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No targeted support for retail as Chancellor announces Omicron support package

Lauretta Roberts
21 December 2021

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has revealed a package of support for hospitality businesses hit by a slump in demand due to surging cases of Omicron in the lead up to Christmas but so far there has been no targeted support for retailers hit by falling footfall.

The Treasury revealed a number of support measures for retail and hospitality today including £683 million of funding for targeted grants for businesses in England, who will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises.

There will also be £102 million of funding made available for further grants, to be given by local authorities to other businesses affected by the pandemic. This further funding may be made available to areas such as retailers, suppliers and landlords of affected firms.

The Government has said it will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences and medium-sized employers across the UK. This will be handed out through the reintroduction of the Government’s statutory sick pay rebate scheme (SSPRS).

The scheme reimburses firms with fewer than 250 employees with up to two weeks of Covid-related sick pay per employee. Firms will be eligible for the scheme from Tuesday and be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.

Some £150 million has also been allocated to the devolved administrations. The funding, which will be issued in relation to the Barnett formula, will comprise about £80 million for the Scottish Government, £50 million for the Welsh Government and £25 million for the Northern Ireland Executive.

While the move was welcomed by some in hospitality, others dismissed it as insufficient. Meanwhile other hard hit areas such as travel and retail have yet to receive targeted support. 

Jace Tyrrell, CEO of New West End Company, which represents businesses on and around Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, said some businesses faced permanent closure without more support. Businesses in city centres have struggled all year as office workers stayed at home and tourism was weak.

“With people increasingly staying home in the wake of rising cases, retail and leisure businesses are facing a bleak festive season. Having made significant investments in their winter operations in the hope of a bumper Christmas to make up for the last 20 months, to see empty streets is a hammer blow.

“While the Government has pledged some financial support for hospitality and leisure, it is simply not enough. There is no relief for the retail industry, which has been equally hard hit by a lack of footfall. The Treasury must wake up to the fact that viable businesses will be forced to permanently close their doors unless more robust temporary measures are put in place to ease the financial pressure,” Tyrrell said.

Andrew Goodacre, CEO of independent retail trade body Bira, said independent retailers and retail in general "will feel very disappointed with this announcement today by the Chancellor”.

Shops do not have cancelled bookings to shout about, however they do have lower footfall, cancelled trips to the shops and therefore cancelled purchases at a critical time of year – just as much damage but just not as ‘visible’.

“The high street is a mixture of interdependent businesses from hospitality, leisure and retail. If one of these fails, the high street is a worse place to be with other businesses suffering. It will cost the government a lot more to put right in the future compared to helping save livelihoods and jobs now.”

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