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Ministers must end ‘text for access’ and address £62 billion business debt

MINISTERS must end the “text for access” system for their billionaire friends and address a £62 billion debt burden that is facing businesses, Labour demanded today.

The call came amid another wave Tory sleaze scandals, revealing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson “fixed” a tax issue for Sir James Dyson after being texted directly and Chancellor Rishi Sunak “pushed” his officials to try to secure a loan for financial services firm Greensill following texts from former PM David Cameron.

Labour is calling on the government to “stop giving its friends a priority pass” and has proposed that businesses be given more flexible options to repay debt taken on to stay afloat during the Covid-19 crisis.

The options would include student loan-style arrangements linked to profitability that would see businesses begin repayments once they are “out of the red and back on their feet.”

The retail industry alone is still about £11bn in debt, while one in 10 hospitality businesses have low or no confidence that they will survive the next three months, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Labour shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “It’s time ministers stood up for businesses in this country, even if they don’t have the Prime Minister’s mobile number.

“The path to recovery will be long and difficult for many businesses, and a big challenge facing these firms is the debt overhang built up to keep themselves afloat in the crisis.”

Mr Miliband hit out at the government for refusing to introduce the kind of flexibility struggling businesses need even as ministers acted “quickly and flexibly” to address issues raised by their personal connections.

“Forcing businesses to repay debt while they are still in the red makes no economic sense,” he said.

“The government must give our businesses the time to get back on their feet by linking repayments to profits or risk businesses going to the wall and taking their debt with them — threatening many good businesses and inflicting further damage on our high streets.”

Labour also called for the Chancellor to “come clean” and publish all his correspondence surrounding changes to tax rules and coronavirus support schemes following the lobbying scandals.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “Rishi Sunak has been running scared of his role in the sleaze that is engulfing the Conservative Party, but the longer he hides from scrutiny, the more questions it raises.”

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