The business community is in a state of shock, confusion and despair following a week of government announcements that leave as many questions as answers, according to Frank McKenna, the boss of private sector lobby group Downtown in Business.
Welcoming some of the measures Rishi Sunak announced in his ‘winter economy plan’, Mr. McKenna says that the Prime Minister’s further restrictions this week leave businesses feeling like they have been hung out to dry.
“If the hospitality sector is responsible for a 4.6% increase in infection rates, why is it taking 90% of the pain in terms of the new restrictions that Boris Johnson has introduced? If it is pubs and clubs where individuals are most likely to come into close contact, why adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and impose the same guidelines on restaurants and hotels? And having encouraged workers back into the office three short weeks ago, with companies investing millions in creating Covid-secure office space, why is he now telling us to work from home – hence sending our city and town centres into further crisis?
“Against this backdrop, it has obviously been difficult for the Chancellor to deliver a comprehensive business support package that can give us confidence that most jobs will be protected.
“Although his revised ‘furlough’ scheme will help some sectors, many will not be able to take advantage of the initiative because it does little to encourage retention or recruitment.
“A much simpler move would have been to cut employer National Insurance contributions for recruiting new staff or retaining them. We would have also liked the Chancellor to amend his Kickstart programme away from having to recruit at least 30 new starters, so that SMEs can take on just a few more young people.
“If you are an events business, you literally have no business, so this new wage subsidy is of little use. Many hospitality venues are now on the precipice and are telling me that they will either go to weekend opening only or close their doors completely.
“The failure to address the significant challenges experienced by the aviation industry – not least because of the Government’s ‘hokey-cokey’ approach to international travel – and the cultural, sports and arts sectors, is also hugely disappointing.
“I appreciate the Chancellor must feel like he is operating with one hand tied behind his back, given his boss’s flip-flopping, but the reality is the ‘winter economy plan’ is bleak and last orders will be called on many businesses and millions of people’s jobs.”
Mr. McKenna concluded:
“It is not too late for the Government to change course. They need to review their latest guidelines, be more flexible with closing times in the hospitality sector and stop its ‘work from home’ mantra, which not only kills cities, but creates a divide between blue and white collar workers.”