Industry welcomes Sunak’s £1-bn Omicron support

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Industry welcomes Omicron support
(Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Britain’s business lobby groups have broadly welcomed the plan although some trade groups and unions have criticised the lack of substance after Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday (21) launched a £1 billion-aid package to help businesses hardest hit by the Omicron coronavirus variant over Christmas.

Succumbing to intense pressure to offer financial support amid a collapse in pre-Christmas trade for pubs, restaurants and hotels, the chancellor announced a £1bn bailout package consisting of business grants and help with sick pay.

The plan was welcomed by Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) as it believes that food and drink wholesalers will be supported.

James Bielby, Chief Executive, FWD, said, “We are very pleased that the new support package specifically includes businesses that supply the hospitality and leisure sector, which means food and drink wholesalers will be supported. The Additional Restrictions Grant has been a lifeline for food distributors who have not been included in direct support for hospitality. It’s very encouraging that the Chancellor has recognised the vital role they play in supplying not only pubs and restaurants but care homes, schools and hospitals.

“Short notice of restrictions on pubs and restaurants means wholesalers who are already holding stock can’t sell it on, leading to million-pound losses and tons of food wasted. They need support as much as their customers, if not more.”

Responding to the announcement of new government support measures for small firms, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry said, “These positive measures will help alleviate the intense pressures that small firms are currently under, and hopefully arrest a significant decline in confidence over this year.

“With the prospect of one million people sick or self-isolating by January, we encouraged the Chancellor to bring back the COVID statutory sick pay rebate – we’re pleased to see our recommendation taken forward today. 

“This move will reduce stress for small employers up and down the country, helping those who are struggling most with depleted cashflow. It’s vital that small firms – once again up against a massively disrupted festive season – can reclaim the costs of supporting staff.”

However, Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the measures announced by the chancellor amounted to “abandoning” workers ahead of Christmas and as the pandemic worsened.

“The economic support measures announced today are not conditional on employers keeping workers on and covering their wages. And they do nothing to fix the gaping holes in our sick pay system,” she said.

“Millions of workers will go into Christmas worrying for their jobs and anxious about what they will do if asked to self-isolate. The chancellor must go back to the drawing board,” O’Grady said.

The plan will provide grants to firms in the hospitality and leisure sectors during what is normally their busiest time – and hand out statutory sick pay for small and medium sized businesses, the government said in a statement.

The hospitality sector has repeatedly called for state help in recent weeks, as soaring coronavirus infections spark staff absences and tumbling demand.