The government is providing one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England.with Hospitality UK reporting that many businesses have lost 40-60 per cent of their December trade, often their most profitable month.
Around 200,000 businesses will be eligible for business grants which will be administered by local authorities and will be available in the coming weeks.
The government says the 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.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said: “With the surge in Omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year.
That’s why we’re taking immediate action to help with an extra £1 billion in grants to these industries and reintroducing our Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.
I urge people across the country to please get boosted now to secure vital protection for yourselves, your loved ones and your communities.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak 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.
“So we’re stepping in with £1 billion of support, including a new grant scheme, the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme and further funding released through the Culture Recovery Fund.
“Ultimately the best thing we can do to support businesses is to get the virus under control, so I urge everyone to Get Boosted Now.”
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 £100 million 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 £250 million of previously allocated funding that remains with local authorities.
As increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases means more workers taking time off work, the government is also reintroducing the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS).
The 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 2 weeks per employee. Firms will be eligible for the scheme from today and they will be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.
To provide continued support to the cultural sector, £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.
Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “These measures will provide some welcome respite to many of those businesses who have been hit hardest by the latest Covid measures.
“The Chancellor and his team have engaged with us in talks over the past week, considered the experiences of Chamber business communities and the proposals we put to them.
“We are pleased that the Chancellor heard our call for additional grant funding for hospitality and leisure businesses, which will provide some much-needed support in the face of this increasingly difficult trading period. Clarity and speed will be needed to ensure that these grants are paid out swiftly to help these hard-pressed firms weather the next few weeks.
“Whilst these measures are a positive starting point, if restrictions persist or are tightened further, then we would need to see a wider support package, equal to the scale of any new measures, put in place.”
Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of the manufacturing organisation, Make UK, said:“This is a welcome announcement which will help shore up businesses in those areas most affected. In particular the return of statutory sick pay from day one will aid those employees who find it necessary to isolate. However, crucially this announcement has major gaps in that it does not cover the substantial number of companies that are in the food and drink supply chain, the biggest manufacturing sector, who will be unable to access any kind of support.
“Furthermore hospitality is not the only sector being severely impacted. Government must now consider targeted support for the aerospace sector in particular which has taken one step forward and now two steps back as travel has once again subsided.”
But not everyone’s happy.
The £1 billion Omicron business measures are nothing but a gesture and ‘lip service’ to businesses impacted by the Omicron ‘tidal wave’, say tax and advisory firm Blick Rothenberg.
Nimesh Shah, CEO at the firm said: “The limited support measures announced by the Chancellor today are a ‘drop in ocean’ when compared to the previous government support packages.”
He added: “The £6,000 per premises grant for eligible businesses offers very little and arguably businesses have already lost more than that during December, as government measures and announcements around Omicron have led to mass cancellation of events and parties in the run-up to Christmas.”