“As the year draws to a close it’s disappointing that there remains much uncertainty around the pandemic. Although the PM has now confirmed that there will be no further changes to guidance this side of Christmas, the impacts of the current restrictions have already been significant, both professionally and personally for many of us.
The introduction of Plan B restrictions from 10 December had an immediate result in central London, hitting our hospitality, leisure, and retail businesses especially hard in this crucial festive period. Since then, we have lobbied Government to provide clarity, certainty, and additional support to businesses.
You will no doubt have seen that the Chancellor yesterday confirmed some financial help for certain sectors. Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises, plus more than £100 million discretionary funding will be made available for local authorities to support other businesses. Government will also cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK. £30 million further funding will be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling more cultural organisations in England to apply for support during the winter.
While I welcome this additional support, which I have been calling for in recent days, it is unlikely this new package will go far enough to help all the businesses that are struggling. I know from talking to colleagues in the hospitality sector that they are witnessing a significant fall in bookings and a multi-billion pound loss of trade. The ongoing working from home guidance hits major cities particularly hard, so London is braced for a difficult start to 2022.
Throughout the pandemic, the hospitality and retail sectors have welcomed the Government’s support which has saved thousands of businesses from collapse and protected millions of jobs. In the next few weeks, as we will undoubtedly see the continuing impact of Omicron, I will continue to press policy makers on your behalf, including asking for clarity on the duration of the current working from home guidance and the need for further financial help for the sectors most affected, including business rates relief and reducing VAT.
The BID team will remain vigilant over the festive period and will act swiftly to advise on changes to guidance and the introduction of any further support. Crucially, our focus is already fixed on 2022 and how best your BID can support you. Planning is already underway to salvage the recovery, which had built up good momentum during 2021, and we are determined to work with our business community, neighbouring BIDs and lobbying groups, public sector partners and other stakeholders once again to get London’s recovery back on track.
I am still confident that London can recover and be more resilient, stronger and full of vibrancy once again. Professor Chris Whitty has described the current Omicron variant as something of a ‘hair-pin turn’ and that once around the bend, the nation’s economy should be able to power back to recovery. Businesses have a crucial role to play – it will be your creativity and innovation that will unlock London’s potential – adapting to the new landscape and attracting visitors and investment. The private sector will drive the recovery when it gets going again, creating compelling reasons for people to return to London and even more reasons for them to stay. Let’s use the coming weeks to pause, reflect and recharge our batteries, coming back in 2022 with a renewed focus and desire to overcome the challenges on the horizon and seize the opportunities that undoubtedly exist.”