pubs, which are the lifeblood of our communities, to recover and build back better.
Coronavirus: Night Time Economy
I appreciate that it has been a particularly challenging time for many sectors of our economy, including those operating within the night time economy, as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. I sympathise with anyone who is currently facing redundancy during this difficult time. Throughout the pandemic I know that the Government has been working with local leaders to target outbreaks, and to put in place comprehensive support during national restrictions.
Recent developments have put pressure on businesses across the country. That is why I welcome that businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000. Further, more than £100 million discretionary funding for local authorities to support other businesses. The Government will also cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for absences due to Covid for small and medium-sized employers across the UK.
It is important that as economy begins to recover, and it is safe for businesses reopen and staff to return to work, that there is a welcoming and safe night time economy. The night time economy is hugely important to entertainment and culture in the UK, and it is the British economy's fifth largest sector.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was a temporary, economy-wide measure designed to support businesses while widespread restrictions were in place. I welcomed the several extensions to the CJRS, including the final extension to the end of September, which achieved the right balance between supporting the economy as it opened up, and continuing to provide support and protect incomes. This ensured that incentives were in place to get people back to work as demand returned.
Businesses can continue to benefit from financial support through the Recovery Loan Scheme which enables eligible businesses to apply for loans between £25,000 and £10 million with an 80% Government guarantee. Once received, the finance can be used for any legitimate business purpose, including growth and investment. I was encouraged that the Chancellor extended this scheme in the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 until 30 June 2022.
From 1 January 2022, the scheme will only be open to small and medium sized enterprises, with the maximum amount of finance available set at £2 million per business and the guarantee coverage that the Government will provide to lenders will be reduced to 70%.
Further support has included one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses forced to close worth up to £9,000 per property, Local Restriction Support Grants for closed businesses worth up to £3,000 a month per property, a £594 million discretionary fund to support other impacted businesses, a £1.1 billion further discretionary grant funding for Local Authorities, and one-off Restart Grants of up to £6,000 in the non-essential retail sector and up to £18,000 for hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses.
All retail, hospitality and leisure businesses also paid no business rates for the 2020-21 financial year, regardless of their rateable value. This relief applied to over 350,000 properties and is worth almost £10 billion.
I will continue to raise industry-specific concerns at the highest level to make sure that the Government is aware, and I will follow any developments closely.
Hospitality and VAT
The temporary reduction in VAT to 5% instead of 20% for hospitality and tourism businesses, which was previously been extended until 31 March 2021 and subsequently place until 30 September 2021 is changing to 12.5% and will remain so until 31 March 2022. The scope of the relief will remain unchanged over this period.
I welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement that businesses will be able to spread their deferred VAT repayments over 11 smaller, interest-free repayments. This will benefit almost half a million businesses who have deferred £30 billion worth of VAT this year.
I recognise that in the past some EU member states had implemented a lower rate of VAT on tourism and hospitality to the UK. However, comparisons with these countries tended not to take into account the significant VAT reliefs the UK provided for cultural attractions and public transport, or other tourist taxes that some member states choose to levy. Additionally, the UK’s VAT registration threshold is high when compared to EU member states, so many tourist attractions did not have to charge any VAT to their customers.
Before the pandemic I was very keen to see a permanent reduction in VAT for hospitality, I still see this as a long term goal and will continue to lobby behind the scenes for support for hospitality and tourism.
Energy Efficiency in Homes
Buildings are responsible for around 30% of our national emissions, and I know the Government recognises that upgrading home energy performance is crucial if we are to meet net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the UK economy by 2050.
I welcome the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which signals a step change in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and how we heat them, while also supporting 240,000 green skilled jobs by 2035 and delivering £6 billion additional GVA by 2030.
The strategy announced the Government's ambition that by 2035, no new gas boilers will be sold. All new heating systems installed in UK homes will either use low-carbon technologies, such as electric heat pumps, or will support new technologies like hydrogen-ready boilers, in line with the natural replacement cycle, and once costs of low carbon alternatives have come down.
Furthermore, the Government will invest over £4 billion of new funding for decarbonising heat and buildings from 2022 to 2025. This includes a new £450 million three-year Boiler Upgrade Scheme which will see households offered grants of up to £5,000 for low-carbon heating systems, such as a heat pump, so they cost the same as a gas boiler now. I am encouraged that £1.75 billion will be provided for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Scheme and Home Upgrade Grants, with £1.425 billion for Public Sector Decarbonisation which has the aim of reducing emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037.
