Neil Coyle MP: Government risks terrorists winning when it comes to business protection

Posted On: 
6th December 2017

Labour MP Neil Coyle writes ahead of his debate today on 'Government financial support for victims of terror attacks' following the attack in his own constituency in Borough Market and on London Bridge in June.

On 3rd June, three murderous cowards attacked London Bridge and Borough Market in my constituency. They deliberately drove a van into people in this vibrant, cosmopolitan area before indiscriminately attacking innocent people with knives. They murdered eight and injured many more.

The police response was swift and effective: within eight minutes all three terrorists were dead and a cordon was erected around the area. The community stepped in and helped each other and victims with basics like lifts away from the area, hot drinks and offers of safe spaces to charge phones and contact loved ones. The Prime Minister chaired COBRA the next morning announcing that the 'terrorists would not win'. If the test was the public or emergency service response she would be right.

But the ramifications for businesses were severe.  The police cordon remained in place for ten days: forcing all businesses within it to shut. The results were a loss of trade, stock, contracts to supply restaurants and hotels in some cases, and bookings. Borough Market estimate their collective loss is almost £2 million.

Borough Market Trust does a huge amount to bring forward new businesses, often micro-start-ups like Ellie's Dairy. For these small operators on razor thin margins, the impact was horrendous. The local community stepped up to the plate though with public donations reaching £47,000 and other local businesses like News UK giving £25,000 to the market through vouchers for their staff. Southwark's Labour council team provided business rate relief worth £104,000 and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also stepped up and has provided close to £200,000 in help. Without this outpouring of good will and generosity, some businesses would have folded.

In contrast, the Government to date has given nothing. Despite meetings with Ministers and the Prime Minister visiting the site, her Government has failed to provide a penny. The Trust believed Ministers would at a minimum match public donations but nothing has come forward. What is worse is that a failure to provide immediate support is not the only Government failure. UK terror insurance is based on a re-insurance model set up over twenty years ago to deal with provisional-IRA attacks largely on physical damage to economic and other infrastructure. The 'Pool Reinsurance' system does not properly cover the type of terrorism we see today with vehicle and knife attacks. The Government was warned of the need to update this model years ago but has not done so, with no plan yet on the table.

Some insurers have refused to pay out to businesses affected as a result. The Government acknowledges, in the UK threat level remaining at 'severe', that further attacks are likely. But has, as yet, failed to bring terror insurance up to date. I hope my Westminster Hall debate will focus Ministers' minds and deliver on Government rhetoric. If terrorists are to be beaten, we know we can rely on our emergency services and public spirit; we must also have a Government ready and willing to step in with adequate compensation and a legislative framework that properly reflects risks. 

Neil Coyle is the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark