There only way of finding out how the Chancellor’s relief measures – the equivalent of three Budgets, plus a package for the self-employed – are working in practice is to ask around by a variety of means.

MPs are one of these, since they act between elections as a kid of lighting rod for the concerns of their constituents, so ConHome spent much of yesterday on the phone to a cross-section of them.

The response is a bit like being an intepreter of Morse who must take down a mass of signals at once.  But through the dots and dashes one can after a while pick up the pulsing of certain themes.

One is that any financial support delivered through a third party – in this case the banks – is support over which one has limited control.

Another is that the self-employed contain multitudes – even more than other forms of businesses – and that devising schemes that catch even most of them is, well, a challenge.

Yet another is that most MPs we spoke to were reasonably content.   But that has less to do with the efficacy or otherwise of the Chancellor’s plans than the state of the polls.

We haven’t quoted everyone we spoke to but try to strike a balance below.  We could not have said anything at all about the MPs concerned.  That seemed to us to be too little information.

However, “MP representing a seat in Essex” (say) seemed to us to offer more clues to possible identity than our interviewees would (mostly) have been happy with.

So we’ve simply gone for North, South and Midlands – and tried to balance the contributions out.

– – –

MP representing a Northern seat

“One issue that we’re having is about people who change jobs very recently. If you’ve changed job after February 28th, you’re not eligible for furloughing from your employer, which is incredibly difficult for some of those people. Now the Treasury has advised that if you can have a good relationship with your previous employer, go back and ask them to rehire you, you will be eligible, so they can claim the 80 per cent wages back. But obviously… it’s very much an individual thing because some employers will say, “yeah fine, I like you Jim, I’ll help you out.” But then there’ll be others who just think, “sod it, you’ve left, why should we bother?” So I’m hoping we try and come up with a better solution on that. But at the same time understanding that there does have to be a cut off.”

MP representing a Midlands seat

“My local council has been given roughly 90 million to disburse, which is probably the only body that can do so accountably and effectively in his rural area. It’s getting a lot of traction.  My main concern is banks. I’m getting a lot of ‘horror stories’ out from constituents and small businesses, especially about Lloyds. It seems to be that it’s ignoring Government guidance, and the Chancellor needs to publicly “crack the whip”. After all, the banks were bailed out ten years ago.  If the self-employed or other sectors of society fall through the cracks because the Government is ideologically reluctant to borrow, the decision will do serious damage to the Party. Our reputation will be made or broken for a generation by how we get the country through this crisis.”

MP representing a Southern seat

“The successive policies announced by the Chancellor so far have been really helpful. He’s demonstrated a clear understanding that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue and that gaps in the safety net must be closed when they’re identified. This must continue: qualifying businesses in my constituency have received vital support though some, such as dentists and others who relied on a lot of private income, are struggling. We also need to keep being honest with the electorate: I’m a fiscal conservative so this has been an internal struggle for me, and whilst we must offer all necessary support now, this money will need to be paid back.”

MP representing a Northern seat

“There’ve been reasonable criticims of how the Business Interruption Loan scheme and the emergency aid scheme for SMEs has been working, so I hope that today’s announcements by the Chancellor will help.  The e-mails from self-employed people who’ve paid through dividends or bonuses have been angrier than the conversations I’ve had with some of them over the phone – where they concede that they’ve been taking advantageous tax positions and not paying in.  I also gets hints of that on Facebook.  During the last week, I’ve had maybe a thousand e-mails of which about 700 ask sensible questions.  Representing a marginal seat I’m taking the workload as it comes, but some of my colleagues in safer seats may have been spooked by the surge.”

MP representing a Midlands seat

“A familiar problem is that the detail doesn’t match up to the spin.  So for example, the interruption scheme is available to fewer people than the presentation suggested.  Then there’s a competence problem.  We were given a list of departmental e-mail addresses via which we could raise concerns.  But yesterday the Treasury’s address was on a bounceback setting: that’s not acceptable.  There a lot of detail questions.  Such as the people who started new jobs in March and don’t get any money.  Or others who simultaneously feel devasted at having to apply for Universal Credit but who at the same time can’t get it.”

