Government pledges £4.6bn in lockdown business support grants

The  Staff Canteen

Businesses in sectors forced to close (hospitality, retail, leisure) will receive up to £9,000  under a new government grant scheme to help them survive the latest lockdown until spring, Treasury leader Rishi Sunak has announced.

The funds will add to business rates relief and the furlough scheme, which will last until the end of April.

In his speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: "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." 

He added that a further £594 million is being made available for local authorities and the devolved administrations to support businesses that may not be eligible for the grants but that have been affected by the restrictions. 

For all requests and enquiries, businesses should make contact with their local authorities.

The news follows on the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday that England would ender a third National lockdown, following in the footsteps of Northern Ireland and Wales, in line with Scotland whose first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced similarly rigorous restrictions. 

Under the new rules, hospitality will remain totally closed other than for takeaway and delivery in Tier 4 areas, and venues across Tier 3, 2 and 1 locations will be forced to close until further notice, with a review due at the beginning of February.

The major difference is that schools are now closed - which the government had previously said was of utmost priority to keep open - and that the most vulnerable in society have been asked to shield once again.

In his address, Boris Johnson said: "Since the pandemic began last year, the whole United Kingdom has been engaged in a great National effort to fight Covid and there's no doubt than in fighting the old variant of the virus, our collective efforts were working and would have continued to work, but we now have a new variant of the virus and it's been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading," adding that scientists believe it is more than 50 percent more contagious than its predecessor - and up to 70 percent more. 

"As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic," citing an alarming number of cases in hospital, which has increased by a third in the past week, 40 percent higher than in the first peak, and a 20 percent increase in Covid-related deaths in the past week.

Thus, he continued, "we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out." 

"In England, we must thus go into a National lockdown which is tough enough that it can contain this variant." 

"That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home." 

In her announcement yesterday, Scottish first minister Nicola Surgeon said that she was "more concerned about the situation now that I've been since March," outlining the toughest restrictions imposed on Scotland since then. 

While some have questioned the government's statistics, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt took to social media to justify the need for immediate and tough restrictions.

He argued that "to those arguing winter is always like this in the NHS: you are wrong. I faced four serious winter crises as Health Sec and the situation now is off-the-scale worse than any of those," and that a third more hospital beds are currently taken up by Covid patients than were in the first wave. 

The relaxation of rules will of course depend on the deployment of the vaccine - having started injecting the Pfizer vaccine four weeks ago and the Oxford AstraZeneca one today.

The latter was developed in the UK and easier to store than its American counterpart, which scientists say will make it easier to roll out in care homes and around the country for the people most at risk of dying of the virus. 

However, as a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus has begun affecting different, less evidently vulnerable demographics, it is a case of keeping that at bay with more restrictions.

The Prime Minister said that come February, everyone in the four top priority groups will be immunised - all care home residents and workers, everyone over the age of 70, all front line health and social care workers and the clinically vulnerable. 

"If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus, and of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long."

He continued: "We should remain cautious about the timetable ahead, but if our understanding of the virus doesn't change dramatically once again, if the rollout of the vaccine programme continues to be successful, if deaths start to fall as the vaccine takes effect, and if critically if everyone plays their part by following the rules, I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown reopening schools after the February half term and starting cautiously to move regions down in the tiers." 

The Prime Minister promised that the end is in sight, but added: "For now, I'm afraid, we must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives." 


A post shared by D and S (@mysaintedauntuk)


What next?

In so far as the consequences for hospitality, many see this as the most dire situation to find themselves in since March, jesting at or calling out the government for mishandling the crisis and asking for specific support.

If you'd like to share your story or put a particular issue affecting hospitality in the spotlight, get in touch either by DM on our social channels or in the comments section below.

Image credit: @mysaintedauntuk 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th January 2021

Government pledges £4.6bn in lockdown business support grants