In addition, as included in the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government set out its aspiration for as many homes as possible to be Energy Performance Certificate Band C by 2035 where cost effective, affordable and practical, and to reach this standard by 2030 for fuel poor homes. To achieve this, it will need to mobilise up to £65 billion for upgrades, which will put us on a path to net zero, significantly reduce household energy bills, and improve our health and wellbeing. It will also create new opportunities for the energy efficiency sector, currently the largest part of the low carbon and renewable energy economy.
Work is underway to build a vibrant and sustainable market through introducing a suite of policies and measures that will drive uptake of energy efficiency:
- Through the Energy Company Obligation, over 2 million homes have had energy efficiency improvements since 2013. The Government is committed to extending this support to 2028, driving more than £6 billion of investment in domestic energy efficiency.
- Energy suppliers are required to provide low income and vulnerable households with energy efficiency and heating upgrades under the ECO.
- Investing a further £6.3 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade the worst homes and improve the energy performance of social housing.
- A commitment to publish consultations on a long-term trajectory to improve the energy performance standards of privately rented homes, and on setting requirements for lenders to improve the energy performance of homes they lend to.
New homes are now expected to emit 31% less CO2 and, in addition, a Future Homes Standard will be introduced in 2025. This will see new build homes future-proofed with low carbon heating and world leading standards of energy efficiency to produce 75% less CO2 emissions.
Households struggling with their bills are eligible for insulation measures, including solid wall insulation, through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. Homeowners and those in privately rented homes who are on specific benefits may also be eligible for support towards heating improvements, including oil-fired boiler replacements, through ECO Affordable Warmth.
Holiday lets contribute to the economy, create jobs and increase tourism, which is especially vital here in North Devon where tourism contributes widely to our economy. Nonetheless, there are concerns that owners of some properties that are not genuine businesses reduce their tax liability unfairly by declaring that a property is available to let, while making no sincere effort to let it out.
The Government has announced that it will legislate to strengthen the self-catering accommodation criteria for business rates to rectify this issue. This follows a consultation on a proposal to make holiday lets only liable for business rates rather than council tax if the property is available as a commercial holiday let for short periods totalling at least 140 days.
This would also apply if during the year prior to the year being considered, the property was available for letting commercially as self-catering accommodation for short periods totalling at least 140 days. If during the year immediately prior to the year being considered, the property was actually commercially let as self-catering accommodation for short periods totalling at least 70 days it would also benefit from the proposed changes.
I have also written to the Government about making further changes to both tax rules and the planning system, to ensure that holiday lets pay their fair share of taxes, but also that the strain upon the local housing situation is taken into consideration and that a potential licencing system be introduced for all holiday lets.
Save Our Pubs (CAMRA)
I am acutely aware that pubs have faced considerable challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, and I am therefore encouraged that they have been provided with significant financial support and relief.
To help businesses reopen safely, one-off Restart Grants were made available worth up to £18,000 for hospitality, leisure, accommodation, personal care and gym businesses. Building on this, 66% business rates relief and a reduced 12.5% VAT rate are in place until the end of March 2022, with alcohol duty also frozen for 2021-22.
These measures come on top of the previous grants, reliefs and loans made available since the start of the pandemic. For example, as we entered a national lockdown in January, the Chancellor unveiled further economic support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, including pubs, in light of the restrictions. New one-off top-up grants were announced, worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring.
I am pleased that the Government has announced that pavement licences will be extended, making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue to make outdoor dining a reality with seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drinks. There is also an intention to make them permanent. On top of this, pubs will be given more flexibility through a 12 month extension of temporary permissions for the off-sale of alcohol.
I understand that pubs were subject to debilitating restrictions for a long time, and I hear requests for a longer-term sector-specific package of support. That is why I am assured that the Government has provided unprecedented levels of support throughout the pandemic and published long-term strategies to help the hospitality sector and our high streets to recover with more resilience.
Evidence continues to be collected on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and I am glad that the Government’s support is helping pubs, which are the lifeblood of our communities, to recover and build back better.