MP representing a Southern seat

“The execution of the policy has been lamentable.  What’s needed in these circumstances is ensuring that good intentions are practicably delivered.  But the Treasury wanted a big headline about loans but nonetheless somehow allowed Treasury officials to craft a restrictive package, which in turn has generated clarifications and relaxations.  They also came up with a furlough scheme that while good was not downloadable when I last looked  Loans are of very limited use to businesses in these circumstances.  What they need is a cash injection now and visibility about how long they’ll be closed down for.  That Universal Credit claims are going through the roof is a signal that we are heading for mass unemployment.”

MP representing a Northern seat

“I’m hearing complaints not so much from constituents as contacts about the banks’ bone-headed behaviour in seeking to maximise their own profits. One would have thought that the Treasury would have grasped by now that the banks will game any system that government devises. There’s a bit of grumbling about the idea that in the wake of the Coronavirus small businesses will have to pay extra national insurance – particularly if you believe that recovery will be led by small business: that’s where green shoots will come from. Many of my self-employed constituents haven’t gained from the Chancellor’s plans, but they’re stoical people. They don’t expect very much from government anyway so they suffer in silence.

MP representing a Midlands seat

“The measures seem overall to be popular. Business people sometims think in terms of comparisons with other countries, and on that basis the package is seen as very generous. There are particular complaints over the details
being unfair, but the problem is that if restrictions are eased any further the would be further costs, and more and rmore false claims. I have had a lot of queries as to how long it will take for the cash to come through. Another line of enquiry is when the money will stop. Will it taper off? For when the health crisis ends it does not follow that the economic crisis will too.”

MP representing a Southern seat

“My experience has been that most people are bearing with the Government, and that most of the e-mails I get are from those that basically cover the gaps.  But although they’re a very long way from screaming my constituents are very nervous.  There’s a particular issue about larger companies being well covered and small business having packages of help too, but a medium-sized companies missing out – the so-called “missing middle”, which are companies not big enough to be investment grade ones capable of issuing commercial paper.  There are obviously severe problems for charities.”

MP representing a Northern seat

“Constituents recognise that the Government is making a big effort – but there are all sorts of difficulties, some of which have the Chancellor has now addressed.  Some banks’ interpretation of the interruption scheme has been quite frankly bizarre: it seems that they are only prepared to lend to businesses who aren’t eligible for the scheme at all. It’s strange that you have to furlough staff for a hundred per cent of the time – why can’t firms furlough all of staff for some of the time and not some of staff for all of time? I’m not convinced that the self-employed package has hit the spot.”

MP representing a Midlands seat

“E-mails from constituents have in general been supportive. There was unease initially about the package would really mean much for white van man, but once that was dealt with people were incredibly supportive.  I feel uneasy that if you left a job at end of February and joined a new company which then decided it didn’t want you after all, then you can go back to original employers and go back on the books.  Part of me says moves like this are too open to abuse, and that the costs of them are stacking up.  So while I’m delighed there’s a safety net I’m also scared that there are these opportunities for abuse.”

MP representing a Southern seat.

“Despite the changes the help for the self-employed is prompting most of casework I’m getting. One issue is that only those with taxable profits below £50,000 are helped. Why the cliff edge? Why should someone on £49,000 end up with far more than someone on £51,000? £50,000 might sound a lot but those leveraged up to that (eg mortgage,
other debt) could find they have no money. The feeling is that the £50,000 figure was “political” rather than making economic or moral sense. Also as it’s on the profits some people may find not only that their income has dried up but they are still committed to pay business cost (perhaps for equipment, a vehicle, premises). still a mess.
£50,000 over.”

138 comments for: Sunak’s relief measures. How are they working on the ground? Some views from Conservative MPs.

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