Coronavirus: Clarity needed for businesses on government’s cash relief plans

TRADE groups have again voiced concern about the reviewed financial measures announced last night (March 17) by the UK Government, saying they do not address the “immediate” issues for the trade.

A business rates ‘holiday’ for 12 months and cash grants of up to £25,000 for small businesses were among the measures outlined by chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of the £330 billion package of “loans and guarantees”. The UK Government said the package of measures mean over £3.5 billion in additional funding will be provided to the devolved administrations for support to businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Scottish Government has today (March 18) confirmed that the business rates ‘holiday’ will also be applied north of the border. Responding to the chancellor’s statement, economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said the Scottish Government “will pass all consequentials to businesses to help them through this challenging period”.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said more information is needed on the financial policies outlined by the chancellor – including when they will be available – to relieve the initial pressure on operators who are rapidly losing money.

McClarkin said: “We recognise as a sector that we are in unprecedented times and are prepared to play our part, but whilst we welcome the measures outlined, they do not deal with the immediate cash flow and liquidity problems our industry faces.

“Local authorities paying out grants to pub businesses is welcome, but how quickly these are administered is critical to keeping pubs in business and employees in jobs beyond the coming weeks.

“The rates relief announced for pubs is welcome in principle, but we urgently need greater clarity on the detail. Such relief provides little comfort for pubs that have no income.

“Without an urgent cash injection our sector will need to reduce its biggest cost, labour. It also won’t be able to take advantage of the planning changes proposed by government today enabling pubs to help feed the nation through delivery.”

The need for clarity was echoed by the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) which said the cash injections won’t protect everyone in the trade and will only provide cover for a short period for those who are eligible.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the STA, said: “Details matter and we hope to work with government at all levels to secure the future of businesses of all sizes in our sector. It is mission critical for jobs and our future that support is made available in a way that businesses can receive and put to work for the good of us all.

“Small grants for small businesses are welcome but for most businesses at this level it won’t protect jobs for more than a few days and many businesses do not want the burden of extra debt.

“Whilst the business rates relief for medium and large operators is very welcome, it doesn’t benefit all who operate in the industry and therefore alternative measures of relief such as an automatic deferral of VAT and PAYE due to HMRC and additional measures which will assist businesses in paying staff and avoiding redundancies which we are already seeing across the sector.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “This move is welcome as it will give more hospitality businesses the chance to help and serve the community. However, the big issue that remains is people – what was announced by the chancellor will not stop job losses as companies will be very worried about taking loans to pay staff when they have zero income.

“What the pubs and restaurants desperately need is a package of measures including government funding to keep people in employment and to help avert widespread job losses.  This is chronically urgent and needs to happen now.”