UK markets close in 4 hours 52 minutes

Frustrated Leicester businesses call for rescue after local lockdown

Tom Rees
city

Businesses and civic leaders in locked-down Leicester are pleading for more support as the city's economy is battered by a second wave of coronavirus restrictions.

Anxious bosses are urging ministers to give the area an extra financial boost and more clarity on the new restrictions, after complaining about “abysmal” communications by officials.

Employers in Leicester will be allowed to put staff back on taxpayer-funded furlough from July 1 if they used the Chancellor's jobs support scheme between March 1 and June 30. However, officials were urged to provide a broader response to help firms survive the setback in the forms of further grants and loans.

Scott Knowles, head of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, warned the restrictions will land a significant blow on businesses that will now need additional support above and beyond what has already been provided.

He said firms should be compensated for the cost of readying themselves for reopening, with hard work and money spent on a return to normal that is now going to be delayed for at least two weeks.

Mr Knowles warned there is a risk of a “two-tier” recovery, where cities put into extended lockdown are left behind areas that are not.

Leicester Lockdown

Leicester was ordered back into lockdown on Monday evening after it became a hotbed for Covid-19, accounting for a tenth of all positive cases in England in the last seven days.

Non-essential shops have been shuttered only two weeks after reopening, schools will close for most pupils on Thursday and a planned loosening of restrictions on pubs and restaurants this Saturday has been postponed.

Claudia Webbe, Labour MP for Leicester East, called for the Government's economic aid to be "extended and expanded" by widening support for the hospitality sector and helping more firms access loans.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the city’s mayor, also appealed for additional help for the local economy.

He said: “If Leicester is to be treated differently in terms of the lockdown, we also need to be treated differently in terms of the support for businesses.”

Businesses were angered by the sudden lockdown announcement late on Monday and a lack of clarity from the Government, including over travel restrictions.

Economic Intelligence newsletter SUBSCRIBER (article)

Josh Gray, the co-owner of the West End Brewery, called the Government’s communications “abysmal” after postponing the reopening of his brewery and pub before the new measures were announced amid surging cases in the city.

He said many firms in the area were frustrated after only recently reopening.

Mr Gray said: “Some of the local businesses I have spoken to are pretty cheesed off.

"They came back a couple of weeks ago and now they are being told to shut again when they are multiple thousands of pounds down and have brought staff off furlough.”

Rick Blackmore, regional director of the Confederation of British Industry, said firms desperately need more clarity to after investing heavily in reopening.

He added: “Firms need to know how lockdown will work in practice and what additional support those affected can draw upon.”