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Chancellor’s economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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THE CHANCELLOR, Rishi Sunak, set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Another announcement is that employers who take back staff on furlough and continuously employ them until January will get £1,000 cash bonus per employee.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

  • A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.
  • VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
  • Funding for apprenticeships and trainee-ships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.
  • £1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres
  • A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.
  • A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

Stephen Crabb has given his strong backing to the Chancellor’s coronavirus recovery plan, calling it “a huge step towards getting Pembrokeshire back on its feet”.

The Preseli MP said that the Chancellor’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ includes a £1000 bonus for businesses to bring back furloughed staff and the Kickstart scheme which will provide high quality work placements for unemployed youngsters. In England businesses will also be offered £1000 bonus to take on a trainee and £2000 for each new apprentice. Welsh Government has been given equivalent money to support their training schemes.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the Chancellor’s statement, Crabb said: “Make no mistake, this action to save a generation of young people from bearing the brunt of the economic crisis is incredibly positive and to be welcomed.”

The MP has previously warned about the prospect of a surge in unemployment as a result of the lockdown.

The Chancellor also announced a cut in VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector, giving a much needed boost to some of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus. Early on in the lockdown, Crabb wrote to the Chancellor to call for a package of support for Tourism that included a VAT cut.

Responding to the announcement today, he said: “I am delighted that the Chancellor has listened to the proposals that many MPs from coastal areas have put forward. Tourism and hospitality need a real shot in the arm and the VAT cut will be very welcome.”

Today’s statement also saw the launch of a new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, giving people 50% off meals out to encourage more families to eat out or get a takeaway during the month of August.   These measures will be important for Pembrokeshire’s many hospitality businesses who are still awaiting an announcement from Welsh Government on when they can open again.

On Friday Stephen Crabb will be bringing together more than thirty local pubs and restaurants for an online discussion with the County Council and others about how the sector can re-open safely and successfully.

 

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Police probe into racist Facebook comments over Penally asylum seekers

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A NEIGHBOURING police force have confirmed that they are investigating grossly offensive comments on a Facebook group that suggest that asylum seekers staying at the MOD Training Camp in Penally should be gassed or shot.

Around 234 asylum seekers—Kurdish Iraqis and Kurdish Iranians—are set to be housed at the camp.

Many of the protesters are locals concerned about their communities after a lack of communication of the arrival of the asylum seekers by the home Office, but South Wales police believe that some of the protests outside the camp have been organised by far-right elements based in Swansea.

Two people have been arrested in connection with protests. One person released without charge, and another, – a well-known right leaning You Tube vlogger from outside the local area has been bailed on the condition he says out of the county.

Some of the shocking posts state: “Run the bastards over”… “Put a bullet in their heads if they can’t respect others” or “Tell your family to keep everything locked up, 250 new thieves, rapist and paedophiles are about to arrive in the area.”

Far-right activist Tommy Robinson has added his voice to the Penally Camp protest campaign. The founder of the English Defence League dubbed the prospect of the camp housing up to 250 asylum seekers as ‘sickening’, which has led to more interest in Penally online.
The Pembrokeshire Herald has engaged Facebook moderators after news articles, which now reach one million people online, were spammed with racist comments. 6,000 comments have already been checked, and hundreds deleted this newspaper can confirm.

A police spokesman said: “South Wales Police is looking into a number of inflammatory posts published on social media concerning the accommodation of asylum seekers at Penally in Pembrokeshire. Users of social media are requested to be mindful of the language used when publishing posts.”

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There are no illegal immigrants in Penally, Home Office confirms

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THE HOME OFFICE has been in touch with The Pembrokeshire Herald to clarify some of the queries that locals have regarding the Penally Army Camp, now being used to house asylum seekers.

The Management Team at the asylum seeker holding unit have refused to engage with the local County Councillor, John Preston, but the information now received could go some way to answer some of the questions which have, until now, remained unanswered on social media, and by the local member himself.

Firstly, there has been speculation about the immigration status of those people held in Penally. The government has now confirmed that those being housed in MoD sites are people “currently awaiting asylum decisions”.

This means that all of the people in the camp have applied for asylum officially, and that they are currently in the United Kingdom legally. This is because a refugee, who has presented himself to the UK authorities without delay, showed good cause for his entry or presence and has made a claim for asylum as soon as was reasonably practicable, is afforded protection in law from offences connected with that entry. It is legal for people to enter the country in a manner which would normally be illegal, as long as it was for the purposes of seeking asylum.

The people who are staying at Penally Camp are new to the UK, having arrived in boats or in the back of lorries – but they have already been quarantined and screened for Covid-19.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “In line with guidelines about arrivals into the United Kingdom, asylum seekers will have first spent a 14-day quarantine period in other temporary accommodation before, providing they do not display any symptoms of Covid-19, being moved to the MoD sites [including Penally].”

The Home Office also said that whenever using contingency accommodation, they “ensure that detailed assessment is carried out to ensure asylum seekers have the support services they need. If there are any issues that need to be addressed, we will work with our contractor and other partners to find solutions.

Suggesting that the decision to use Penally Camp was made in a rush the Home Office said: “There are times where contingency accommodation must be procured and mobilised at speed to ensure we meet our legal obligations.”

The spokesman added: “The Home Office is committed to working collaboratively with communities and stakeholders to ensure that destitute asylum seekers are provided with safe, secure and suitable accommodation while their asylum claims are considered. This includes working in partnership with local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups in England and Local Health Boards in Wales, Public Health England and Wales, the Welsh Government and local police forces. We have specifically set up an Asylum Accommodation Strategic Working Group to support collaborative working.

