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Sat, 28 November 2020

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After this crisis, there will be no excuse for any business not to pay its way

After this crisis, there will be no excuse for any business not to pay its way

"We need employers to step up to the plate to support their workers. But they also need to play their part in building for the future of our country," says Anneliese Dodds.

3 min read

When the public looks back on the support it has given business over this period I want it to do so with pride rather than through gritted teeth. That means firms must all play their part in rebuilding public finances

Unprecedented numbers of businesses are under financial strain, as the impact of necessary measures to contain Covid19 becomes clear. I know that very large numbers of companies in leisure, tourism, hospitality and the arts are good businesses and employers but are struggling through no fault of their own.

For those who work in these industries, this has been a worrying time. Many staff who could have been furloughed by employers were let go in the early days of the crisis, either because their employer refused to use the furlough scheme, or because it came too late for the business they worked for.

Others who were self-employed often in little more than name, forced into that status by their effective employers, may struggle to access the scheme for the self-employed. For those who fall outside the economic package, the alternative is very bleak.Universal Credit provides the lowest level of support for unemployed people of any European nation.

In these circumstances we really need to see employers stepping up to the plate where they can to support their workers. But they also need to play their part in building for the future of our country.

There was never any excuse for the industrial levels of tax avoidance and evasion we have seen in the UK. But there will be even less excuse for any business not to pay its way, as we exit the current crisis with a desperate need for properly-funded public services.

And it would be totally unacceptable for executives and shareholders to profit from public support – so we must see a moratorium on dividend payouts and share buybacks, as required by the Danish government, for those companies that have benefitted from government support.

We must see a moratorium on dividend payouts and share buybacks for those companies that have benefitted from government support

As we exit this crisis, we must of course also guard against the existential crisis posed by climate change – and again, business can and must play its part. Going forward, firms supported by the public purse must sign up to initiatives like the UN’s Science Based Target Initiative to reduce carbon emissions.

And finally, as the public purse takes some of the strain from distressed sectors, we need to ensure that they play their part in building our future. 

When the public looks back on the support it has given business over this period in five years' time I want it to do so with pride rather than through gritted teeth. That won't happen unless we ensure that, as a nation, any gains from public equity accrue to all of us, and not just those who are already asset-rich. That means considering carefully how the gains from supported industries can be shared – and not just the losses.

Anneliese Dodds is shadow chancellor and Labour and Co-operative MP for Oxford East

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