The £1.9bn “coronavirus relief” returned by supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda should be used to support small businesses, says Labour’s Tees Valley mayor candidate Jessie Joe Jacobs.
Around £1.9bn in relief has been paid back to the Treasury by supermarkets.
The move followed the news that Tesco paid out £315m in shareholder dividends in October – despite claiming relief funding from the Government during the pandemic.
According to the latest ONS Business Impact of Covid Survey, 15% of very small businesses (micro businesses with 0-9 employees) and 9% of small businesses (with 10-49 employees) have low or no confidence of surviving the next three months.
Jacobs, Labour’s candidate to take on Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley mayoral election next May, said: “When I won the Sunday Times Social entrepreneur of the year it was because as a charity, I understood the importance of innovation.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather ran a small business, Jacobs Carpets for many years and I know how important small businesses are to the local economy and to our communities.
“I’ve been out and about visiting a number of small businesses and there are some exciting steps we can take to ensure we grow and develop those Tees Valley businesses.
“There are also some important actions that need to be made to ensure we keep hold of businesses that have struggled during the crisis.
“This means standing up for them and ensuring they get the support from the Government they need to keep going.
“That’s why I’m urging the government to use the returned £1.9bn in “coronavirus relief” to support those small businesses and business owners who have missed out on funding support and to also use it to encourage new business and business diversification.
“The Tees Valley will be great place, to grow up, get on and grow old and this means great high streets and thriving local businesses.”
Jacobs has also pledged to establish a High Street Taskforce, an innovation fund to encourage new ideas for repurposing empty buildings on the High Street and an entrepreneurs fund to support those looking to start new businesses in the Tees Valley.
“We must encourage innovation in local business and on our high streets,” she added.
“We can do this by creating an easy access fund, giving the idea creators and entrepreneurs the funding to try out new business models and ideas for the High Street; this might be within leisure, fitness and tourism.
“We need a digital strategy to ensure taxation doesn’t penalise the small and local and we must create new locally owned platforms for e-commerce so more wealth created here, is kept here in the Tees Valley.
“We need a strategy enabling councils to breathe new life into town centres by making them community hubs; encouraging the move of more public services into town centre locations, such as learning, living, youth and health and care provision;
“We lastly need an immediate review into the relationship between landlords, government and tenants. Rents are too high and lease arrangements too restrictive.
“Owners of these properties must play their part and can’t continue to sit on empty buildings or ask for extortionate rents, whilst the High Street goes to the wall.
“We need everyone coming together to secure the future we need.”