Beleaguered businesses need more help, Lancashire leaders demand as new lockdown begins

Pandemic-weary Lancashire business chiefs today demanded greater financial support for firms forced to close yet again.

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 6:05 pm
Only essential shops will be allowed to remain open as many businesses face major losses

The Preston-headquartered North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce reluctantly accepted the need for a new national lockdown announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The lockdown comes after a stop-start year for traders, particularly in the hospitality sector which lost vital Christmas takings.

But there was some relief as Chancellor Rishi Sunak later announced a new £4.6bn package to help the struggling hospitality sector.

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Babs Murphy

Babs Murphy, Chief Executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: "'While we very much welcome this announcement, Ministers need to set out a clear support package for the whole of 2021 - not just until Spring - to help businesses of all shapes and sizes survive this difficult and uncertain year.

“Now is the time for the government to stop this drip-feed approach and set out longer term plans that allows businesses to adapt and plan ahead. Support also needs to encompass all types of businesses and not just those operating in retail, hospitality and leisure.”

The Chancellor announced that around 600,000 retail, hospitality and leisure sites will be able to claim a one-off grant of up to £9,000.

The payments will cost the Treasury £4.6 billion and are aimed to help support the high street as new lockdown measures announced on Monday take hold.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced a further £594 million for local authorities and devolved administrations to support businesses not eligible for the grants.

Mr Sunak said: “The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge – and whilst the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the spring.

“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.”

The payments will be based on the size of each store, pub, cafe or hotel tied into the business rates typically paid by each business.

The smallest sites will be able to claim up to £4,000 and medium-sized ones £6,000.

However, the Chancellor stopped short of extending the business rates holiday, which ends in April, despite calls from retail and hospitality leaders for such a move.

Other noticeable absences being called for by business groups and unions include a VAT cut and improvements to sick pay or support for working parents.

The Blackpool-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses National Chairman Mike Cherry said: "While this additional financial support will be a lifeline to 600,000 businesses and therefore has value, there is a need for a plan that matches the scale of the economic damage we are seeing.

"For many it just won't be enough for businesses who are already under the cosh and on the brink.

"These funds come after a disappointing festive period and are followed by a last minute lockdown and do not go far enough to match the scale of the crisis that small firms are facing."

One of the sectors able to continue normally is the property market.

Estate agents can remain open and house viewings can be carried out with strict safety rules in place.

Tracy Phillips of Standish-based Tracy Phillips Estates said she was delighted for her six staff and her business that it could continue to operate more or less normally.

The firm sells properties in the Standish, Wigan and Chorley areas.

She said: "The property market is a massive part of the economy so it makes sense not to stop it.

"Business is booming at the moment - it has been really busy.

"The stamp duty holiday has been a massive incentive."