Rishi Sunak has offered a £1 billion support package to businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the “eye-wateringly high” transmission of the Omicron variant.
The Chancellor has come forward with additional help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England following days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.
It includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.The Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.
Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund, the Treasury said.
It comes as NHS England urged people to get their booster vaccines, adding that a third of all slots this week are still available.Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour “will be going through the details” of the new financial measures, adding that the Government had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to announce them.
Mr Sunak’s announcement follows crisis talks with business leaders after he cut short a Government business trip to California.
Businesses have seen takings plummet due to Christmas festivities being scaled back amid fear over the spread of Omicron.
It comes as Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the global charitable foundation Wellcome, warned “we’re in the most difficult, most uncertain time, perhaps of the whole pandemic, certainly since March of 2020”.
Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia (UEA), also said the previous rapid increase in cases appears to be slowing and, if that is true, there is no need for a lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the new funding: “With the surge in Omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year.