Cambo Oil Field
I understand that the original licensing consent for the Cambo oil field dates back to 2001 and the project is going through normal regulatory processes. The decision on whether to grant consent to Cambo oil field will be taken by the Oil and Gas Authority, who are ultimately responsible, rather than the Secretary of State.
While I am pleased that the Government is working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, I believe it is important to appreciate that there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee as we are currently in a period of transition, and we cannot simply turn off one energy supply until an alternative is fully ready to replace it I remain fully committed to the race to net zero, but I also recognise that we need to remain commercially and economically viable as we move as quickly as we can towards the net zero goal.
Electronic Communications Code
I sympathise with the situation that some landowners are in regarding mast rent and the Electronic Communications Code (ECC). I would however stress that I am not able to offer legal advice and would suggest that anyone who is in a situation where they require legal assistance should contact a solicitor so that an appropriate resolution to the situation can be reached.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Broadband and Digital Communication, I am leading an inquiry on how the ECC could be practically reformed to make it easier to deploy full fibre broadband in both urban and rural areas, while respecting residents’ and landowners’ rights.
While the ECC provides the statutory framework underpinning the rights to install and maintain electronic communications apparatus on public and private land, I understand that it has long been considered a barrier to deploying fixed and mobile networks, and is preventing North Devon residents from getting the fast internet speeds that they deserve.
The ECC was recently reformed as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017. These reforms were intended to reduce the costs of providing communications infrastructure and make it easier for operators to deploy such infrastructure, ultimately saving consumers their money.
Furthermore, I am encouraged that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently ran a consultation on further legislative changes to the Electronic Communications Code. If the Government decide that changes to the Code are needed, these will be focused on supporting the UK's digital networks and ensuring the aims of the 2017 reforms are realised. However, I will await the outcome of the inquiry I am leading as Chair of the APPG before I make any judgements.
If we are to hit the Government’s target of 85% gigabit capable coverage by 2025, then it is vital that further reforms to the ECC are considered, and that views such as those you have expressed to me are considered.
‘Save Our Books’ Campaign
I take the protection of Intellectual Property (IP) seriously and I am pleased that a range of initiatives have been designed to reduce IP theft.
I understand that the principle of exhaustion sets a limit on the ability of IP rights holders to control the distribution of goods protected by those rights. When the UK was in the EU single market, the UK has considered first sale within the European Economic Area to be the point at which the control of a rights holder expires. This approach allowed the trade of goods on the secondary market to flourish between EEA countries, while retaining the ability of rights holders to prevent imports into the EEA of goods that they have sold elsewhere in the world. Now we have left the EU, and therefore no longer bound by its framework nor a member of the single market, the Intellectual Property Office (ICO) is re-examining how the principle of exhaustion should work for the UK as a standalone sovereign nation.
The IPO has launched a consultation and is seeking views on a range of options from all interested parties, including businesses and consumers. The consultation will help government assess the feasibility and potential impact of the different exhaustion of IP rights regimes. This will include consideration of impacts on the publishing industry and cross-border trade of goods in the secondary market, including goods from the creative industries.
I share concerns about the future of pubs and the hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear the economic effects of fighting the virus last longer for businesses than the duration of any given restrictions, and we need to go further with our support. I understand the role of pubs to their local community, especially here in North Devon where we have so many rural pubs. The Prime Minister expressed regret in announcing the current national lockdown, but I agree with him that robust action is needed to bring the virus back under control.
While I appreciate that closures are unwelcome news for publicans, it is reassuring that the Chancellor has unveiled further economic support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, including pubs. One-off top-up grants have been announced for the third lockdown, worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring. For those businesses not eligible for the grants, a £594 million discretionary fund is being made available by the Government as a matter of urgency. The one-off grants come in addition to billions of pounds of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 per month for impacted businesses once they reopen.
I am pleased that a robust package of support has been introduced since the start of the pandemic. No pub or other business in the hospitality sector will be required to pay business rates in 2020-21, and HMRC has made it easier to claim back the duty on any beer thrown away as a result of pub closures. I also welcome that the temporary reduction of VAT to 5% has been extended by a further 3 months to the end of March 2021. Additionally, the Chancellor will defer VAT repayments through a new scheme until March 2022.
We await the budget on 3rd March to see what additional support will be made available to the hospitality sector as we move through the unlock roadmap.
