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Rishi Sunak’s ‘insulting’ £6,000 support for Covid-hit hospitality

Chancellor’s £1bn aid package ‘a dud cracker’, business leaders claim

Rishi Sunak has been blasted by business leaders after the announcement of a financial support package for companies hit by the emergence of the Omicron variant. 

The government will provide one-off grants of up to £6,000 for impacted hospitality businesses, with other measures including the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme and further funding released through the Culture Recovery Fund.

An additional £30m will be allocated through the emergency fund to help theatres and museums as part of what Sunak described as a “generous” package of grants.

“The spread of the Omicron variant means businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors are facing huge uncertainty at a crucial time,” he said, adding: “It is important to remember we have support already in place that lasts all the way to next spring”.

Tim Rumney, chief executive of Best Western Hotels, was among the business leaders that criticised the plan, describing “Rishi’s support” as “a dud cracker on Christmas Day”. 

“It’s just so disappointing and underwhelming in every sense,” he added.

Michael Kill, head of the Night Time Industries Association, said the aid package was “far too little and borders on the insulting”, adding that “mixed” government messaging in the run-up to Christmas has had a “catastrophic impact” on nightclubs and venues.

Des Gunewardena, who runs the D&D restaurant chain, told the Daily Mail that £6,000 would not even cover his restaurants’ Christmas decorations, warning that “many of our larger restaurants lost £100,000-plus from cancellations last week”.

“It's the same again this week and heaven knows what's going to happen to our New Year's Eve,” he said

Roger Baker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said the support will be “welcome relief” to many businesses but warned that “businesses also need the reassurance that these measures will now last for longer into 2022”.

The travel sector also accused the government of leaving them “in the cold”, Sky News reported, with Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, telling the broadcaster: “It is devastating to see that once again business travel and its supply chain have been left out of government financial support.

“A vital part of the UK economy and the driver behind global Britain is being left in the cold”, he said, adding that Sunak should “correct this oversight and support our industry into 2022”.

To some, Sunak’s latest aid funding “was bold”, said The i news site’s chief political commentator Paul Waugh. But “to others it was the bare minimum”.

Whatever way the funding is sliced, the plan feels “very provisional, a stop-gap measure as the government braces itself for new data on the severity of illness caused by the Omicron variant”.

The danger for Sunak is that the measure “risks him looking like a chancellor who wants a lockdown on the cheap”, Waugh added.

And while that may play well with his fellow Conservative MPs, “it’s the public that ultimately matters most”.

This warning was echoed by BBC business editor Simon Jack, who said the chancellor was “at pains to point out that this level of grant funding was similar in generosity to those given during lockdown”.

The focus on previous allocations of funds is “a hint perhaps that this is as good as it gets – for grant funding at least”.

The biggest problem facing business is “the ongoing uncertainty” over Covid restrictions, he added. “And with Covid-19 that is something over which the chancellor has little control.”

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