The government has announced a £1 billion fund to support businesses most affected by the latest Covid-19 variant Omicron across the UK.
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises, plus more than £100 million discretionary funding will be made available for local authorities to support other businesses.
About 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 will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK.
Another £30 million in further funding will be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling more cultural organisations in England to apply for support during the winter.
At what is often their most profitable time of year, many pubs and restaurants have seen cancellations and reduced footfall as people have responded to the rise in cases ahead of Christmas. Hospitality UK reports that many businesses have lost 40-60 per cent of their December trade, usually their most profitable month.
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 councils in England.
Local authorities will have the discretion to allocate this funding to businesses most in need. The ARG top-up will be prioritised for those local authorities that have distributed most of their existing allocation. This is on top of the £250 million of previously allocated funding that remains with local authorities.
The government is also reintroducing the statutory sick pay rebate scheme as the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases lead to more workers taking time off work.
The scheme 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 of 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 will build on nearly £240 million of cultural grant support already allocated this financial year or currently available for organisations to bid for.
Chancellor 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."
Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality CEO, said: “This is a generous package building on existing hospitality support measures to provide an immediate emergency cash injection for those businesses who, through no fault of their own, have seen their most valuable trading period annihilated.
“It will help to secure jobs and business viability in the short term, particularly among small businesses in the sector, and we particularly welcome the boost to funds for the supply chain and event and business catering companies so badly affected by the reintroduction of work from home guidelines.
“It is a generous top-up emergency fund in addition to previous support and with a commitment from ministers to prioritise hospitality and its supply chain in allocation of funds. There is now a real urgency in getting this funding to businesses so we urge local authorities to prioritise distribution of funds to make sure jobs and businesses are preserved through this difficult period.”
Ronan Harte, CEO, BaxterStorey, said: “It has been two weeks since the government first made the announcement, encouraging people to work from home. Our sector has already been significantly impacted and, whilst we welcome this initial news, we will watch closely to see how much further the government goes to supporting the sector in the coming weeks.
“The government needs a robust and clear plan for the weeks ahead if further restrictive measures are to be considered. It is important to note that the hospitality sector is made up of multiple layers of suppliers which have been affected. This just doesn’t just apply to caterers, high street restaurants, pubs, bars, etc, but also the entire supply chain.
“It is important that all elements of the sector are included as part of any package of support during these difficult times.”
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