Amazon holds close to one third of the market share of e-commerce in this country and operating online does not mean a company’s responsibilities to society are lessened.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the independent regulator for work-related health, safety and wellbeing. HSE has published guidance on warehouse safety which employers such as Amazon must follow. With the additional safety risks posed by Covid-19, I am pleased that the HSE is conducting spot checks and inspections on businesses to ensure they are adhering to Covid-secure guidance and keeping employees safe. If an employee feels their workplace is not safe due to health and safety issues or Covid-19 measures, they can report it to their local authority for the HSE to investigate.
Regarding taxation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual taxpayers. However, it is right that companies pay the tax that they owe to the Exchequer so that the Government can fund the public services that we all rely on. The Digital Services Tax for online companies was introduced to ensure that search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces pay UK tax that reflects the value they derive from UK users.
In response to concerns over privacy, the Government expects Amazon, like all organisations who process personal data, to comply with the UK’s Data Protection legislation, including the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
Finally, I am hopeful that the steps that Amazon has taken so far in the effort to decarbonise, and I encourage the company to continue with its Science-Based Target commitments in order to move quickly towards Net Zero.
Hospitality Supply Chain Support
I do understand that many businesses feel that they have not had the same level of support as others, it is not just those in the hospitality supply chain. While the Government had tried to be as fair as possible where it can with its financial support, there are some areas where more could be done. Please be assured this matter has been raised with ministers and will continue to be so.
With hospitality, while the support has been relatively generous there is still a strong feeling among businesses that it may not be enough. In supporting hospitality directly, it is hoped that they will still be able to pay their bills to their suppliers in the support chain and be ready to buy again as soon as possible. In essence, the Government is supporting the supply chains customers, so they can in turn support the entire system. Likewise, where we have seen schemes like ‘Eat out to Help out’, this may well have been seen as a scheme to support bars and restaurants but the knock on effect within the entire supply chain will have been noticeable.
I personally hope to see other such innovative schemes for the spring as well as some extended support when it comes to business rates or indeed VAT.
Minister for Hospitality
The outbreak of Covid-19 had a significant impact on the economy and I recognise that the hospitality sector has been particularly affected. Limitations on opening hours, household mixing and social distancing requirements have been difficult for many businesses and I understand that restricting the spread of the virus in a sector which exists to bring people together is challenging.
I have quite rightly spent a considerable amount of time lobbying on behalf of the hospitality and tourism businesses of North Devon.
My ministerial colleagues have worked hard to support restaurants, bars and hotels throughout the outbreak. The includes the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme, the £3 billion reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses, the 100 per cent business rates relief for hospitality, retail and leisure businesses, the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund, the Small Business Grants Fund, the Bounce Back Loan scheme, the Job Support Scheme, the Local Restrictions Support Grant and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.
Government support for the hospitality sector involves several departments such as Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, HM Treasury, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, as well as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The legal maximum number of paid ministers is 109 and this is set out in statute. A new position would require the elimination of another position and it is not clear which the petition proposes to remove.
We do have a Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage in Nigel Huddleston MP, somebody who I have a great deal of confidence in and have worked with closely over the last nine months as well as Paul Scully MP, who is the Minister for Small Business with responsibility for pubs, who I again meet with regularly to discuss the plight of North Devon pubs.
The concerns of the hospitality sector are well recognised by both ministers but many of the decisions at present are linked to the Department for Health and Social Care whilst we fight a deadly virus and the huge response to support businesses through the pandemic, I have no doubt, and indeed will continue to fight for extra support for the hospitality sector once the vaccination programme is advanced. Many of the asks from the hospitality sector at this time relate to the future, and with so much uncertainty with the course of this pandemic, ministers in all departments are not able to give the long term information that businesses, understandably crave.
I do understand the motivations behind the petition in highlighting the importance of the sector, and indeed hope to speak in the debate, but I believe that the current approach has provided and continues to offer substantial support for the sector during these difficult times.
Electrical safety and online marketplaces
I am familiar with Electrical Safety First's campaign for better regulation of online marketplaces. As you will know, the UK has a strong product safety system to ensure products are safe before they can enter the market, and this includes products sold online.
