Roadmap must be matched by Budget support
By Rob Freeman | 23rd February 2021
The road map out of coronavirus lockdown spelled out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson must be accompanied by further support in next week's Budget, according to business leaders.
Elements of Mr Johnson's route to opening up the country and economy were met with a mixed response with hospitality and leisure businesses warning of further tough hits in the ongoing closure.
But as Punchline-Gloucester.com canvassed views, there was widespread agreement of the need for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to pave the route through the next few months with further government support.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UKHospitality
"The sector is obviously devastated that its reopening will be so far away. From the start of November, the sector will have been closed for nearly 200 days with just a couple of weeks of heavily restricted trading in December.
"This delay in reopening will make the job of survival all the more difficult for businesses only just clinging onto existence.
"When we can open, our businesses are going to be facing severe restrictions. Only 40% of hospitality businesses have an outdoor area and, in some cases, this is little more than a table and a couple of chairs.
"Outdoor only opening initially just does not work for huge numbers of businesses. Enforcing table service, plus the rule of six and a maximum of two households will see businesses trading below sustainable levels - though it is a relief to see the back of the curfew and substantial meals.
"The job for the Government now is to make sure our sector survives this further period of closure intact.
"The Chancellor has just nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that simply will not be there without a substantial package of compensation.
"In the immediate term, we need a generous compensation package that goes beyond what was offered in January if we expect businesses to survive, with a commitment to eliminate new costs that are due to hit, such as HMRC tax bills and loan repayments.
"An extension of the VAT cut and business rates holiday must be confirmed along with a targeted extension of the furlough scheme. We must also have an extension of the rent moratorium, with loan repayments and HMRC debt delayed in order to give businesses some breathing room."
Paul Soden, owner, Cafe Rene
"It's good to have a road map at last but the devil is always in the detail .
"Furlough must be continued until May 17 or later for hospitality and similar sectors.
"More grants will be needed . Those that have gambled on taking a bounce back loan must hope trade returns to normal and more fast.
"It is not an easy road map for any business to follow, never mind hospitality. All businesses will have to be on full alert and ready to seize any opportunity for quite some time to come."
Phil Smith, managing director, Business West
"Many of our companies will have been disappointed by this road map.
"It certainly does not give many of them real hope of surviving the next few months - particularly in the hospitality sector where so many restaurants and nightclubs will not be open until June.
"This means that support for hospitality businesses in particular will be so important for the Chancellor when he presents his budget next Wednesday.
"We must now have a meaningful extension to the furlough scheme, perhaps with some training and re-training commitments included.
"I have to say that I am hopeful this support will be forthcoming from the Treasury as the Prime Minister promised business: "We will not pull the rug out".
"That gives struggling companies some hope that they can hang on with further furlough support. We also hope that Rishi Sunak can also extend the business rates holiday for companies.
"For business, the return to school of all children on March 8 will be a huge boost for their employees who have had the difficult burden of home schooling.
"What we saw today was a cautious Prime Minister who was intent on not falling into the trap of overpromising and not delivering."
Mike Cherry, chairman, Federation of Small Businesses
"This road map provides some much-needed clarity for small businesses in England which have faced an incredibly tough year.
"The Government's commitment to helping small firms and sole traders access testing and its recognition of the plight faced by suppliers are welcome.
"It's important for this plan to protect against a fourth Covid wave and accompanying lockdown, the imposition of which would be devastating for the 250,000 firms that fear closure this year.
"Small businesses are clear that recovery depends on an accelerating vaccine programme, access to an improved testing infrastructure for firms of all sizes, the safe return of schools, and the right safety measures within businesses.
"The Chancellor must deliver on the Prime Minister's "whatever it takes" pledge at next week's Budget. On one side of the coin we have continued restrictions - on the other, we need corresponding business support.
"Whatever it takes means bringing those overlooked by current support measures into the fold, including suppliers, directors and the newly self-employed. Upwards of a million small business owners and sole traders are currently receiving no direct help whatsoever.
"Extension of business rates reliefs and measures to mitigate the burden of emergency debt will provide small firms with some urgently-needed breathing space as they fight to make it through to the summer.
"Fundamentally, the implementation of, and deadlines for, business support measures need to reflect this road map to avoid forcing the great businesses of tomorrow under before they've had a chance to realise their potential."
Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium
"While we are encouraged by a plan for non-essential stores to reopen, the heavy impact of the pandemic means some may never be able to.
"Every day a shop remains closed increases the chances that it will never open again - costing jobs and damaging local communities.
"Non-essential shops are ready to reopen and have been investing hundreds of millions on making themselves Covid-secure.
"Government should remain flexible and allow non-essential retail to reopen as soon as the data suggests it is safe to do so. Until it is permitted, retailers will need continued support.
"We welcome the PM's call 'not to pull the rug out' from under businesses. To this end, the Government must act on three vital issues - rents, rates and grants.
"To avoid further job losses and permanent job closures, the Chancellor must announce a targeted business rates relief from April and extend the moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants.
"This would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery."
Tony Danker, director-general, CBI
"The Prime Minister's road map offers hope that the country can get back to business in the coming months.
"Business backs the step-by-step approach to re-opening and put an end to damaging stop-start restrictions. And getting children back into the classroom first is as much a priority for business as it is for families across the country.
"The Budget is the second half of this announcement - extending business support in parallel to restrictions will give firms a bridge to the other side.
"This is particularly needed for sectors who will have to wait for up to three months to re-open and have an anxious 10 days ahead before the Budget.
"Businesses are committed to working with government to refresh practical guidance for firms and to fast-track the roll out of tests in workplaces in the months ahead.
"With good news coming every day on the vaccines, the road map offers a pragmatic and safe route out of lockdown in England. Businesses will play their full part in doing so with public health in mind and the confidence to kickstart a recovery."
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