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Business leaders urge government to limit COVID-19 UK lockdown damage

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3-min read
YORK, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: A woman places her order as she visits Betty's Tea Rooms on October 18, 2020 in York, England. York city has become another of England’s high risk areas placed under 'Tier 2' coronavirus lockdown measures as Government data indicates the R number range for the whole of the UK had increased slightly from between 1.2 and 1.5 last week to 1.3 and 1.5. Most notably the change will introduce a ban on people from different households from mixing anywhere indoors, prompting particular concern within the already badly-affected hospitality industry. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
As new lockdown restrictions are implemented, the British Chambers of Commerce has warned “the situation for business grows graver by the day.” Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Business groups and leaders are calling on the government to set tests and provide more financial support for companies that are hit by renewed COVID-19 lockdowns.

A letter from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sent to prime minister Boris Johnson and other party leaders and ministers, said: “No amount of financial support can compensate for an open, fully-functioning economy.”

It continues, “the situation for business grows graver by the day.”

“While the recent announcement of an enhanced Job Support Scheme will assist some firms, Chamber members tell us it will not be enough to stave off mass redundancies and business failures,” it says.

The letter urges the government to take five things into consideration when thinking about coronavirus restrictions. “Failure to meet these tests now will put the future of the economy and the country at risk,” it said.

These include the questions:

  1. Are the restrictions evidence-based and targeted effectively?

  2. Are the restrictions clear and do businesses have time to prepare?

  3. Is support for businesses commensurate with the impact on them?

  4. Will the time that the restrictions are in place be used to significantly improve the Test, Trace and Isolate system?

  5. Is there a clear process for increasing and decreasing restrictions?

READ MORE: UK urged to start Xmas shopping early to help retailers survive 2020

Calls from the BCC come as UK unemployment has jumped to its highest level for more than three years.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed unemployment rose by 138,000 quarter on quarter to 1.52 million in the three months to August.

The rate of unemployment has jumped to 4.5% from 4.1% in the past three months.

Many of these job cuts have come in sectors worst affected by lockdowns and most likely to be facing difficult decisions as the current jobs retention scheme hurtles toward completion.

On Wednesday, Johnson announced a new three tier ‘traffic light’ system to tackle the second-wave of COVID-19 cases and additional restrictions for Tier 2 and Tier 3, including the closure of wet-led pubs.

The BCC’s letter follows one from UK publicans, urging for a government support package for pubs in all coronavirus risk “tiers” to avoid closures and hardships.

The letter organised by grassroots organisation Campaign for Pubs, which represents pubs, publicans and pub-goers, coincides with the news that London and seven other areas are moving into the Tier 2 category.

It accuses the government of “completely hanging Tier 2 pubs out to dry” leaving them to trade “unprofitably with no support.”

The publican letter coincided with criticism of the government from boss of JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L), as the pub chain announced its first annual loss in almost 40 years.

Wetherspoon blamed the performance on the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response, saying lockdown and the 10pm curfew have had a devastating effect on business.

Tim Martin, chairman and founder of JD Wetherspoon, said the government had introduced “an ever-changing raft of ill-thought-out regulations” in recent months.

The BCC letter ends with a warning that “failure to support viable businesses now will undermine any broader efforts to ‘level up’ left-behind parts of the UK.”

Watch: Why tax increases may be inevitable in Britain