Calls have ramped up for further government support measures to protect jobs and firms amid warnings of a “crushing blow” to business from the latest coronavirus restrictions.
Business groups urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to take urgent action on the next phase of business support, with the new restrictions expected to take their toll on Britain’s economic recovery.
The measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson come amid mounting fears of mass unemployment when the furlough scheme for workers ends next month.
Businesses were also warned by Mr Johnson that they face fines of £10,000 and could be closed if they breach new Covid-19 regulations.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said: “A second national lockdown would be devastating for our economy, so it’s right to prioritise bringing infections under control.
“But there can be no avoiding the crushing blow new measures bring for thousands of firms, particularly in city centres and for our hospitality sector employing over four million people.
“It is vital that all announcements of restrictions go hand in hand with clarity on the business support that protects jobs.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said small firms and the self-employed will be “dismayed” at another six months of restrictions.
He said: “Many businesses – particularly those at the heart of our night-time economy and events industries – are now seriously fearing for their futures.
“Many pubs and coffee shops will not be able to trade profitably under these new rules and will have to close again, with further threats from enforced closure due to local or national lockdowns. Those businesses and their suppliers also now face losing their furlough lifeline.
— FDF CorporateAffairs (@FDFCorpAffairs) September 22, 2020
“Having lost the summer, a lot of them would’ve been pinning their hopes to increased trade in the run-up to Christmas. Their plans are now in disarray.”
He added: “Some of those who’ve taken on emergency finance will be finding that the initial injection of funds will not be enough to keep them afloat for another two quarters.”
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the new rules could be a “fatal blow” to many pubs, cafes and their suppliers and made a plea for targeted support for the sector once furlough ends.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also called on the Government to lay out a timetable of current and potential restrictions.
BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “Businesses, their employees and customers need to see a clear road map for the existing restrictions and those that may be introduced in the future.
“This must include transparent trigger points, and clarity about the support available to protect jobs and livelihoods.”
The onus is now “squarely on the Government to set out the next phase of its support”, according to the Institute of Directors (IoD).
Great to be in @britishchambers Central London offices today – with some members of our team.
Businesses and employees, working together, are taking good decisions and working safely. Governments owe them clear, calm, consistent communication – and a forward plan. pic.twitter.com/h2BajA1Ra3
— Adam Marshall (@BCCAdam) September 22, 2020
Roger Barker, director of policy at the IoD, also criticised the Government over its U-turn on the return to the office campaign after it told office workers to now work from home where possible.
He said: “The spread of the virus isn’t wholly predictable, but the back and forth on offices will cause frustration.
“Business leaders are eager for the Government to focus on the foundations, issues like childcare, public transport, and getting the testing system firing on all cylinders.”