I understand your concerns regarding this issue, and I take the problem of counterfeit electrical goods seriously. It is therefore welcome that the Government is working across the industry and with law enforcement colleagues on a number of initiatives to tackle this issue. You may also welcome the fact that officials in government are working with representatives from online platforms to discuss the availability of counterfeits on their platforms. Action is also underway to ensure a co-ordinated law enforcement response against the sellers of these counterfeits.
In addition, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is reviewing product safety legislation to make sure the existing legislative framework is adequate. This is due to changes to traditional supply and distribution chains as a result of e-commerce.
I will continue to follow the developments in this area and in particular the OPSS review into the current product safety legislative framework. This is an important issue and the Coronavirus pandemic highlights how more and more consumers are relying on e-commerce.
Night Time Economy
I know that it has been a particularly challenging time for those operating within the night time industry. I sympathise with anyone who is currently facing redundancy during this difficult time.
It is important that as our economy begins to recover, with more businesses reopening and staff returning to work, that there is a welcoming and safe night time economy. The night time economy is hugely important to our entertainment and culture in the UK, and it is the UK's fifth largest sector. To help the smallest businesses operating in the night time economy, the Government has put in place grants which have been distributed through North Devon Council. Further, all businesses operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector can benefit for a business rates holiday for 2020-21 as the Chancellor removed the previous threshold on eligibility for this support.
To support jobs, both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Coronavirus Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) provided a taxable grants worth 80 per cent of an employees’ wages, or a self-employed person’s average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. I welcome the extension of SEISS which means that self-employed individuals can qualify for a second and final taxable grant, when the scheme reopens for applications this month. This second grant will be worth 70 per cent of average monthly trading profits, capped at £6,570 in total, and according to the same eligibility criteria as the first grant. This extension matches the support available under the CJRS as the Chancellor announced that the CJRS will continue until the end of October, with new flexibility having been introduced from August to also help get employees back to work. This includes furloughed workers being able to return to work on a part-time basis, with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of furloughed staff.
Temporary new measures have been introduced to protect tenants renting commercial property from aggressive forms of rent recovery. To achieve this, the Government has legislated to enact a moratorium on commercial forfeitures due to non-payment of rent, due to end on 30 June; temporarily voided statutory demands and winding up petitions issued to commercial tenants; and changes have been made to the use of Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery.
As you may know, bars may reopen provided their premises are Covid-19 Secure. The full details of the guidance can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/restaurants-offering-takeaway-or-delivery. Unfortunately, nightclubs, casinos, bowling alleys, indoor skating rinks, and some other venues must remain closed until it can be proven that their premises can be made Covid-19 Secure. I know that the evidence is being kept under review and Ministers are working with industry representatives to draw up further guidance. The full list of businesses which can reopen is available online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/opening-certain-businesses-and-venues-in-england-from-4-july-2020.
I will continue to raise your industry-specific concerns at the highest level to make sure that the Government is aware and I will follow any developments closely.
Support for the Aerospace Industry
Aerospace is an important strategic sector of the UK economy and I am concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the industry. The Government have put support in place, which is on top of the longer-term assistance delivered through the Aerospace Growth Partnership.
The Government is providing targeted assistance to firms, in addition to the £2.16 billion of loans that have been paid to airlines and aerospace companies through the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Finance Facility to support businesses affected by loss of funding. Current sector-specific assistance includes the provision of £450 million research and development funding through the Aerospace Technology Institute, as well as the establishment of the Jet Zero Council to oversee the UK’s mission to produce the first zero carbon transatlantic passenger jet. In total, over £6 billion of support has gone to the aviation and aerospace sector, which I hope will protect the industry and jobs. I will continue to monitor the situation closely.
However, I know that there is still a high level of concern about the future of the aerospace sector. I will continue to raise those concerns with Ministers to ensure that the Government is doing everything it can.
I have received a number of emails from constituents concerned about reports that there may be a temporary relaxation of Sunday trading legislation. I strongly believe that it is important for Sunday to remain special, and I do not want to see workers lose the extra time they get to spend with their families. I am therefore instinctively nervous about the media reports. However, as with all media reports of this kind, we must be careful to remember that there actually may not be any plans to relax Sunday trading legislation.
If such proposals were put before the House of Commons, I would want to be absolutely certain that such a change was temporary, and that it would provide a meaningful economic benefit which would support our post-pandemic economic recovery. I would need to both of those conditions to be fulfilled before considering supporting such proposals.