As stores empty, new UK Covid support measures leave retailers in the cold
The UK Government has announced further support measures linked to the impact on English businesses of the Omicron Covid variant, but despite plunging footfall, retail seems to have been left out.
On Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a package of support for hospitality and leisure businesses in England. The package adds up to £1 billion and means eligible businesses will be able to claim a one-off cash grant of £6,000.
There's also a £30 million top-up being added to the Cultural Recovery Fund supporting institutions such as theatres and museums. And the sick pay rebate scheme, targeting small and medium-sized companies with compensation when employees are sick, is being reintroduced.
However, there’s no specific support for retailers. While locations such as pubs, restaurants, and theatres have seen mass cancellations due to the current Covid wave, retailers are still open. But that doesn't mean they're seeing the kind of visitor traffic they would normally expect at this time of year. And in addition to plunging footfall, many of the products they have in their stores that they'd expect to be selling well this week – such as party clothing – is staying firmly on the shelves. And many such items that have previously been ordered are being returned by consumers who’ve been cancelling their festive events.
Jace Tyrrell, CEO of the New West End Company that represents 600 businesses in London's West End, said: “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.”
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