“Our ambition is to house asylum seekers within the asylum estate without the need for contingency accommodation. We are working to address the issues putting pressure on our asylum accommodation. This includes resuming support cessations, to get people moving out of accommodation when their cases are concluded, and also to continue to take steps to address illegal migration and the exploitation and organised criminality that goes with it, including the dangerous Channel crossings we have seen in recent times”.

THREAT OF ARREST

In regards to the protests in Penally, the Home Office spokesperson said: “We will not tolerate any attempts to fuel resentment towards asylum seekers and we will take all the necessary steps to protect people in our care.

“We continually review the security at asylum accommodation sites with providers, who work closely with local police to ensure action is taken if someone tries to access a site.”

The information sent from the Home Office came on the day that more asylum seekers were bussed into the camp, under the escort of unmarked police vehicles (Sept 28).
One solitary protestor was on hand to attempt to block the bus, but under the threat of arrest he was moved out of the way by a police officer.

On Monday evening, some of the asylum seekers from the camp came to the gates to speak to protestors. One of those protestors, James Gould, a member of the Facebook group ‘Penally Against Illegal Migrant Camp’ live streamed an ad-hoc interview with one of the camp residents, which has now been seen by over 20,000 people.

COUNCILLOR WANTS HIS VOICE HEARD

Meanwhile, Cllr Preston is pushing forward with his plan to spread national awareness about what is happening in Penally. He told the press over the weekend: “I spoke with a Home Office official last week and stated that I am deeply uncomfortable with the possibility that our human rights obligations may not be possible to uphold in such a facility”

“It is my understanding that the asylum seekers have been removed from support networks established within the UK who have the infrastructure to provide them with their essential medical, spiritual, emotional, and domestic needs.

“They have then been transported during the night to Penally where they have witnessed mass protests and media attention.

“Due to the highly prominent location of the camp it has now become a point of public curiosity creating an environment of anxiety and fear for those on both sides of the fence.

“I have met with residents and business owners over the weekend, and it is still not clear why such a facility has been established in the heart of one of Europe’s premier holiday destinations.

“I am in contact with the BBC with a view to raising national awareness of the situation at Penally Camp and how it has been implemented by the Home Office as I consider this to be of national importance.

“It will not benefit anyone to have a government enquiry in five years’ time to tell us lessons have been learnt’. The injustice is happening now in real time and this decision must be re-called as a matter of urgency”

In other comments to the press the councillor said: “No consideration has been afforded to the elderly population in the area or to the needs of a large group of vulnerable adults. The autocratic manner in which this decision has been made should be a concern to us all. We will continue to demand that it is reconsidered”

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Jail for woman who stole £93,000 from trusting elderly widow

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A WOMAN who stole £93,000 from an elderly widow who had come to trust her as a friend has been jailed for 28 months.

Fiona Louise Harwood, of High Street in Neyland, abused her position as power of attorney while informally caring for a woman in her 80s, to access her bank account and spend thousands of pounds on clothes, a holiday and dating websites.

The victim had so much trust in Harwood, who she had initially paid as a cleaner, that she had amended her will to leave the 50-year-old her house. She later discovered her friend had flouted her position for her own gain.

Dyfed-Powys Police sergeant Stuart Wheeler, who investigated the claims of fraud, explained that the incidents were reported to the force in January 2019.

He said: “This was a saddening investigation to work on, as it transpired the suspect had blatantly abused the trust of a vulnerable elderly woman who believed she could depend on her.

“Before coming to police, the victim had become aware that she hadn’t received a bank statement for over a year, and asked a friend to help her look into it.

“It transpired that the victim’s friend had been alerted to suspicious financial activity around six months earlier, when a Debenhams statement was received showing purchases made at the firm’s Exeter branch. Not only did the victim not hold an account with Debenhams, but the friend was aware that Harwood had recently visited the city.

“After contacting the bank for up-to-date statements, the friend saw there was a huge shortfall from the victim’s accounts, with just £6,000 remaining across an ISA, savings and current account.”

Paperwork showed four pages of purchases from Amazon, which the victim would not know how to use, stores including Next and Joules, and online dating sites.

Officers visited the victim, and learned that she had known Harwood for many years and had employed her to clean her home. She went on to claim a carer’s allowance, and was given power of attorney when the victim’s husband died in 2016.

“The sum of money missing from the victim’s accounts far surpassed what would have been spent in caring for the victim,” PS Wheeler said.

“She had taken advantage of a friend in an appalling way.”

As well as using the victim’s card to go shopping, financial checks showed Harwood had withdrawn £18,676 from ATMs, and transferred £50,300 to her own account.

Harwood was arrested on suspicion of fraud in February 2019. She later claimed she had been giving money to another woman from the victim’s account.

She was charged with fraud by abuse of position, and two counts of fraud by false representation – opening a Next account and Debenhams account in the victim’s name.

Harwood appeared at Swansea Crown Court on Friday, September 25 where she pleaded guilty to the charges.

She was sentenced to 28 months in prison.

“In being granted power of attorney, the defendant was expected to safeguard the financial interests of the victim, not use the position for her own gain,” PS Wheeler said.

“I have no doubt that this criminal behaviour would have continued if the victim’s friend had not become suspicious that something wasn’t right.

“We hope this sentence goes to show that committing fraud of this nature will not be tolerated.”

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