Sunak offers £1bn omicron business support package

Chancellor succumbs to pressure from business leaders and announces more than £1bn of support for companies across the UK hit hardest by omicron

UPDATE: Devolved nations have also announced funding support packages for businesses affected by omicron restrictions, though finer details have yet to be established.

Scotland

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has outlined a £100m emergency package for businesses experiencing cancellations because of the rapid spread of omicron.

The £10om support package is broken down into:

  • £66m for eligible hospitality businesses
  • £20m for the culture sector
  • £8m for food and drink supply chain businesses including wholesalers
  • £3m for the wedding sector
  • £3m for the worst affected businesses in the tourism sector, including international inbound tour operators

Eligible hospitality businesses will be contacted so they won’t need to apply for funding. Food and drink wholesalers can apply for funding from the re-run of the Scottish Wholesale Food and Drink Resilience Fund in January 2022.

Wales

Meanwhile, the Welsh government has announced a fund of up to £60m for any businesses affected by restrictions. It’s also making £5.25m available to arts organisations, museums, libraries and independent cinemas. Further details will be published on the Business Wales website.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £1bn omicron business support package including £6,000 grants for hospitality and leisure.

The Chancellor has also reintroduced the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which will reimburse small businesses the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences.

And it has lifted the Culture Recovery Fund by another £30m to help theatres, orchestras and museums survive until March 2022.

£6,000 one-off hospitality grant

The Government is providing one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England as part of its omicron business support – worth a total of up to £683m for England alone for an estimated 200,000 businesses.

Many pubs and restaurants have seen cancellations and reduced footfall as people have responded to the rise in cases ahead of Christmas, often their most profitable time of year. UKHospitality has reported that many businesses have lost 40-60 per cent of their December trade, often their most profitable month, due to the public staying away because of omicron.

The £6,000 business grants which will be administered by local authorities and will be available in the coming weeks.

The cash awards will vary according to the size of the business with those with a rateable value of more than £51,000 eligible for the full £6,000, those between £15,000 and £51,000 being offered £4,000 and smaller operations getting £2,666.

The Government points out that the £6,000 hospitality grants are equivalent to the monthly cash grants provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed earlier this year, despite businesses now being still able to trade.

According to the Treasury, many businesses have more cash in the bank than they did at the start of the pandemic and net cash deposits for all hospitality businesses have risen by £7bn (40 per cent), while small and medium-sized businesses in the hospitality sector have seen their cash deposits rise by £2bn (79 per cent).

However, Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, told the Daily Telegraph that the package “borders on the insulting”.

Des Gunewardena, chief executive of D&D London, which owns restaurants including Coq d’Argent and Quagalino’s, told the newspaper the grants of £6,000 per site for businesses like his were “wholly and shockingly inadequate”.

“Many of our larger restaurants each lost £100,00 revenue from cancellations last week. The same again this week and heaven knows what’s going to happen to our New Year’s Eve. So each of those businesses is facing £200,000 losses and has been offered £6,000. Doesn’t even cover the cost of our Christmas decorations.”

Tim Rumney, chief executive of Best Western Hotels, added: “Rishi’s support is like a dud cracker on Christmas day. It’s just so disappointing and underwhelming in every sense.”

>See also: Businesses call for £12bn tax hike to be scrapped

Statutory Sick-Pay Rebate Scheme

Government will also cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK.

The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS) will help small and medium-sized employers – those with fewer than 250 employees – by reimbursing them for the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences, for up to two weeks per employee.

Firms will be eligible for the scheme from today and they will be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.

Culture Recovery Fund

£30 million further funding will be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund to support organisations such as theatres, orchestras and museums through the winter to March 2022.

This figure adds to nearly £240m of cultural grant support already allocated this financial year or currently available for organisations to bid for.

Additional Restrictions Grant

To support other businesses impacted by Omicron – such as those who supply the hospitality and leisure sectors – the Government is also giving a more than £100m boost to the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) fund for local authorities in England.

Local Authorities will have discretion to allocate this funding to businesses most in need. The ARG top up will be prioritised for those local authorities that have distributed the most of their existing allocation.

This is on top of the £250m of previously allocated funding that remains with local authorities.

£154m support for devolved nations

The final piece of the package is £154m to provide equivalent omicron business support in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Treasury has so far provided more than £400bn to support workers and companies during the pandemic.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said: “We recognise that the spread of the Omicron variant means businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors are facing huge uncertainty, at a crucial time.”

More on omicron

Omicron and small business – what are the rules?

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