Food suppliers and events firms call for better access to pandemic funding

Food suppliers and events operators have called on the Government to make coronavirus grants easier to access as they warned they face a “cliff edge”.

A group of 18 trade associations representing food manufacturers supplying the hospitality and healthcare sectors have written to the Chancellor calling for more funding and improved availability of cash through current grant schemes.

The group, led by the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF), has called for some financial support measures for pubs, restaurants and cafes to be extended to the food supply sector.

BFFF chief executive Richard Harrow said suppliers first raised the issue with ministers in May and that seven months later, many of the food producers are on the verge of going out of business.

He warned that many pubs, care homes, restaurants and hospitals will be short of supply when the economy emerges from the pandemic without further supply chain supports.

In the letter, which also went to key politicians including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, he said “little” funding has reached firms in the sector.

“Our collective membership, many of them SMEs, quite often long-established successful family-run businesses, providing sustainable employment for individuals in every part of the UK are on a cliff edge financially,” the letter said.

“To date most of the support monies provided by UK Government has gone to the consumer facing part of the industry, such as restaurants.

“Little of this money has reached our collective members; the furlough monies whilst welcomed, has only covered staff costs.

“The ongoing overhead costs, which can be significant remain unsupported, other than some small funding from the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales.”

The trade groups have called for the business rates holiday for hospitality, retail and leisure firms to be extended to suppliers and for PAYE and National Insurance payments to be deferred for 2021.

They have also appealed to increase funding through the Additional Restrictions Grant and to make the process more clear and easier to access.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the grants of up to £3,000 a month at the end of October just before the second English national lockdown.

In a separate warning, thousands of businesses in the hard-hit events and exhibitions sector said they are struggling to access Government grants due to several local authorities failing to pay out the cash, according to new research.

The sector’s trade body the Events Industry Alliance (EIA) found councils in London, Yorkshire and Devon have all either failed to make the payments or provided no information for companies desperate for the grants.

Andrew Harrison, director at the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), a constituent part of the EIA, said: “We are making an urgent call on the UK Government to provide clear guidance to local authorities on issuing the Additional Restrictions Grant, and to ensure concerted action is taken to address problems in the business support system.

“Businesses in the events and exhibitions sector have been forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions and therefore require appropriate financial support if they are not permitted to operate.

“It is now up to the UK Government to monitor and assess which local authorities are delivering proper economic support to the sector.”