Rishi Sunak’s latest giveaway totals £4.6 billion in grants for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, amounting to up to £9,000 per outlet. Alongside this comes an additional £1.1 billion for local authorities and a £600 million discretionary fund for businesses that might not qualify for the main grant.
This money is meant to help businesses with their fixed costs problem: having to pay rent, utilities and upkeep despite bringing in far less income (in some cases, no income at all). The largest cost for most business owners — payroll — was addressed in December when the Chancellor extended the furlough scheme to the end of April.
But this extra support is designed to tackle the struggles businesses will inevitably face over the next seven weeks, when we are all but guaranteed to be in strict lockdown.
These venues have already suffered a great deal of pain for months. Yes, there have been a host of other schemes from the Treasury to combat this, like the most recent 'winter economy plan', but the real recovery plan — to allow these businesses to be open up before Christmas to make back at least some of their sales — faltered at the last moment, with key regions for the UK economy put into Tier 3 (and then Tier 4) measures before the holiday.
UK Christmas shopping was already expected to fall by around 12 per cent or £10 billion from 2019 sales — and that was before the new restrictions. Meanwhile restaurants and pubs were denied lucrative office parties and family meals for Christmas. Research from the British Beer and Pub Association estimates pub beer sales in December were down 90 per cent.
This all helps to explain why nearly three quarters of hospitality venues don’t think they can survive these restrictions. Bail-out schemes can provide temporary support — but they cannot meaningfully compare to the security of an open, operating business. And we are far past the phase of temporary relief: these support schemes will span well over a year — and the economic realities of this have yet to be fully felt by the business community or the labour market.