Calls for financial support if unlocking is delayed
If there are any changes to the June 21st ‘unlocking’ date this must be paired with details of economic measures to support affected businesses and industries, Labour has argued.
Prime minister, Boris Johnson, is due to reveal whether the final step in the easing of Covid-19 restrictions can be taken on Monday.
However, with cases rising, doubts are beginning to creep in.
While Labour believes the roadmap should be guided by the science, the party argues throughout the crisis government incompetence has meant they have been too slow to act.
Too often details of economic support have regularly trailed behind public health announcements, severely damaging business confidence, causing anxiety, and even leading to workers being let go unnecessarily, the party said.
Ed Miliband, Labour shadow business secretary, said: “Businesses have operated under historic uncertainty during this crisis, worsened by details of economic support playing catch up with public health announcements.
“Now once again, businesses are in the dark, with a perfect storm of financial pinch points brewing and no reassurance from government that economic measures will remain in step with possible changes to the roadmap.
“It is right we remain guided by the science to tackle this virus, but businesses should absolutely not be paying the price for the Government’s poor handling of our borders and the new variant.
“We’ve got to back businesses on our high streets and safeguard the recovery of local economies.
“Businesses should not have to worry for even one day that economic support will be pulled away whilst restrictions remain in place.”
The hospitality industry is likely to be one of the worst affected industries if the unlocking date slips, with a quarter of the industry still closed.
That includes those legally required to shut like night clubs and live music venues, as well as those for whom it is not currently financially viable to open because of restrictions impacting trade, including wedding venues, events spaces and very small pubs and bars.
From July, businesses will no longer be legally protected from evictions by their landlords.
It is estimated that around £6 billion of debt accrued during the crisis is owed to commercial landlords – with 90 per cent of this total in the retail and hospitality sectors.
It is estimated that two-thirds of retailers in the UK are at risk of legal action on at least one of their stores, and around 40 per cent of hospitality businesses have not reached an agreement on rent arrears.
Commenting on the calls for further economic support Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “Hospitality businesses cannot continue to operate under conditions that leave them unable to trade profitably and so we echo the importance of Government support should there be any delay to the complete lifting of restrictions on June 21st.
“If the government decides it has to keep some restrictions in place after this date, then it must prioritise those that do the least damage to business and commit to further supporting the sector.
“Among other measures, the government must postpone business rates payments until at least October and extend the rent moratorium while a long-term solution is found.
“Businesses need a swift, publicly-stated commitment that such support will be in place in the event of any delays, giving them much-needed reassurance after more than 15 months of closure and severely disrupted trading.
“Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK - but only if it is given the proper support.”