Sunak to provide £5 billion of grants to pandemic hit businesses

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves the New Broadcasting House following an interview on BBC TV's The Andrew Marr Show in London, Britain, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce £5 billion of additional grants to help businesses hit hard by pandemic lockdowns in his budget statement next week, the government said on Saturday.

Shops, bars, clubs, hotels, restaurants, gyms and hair salons would be among nearly 700,000 companies eligible for new direct cash grants of up £18,000.

The government said the funding takes the total spent on direct grants to businesses during the crisis to £25 billion.

“There’s now light at the end of the tunnel and this £5 billion of extra cash grants will ensure our high streets can open their doors with optimism,” said Sunak.

Local authorities in England will also get an extra £425 million to distribute grants to businesses not eligible for the restart grants, while the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive £794 million of extra funding.

The government has already racked up more than £280 billion in coronavirus spending and tax cuts, pushing Britain’s borrowing to its highest level since World War Two.

While Sunak’s March 3 budget will include more spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sunak said he would use the budget to level with the public over the “enormous strains” in the country’s finances, warning that a bill will have to be paid after further coronavirus support.