Rishi Sunak insists government will support businesses affected by latest COVID surge, though without any specifics as yet


December 17, 2021

The UK’s Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak has insisted that the government will support those businesses negatively impacted by the last surge in COVID-19 cases, although he provided few specifics, and insisted that the current priority is getting as many people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as possible.

Sunak, who has been in California this week, has come under increased pressure to provide new financial support to hospitality and live entertainment businesses as the omicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreads across the UK.

Although Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson has insisted he won’t instigate a new lockdown in England, at the same time statements issued by ministers and officials are increasingly encouraging people to stay home to restrict the spread of the virus.

This – reps for the hospitality and night-time businesses argue – has created a quasi or pseudo lockdown. Technically clubs, venues, bars and restaurants can open, but their customers are being told to stay at home.

Sunak’s absence from recent official COVID briefings was notable as an increasing number of sectors started to call for new financial support for affected business, whether that be grants, loans or further tax breaks. Responding, the Chancellor said yesterday that he and his team had been in talks with representatives of affected sectors.

“This government has done whatever it takes at every stage to support lives and livelihoods throughout this pandemic – and of course we will continue to do so”, he stated. “Myself and my wider team met with business representatives earlier today, listened to their concerns and will continue to work with industry leaders over the coming days”.

However, in the absence of any specific support schemes, he finished his statement talking up the need for everyone to get fully vaccinated against COVID, including getting that third booster jab. “To keep safeguarding our economic recovery and the lives and livelihoods of the British people”, he added, “our priority is now to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get boosted”.

While Johnson continues to resist formal lockdown measures in England, the COVID rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are, of course, set at a country level. And Wales has announced new restrictions that include clubs closing again entirely from 27 Dec, just before the all important New Years Eve festivities get underway.

Responding to that development, the Night Time Industries Association has announced that it is considering legal action against the Welsh government.

NTIA CEO Michael Kill said last night: “We are astounded at the actions of the Welsh government this evening, the consistent targeting of the nightclub and late night economy sector has gone too far. It is very clear that the Welsh government have purposefully placed restrictions on an industry with no supporting evidence”.

“Nightclubs and the late night economy have been at the sharpest end of the pandemic, and have upheld the public heath strategy within Wales for over two years, with closures and mounting debts”, he added. “We have been placed in an untenable position and will now have no choice but to come out fighting. The sector will be considering it’s legal options following this announcement”.

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