Thought leadership

Businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure will receive new grants to help them keep afloat until spring, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said. The grants will be worth up to £9,000 per property, the Treasury says.

The help is in addition to business rates relief and the furlough scheme which has been extended until the end of April. Separately, £594m will be made available to affected firms outside these sectors, Mr Sunak said.

This money will be made available by local authorities. In total, the package of measures is worth £4.6bn across the UK.

All non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues are now closed with pubs and restaurants allowed to offer takeaway food only. Indoor and outdoor sport is also cancelled except for elite competitions.

“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen,” said Mr Sunak.

Businesses such as cafes, restaurants, shops that don’t sell essentials and leisure centres have been particularly hard hit by coronavirus lockdown measures as people are told to stay at home. Before the new help was announced, firms and business groups said they would need fresh funding o stay afloat if they were forced to close again.

The director general of the CBI business group, Tony Danker, told the Today programme before the plan was announced that companies starved of help would be forced to cut jobs.

England’s rules are due to be reviewed on 15 February while Scotland’s will be reviewed at the end of January.

This new grant package is welcome, and will go some way to reassuring the worst affected businesses,” said Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors business lobby group.

But, he said, the chancellor should “remain wary” of ending much of the support in the Spring without further information on the government’s vaccine roll-out which businesses will need to plan their reopening.

In the UK, the unemployment rate rose to 4.9% in the three months to October, with the jobless total up to 1.7 million people. Redundancies hit a record high over the period.

The Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the government’s independent forecaster, predicts the UK economy will have shrunk by 11.3% in 2020 – the biggest decline in 300 years. It expects unemployment to peak at 9.7%.

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