Government must reveal details of planned economic intervention if Omicron restrictions are tightened - Greg Wright

A year ago, as the curtain came down on a terrible year, it seemed reasonable to believe that by Christmas 2021, most of our troubles would be far away.

In late December 2020, the planned mass roll out of vaccines appeared to offer us a one way ticket out of the misery, isolation and economic chaos caused by the pandemic.

You would have needed a profoundly pessimistic spirit to believe that we would close 2021 with the prospect of further restrictions hovering over our shoulders, like the doleful presence of Marley's ghost.

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Sadly, the emergence of the Omicron strain of the virus is causing deep unease and hardship for businesses across a vast range of sectors.

Harry Khinda who runs The Crafty Indian craft beer and Indian street food venue in Shipley, West Yorkshire, said: "So far in the run-up to Christmas we’ve had 90 to 100 people cancel, around 300 fewer bookings and a reduction in walk-ins of between 100 to 200 people."

That's why it's vital that the Chancellor spells out precisely what type of economic intervention is planned, if the Government is forced to effectively close sections of the economy next year, to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed.

The Government has already announced a new package of support for hospitality and leisure companies, which have been hit hard by consumers who are displaying understandable caution in the face of Omicron's relentless march.

The package has promised another £1 billion of financial support for hospitality and leisure companies hit by the recent surge in Covid cases.

Businesses will be able to get one-off grants worth up to £6,000 per premises that they run, the Treasury said on Tuesday.

Companies with fewer than 250 staff will also be allowed to claim back up to two weeks’ worth of statutory sick pay for each employee who gets the virus.

Carolyn Frank, the Federation of Small Businesses Development Manager in North Yorkshire, said the announcement about statutory sick pay relief is a real safety net for employers, although certain sectors will find it hard to operate if there are widespread staff absences due to the virus.

She said: "The widespread loss of turnover due to limited operating capacity and falling demand has been the biggest problem throughout the pandemic and continues to cause problems, particularly at this key trading time.

"Consumer confidence has nosedived and we can only hope that savings made now will be spent in businesses in the New Year, after the peak of the Omicron crisis and it is vital that businesses are supported to trade at capacity. "

Ms Frank is calling for further support for sectors and supply chains, including the self-employed and those working in sectors such as beauty industry, travel, and food wholesale .

She added: "This is not just about frontline hospitality, the whole economy has taken another huge hit from the health crisis when it is already under intense pressure and Government needs to make sure that support measures are in line with this."

Harry Khinda who runs The Crafty Indian craft beer and Indian street food venue in Shipley, West Yorkshire, said: "So far in the run-up to Christmas we’ve had 90 to 100 people cancel, around 300 fewer bookings and a reduction in walk-ins of between 100 to 200 people.

"The Government has not learned any lessons since the start of the pandemic and the situation is worse now than it was then. At least when there’s a lockdown, you know where you stand.

“This time, there are so many negative words coming out of Ministers’ mouths that it just puts people off going out - but we’ve still had to order stock and pay staff as well as having to pay the highest gas and electricity bills in many years.

"To offer us up to £6,000 support doesn’t even scratch the surface and just leaves us in limbo. It’s not just the monetary sum, though, it’s the lack of leadership and poor decision-making.

They should have made a decision a month ago. If they thought the risk was too great, they should have shut down hospitality, and helped the industry with a viable financial support package.”

The pressures on small firms are growing by the day. Many businesses are fighting for survival as they face a sea of economic troubles. The Chancellor must reveal how he will help them cope in the worst case scenario, before it is too late.

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