U.K. Businesses Plea for Help After Latest England Lockdown

Businesses are calling for more support and relief measures after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged England back into full lockdown in a bid to stem the surge of rising Covid-19 infections.

Industry groups from sectors including retail, pubs and car manufacturers are pressing the government to help avert business failures by extending certain tax reliefs to companies, giving grants and assuring that the current program to support furloughs will be extended beyond April.

The full emergencylockdown is a devastating blow for companies large and small that have already had to cope with months of disruption and previous lockdowns since the pandemic took hold in March. Britain’s retail and hospitality businesses are likely to be the hardest hit as all non-essential shops, restaurants, and bars will have to stay closed.

Already, 178,000 jobs have been lost in the retail industry and more could go without additional support, according to Helen Dickinson, chief executive officer of the British Retail Consortium. The group is calling for the government to extend business-rates relief, a form of property tax, from April.

The consequences could be “severe” for businesses that yet again face losing 2 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) per week in sales, Dickinson said in an emailed statement.

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the latest lockdown, following an “abysmally quiet” festive period, could mean “a wave of business failures is imminent unless a greater package of financial support from the government is given to secure pubs and the brewers that supply them.”

The country’s aviation and automotive sectors are already suffering from fragile demand and the new measures, while vital to fight the pandemic, will make it worse, according to Stephen Phipson, the head of Make UK, an industry body for manufacturing and engineering companies.

“Businesses are taking on substantial debt, deferring tax bills, postponing mortgage payments and facing empty order books; this cannot continue indefinitely,” he said in an emailed statement. “The government must now bring forward a comprehensive plan for the next six months that provides certainty, stability and confidence including targeted support for critical sectors.”

Although billions have already been spent helping firms survive, businesses cannot be allowed to fail now when the vaccine rollout “provides light at the end of this long tunnel,” according to Britain’s Chambers of Commerce.

“The financial support for businesses needs to be stepped up in line with the devastating restrictions being placed on them,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the chambers of commerce. “Otherwise, many of these firms may simply not be there to power our recovery when we emerge once again.”

Richard Burge, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also said urgent help is needed at a time when business confidence at its lowest point since the financial crash in 2008.

The Federation of Small Businesses said support is “plainly insufficient.”

“There must now be a step change in support to equal the compensation offered during the first lockdown,” Mike Cherry, national chair of the federation. “The level of government grants is off the mark by an order of magnitude and has not kept the pace with events.”

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