Business chiefs call for extra support
Prime Minister told more help is essential to soften the blow of a ‘hospitality lockdown in all but name’
FURIOUS business chiefs have stepped up calls for far-reaching taxpayer support as Boris Johnson unveiled a sixmonth Covid crackdown that could destroy thousands of companies. Bosses and lobby groups said that further help was now essential to prevent an economic collapse after the Government called for office workers to stay at home and banned pubs and restaurants from opening after 10pm.
Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said the change amounted to a “hospitality lockdown in all but name”.
The Treasury is understood to be considering further VAT and business rates deferrals, as well as a much more restricted furlough scheme.
However, no decisions have been made and the clock is ticking. Industry leaders begged for fresh support as Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England Governor, called for a “rethink” on the furlough scheme, which is protecting more than 3m jobs but is due to end on Oct 31.
Mr Johnson said the Government will be “throwing its arms” around busi- nesses and households, while the Treasury said Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is “applying his imagination and creativity” to help the worst-hit sectors.
But the PM’s curfew on pubs and restaurants and tighter limits on gatherings to fight the virus were greeted with shock, with business leaders saying there was little consultation and that detail was severely lacking ahead of the rule change taking effect tomorrow.
Premier Inn owner Whitbread and JD Wetherspoon became the latest to slash staff yesterday, announcing 6,500 job cuts between them. A third of hospitality firms’ annual sales happen between Hallowe’en and New Year’s Eve, meaning the restrictions could push many companies over the edge.
Ms Nicholls said: “To suggest that these measures could be in place for another six months without any hint of support for businesses directly affected was quite startling. Six months wipes out all of your Christmas trade.”
The Government’s message to work from home is also likely to harm businesses that depend on office trade.
Barclays immediately told hundreds of staff to work from home again, with other employers expected to follow.
Mr Bailey told a British Chambers of Commerce webinar that continued dependence on furlough in the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries most affected by social distancing means it is sensible to “stop and rethink”.
He said: “We are living in a fast-evolving world, certainly this week, so it would be completely inappropriate for me to tie the Chancellor’s hands. It is a very difficult situation we are in at the moment.”
Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said the prospect of a six-month lockdown was startling