More support urged for businesses hit by local lockdowns

Extra support is needed in areas of the country affected by additional lockdown restrictions, business leaders from Lancashire have said, in a virtual meeting with the shadow chancellor.

Labour’s Anneliese Dodds held a Zoom meeting on Tuesday with business owners and workers from east Lancashire, where some areas have seen extra measures brought in due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

Miranda Barker, the chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We need support for those businesses who have got themselves ready to reopen, they have restocked – there are an awful lot of food businesses – and they are literally now having to throw things away because they are not getting the take-up.

“We really need to try and campaign for some extra support for areas that are on this semi-lockdown now because they have got costs they just weren’t able to prepare for.”

In east Lancashire, extra restrictions were imposed in Pendle, which has the highest infection rate in England at the moment, as well as Burnley, Rossendale and Hyndburn to stop residents meeting other people in their homes, gardens or other indoor venues.

Ms Dodds called on the Government to have a “flexible approach” to supporting businesses affected by the restrictions.

She said: “There hasn’t been that support for the hospitality sector, in particular, that has been impacted substantially.

“Although we were told all this was focused on families associating with each other, or different friendship groups, it is having an impact on those businesses because lots of people would have decided to go and socialise together.

“We need to have that support there and ultimately businesses shouldn’t be penalised for doing the right thing.”

The meeting also heard from Leanne Procter, who had been unable to reopen her Unit 2 Fitness for Women gym in Blackburn because extra restrictions in that area meant such businesses had to remain closed while lockdown measures were lifted in other areas of the country.

She called for surplus Government funding, given to Blackburn with Darwen Council to provide grants, to be used to help venues that could not reopen.

Ms Procter said: “I’ve been running my gym now for over 10 years and it, like every other gym in Blackburn with Darwen, still hasn’t been able to open since lockdown began back in March.”

Ms Dodds said: “I really want to pay tribute to you. Ten years running a gym – that’s an incredible record, but now to have these current circumstances facing you I can imagine must be really, really challenging.”

She said Labour wanted any surplus from Government grants to be put into a “high street fightback fund” to help firms unable to fully reopen.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Dodds said: “We think we need to have a more flexible approach from Government around this, both in the context of those localised lockdowns but also potentially, if we do see a situation where there’s a more general additional wave of the disease across the country.

“The Government seems to be taking a really ad hoc short-term approach.”