Business loan support scheme not paying out fast enough, Alok Sharma admits

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has admitted loans to help businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus are not getting to those who need them quickly enough.

Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News Mr Sharma was addressing concerns just 1.4 per cent of the 300,000 applications for business support had been processed.

Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband, speaking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday, said: “There is some early evidence that [the loan scheme] is too slow and cumbersome, we need money out of the door immediately to save Yorkshire’s businesses.”

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But Mr Sharma said: “I have spent the last couple of days talking directly to some of the largest lenders who are part of this scheme.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma. Photo: PABusiness Secretary Alok Sharma. Photo: PA
Business Secretary Alok Sharma. Photo: PA | pa

“I am very clear to say to them, we need to get money out of the door as soon as possible and they understand that and banks know on this occasion why they have to be part of the solution and they want to be part of the solution.”

Mr Sharma said £800m had been paid out as part of 4,200 loans under the coronavirus business support measures.

Asked whether he was worried, the Business Secretary said: “Well, of course.

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“It is not just a question of me being worried – I completely understand the concerns that businesses have.”

Mr Sharma also refused to apologise specifically over the supply of PPE, saying that he was “sorry for the loss of any life during this pandemic”.

He said: “It is our job to make sure we get that health care equipment, that PPE, out to them.

“Right now, your viewers will be asking does the Government have a plan to get this PPE out to the front line and the answer is, yes we do have a plan.

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“We are putting that in place, with millions of pieces of PPE kit going out to the front line. Of course, we need to be doing even more.”

Asked about the Royal College of Nursing advising members to refuse to treat patients if they do not have adequate personal protective equipment to use, said health workers should not be put in such a position.

He said: “It is absolutely right that no medical professional should be placed in a position where they have to make that choice.

“That for me is self-evident. That is why we are making sure we get the equipment to the front line.”

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The Cabinet minister said PPE demand was well beyond anything like what it would be outside of a pandemic and that there was a “unified effort” to deliver more supplies.

He added: “In a normal circumstance, you would have us providing PPE to about 233 hospital trusts across the country.

“We are now talking about supplying 58,000 NHS and social care settings.

“That is a huge increase and on top of that, there is huge global demand for PPE and that does put a squeeze on supply.”