At the time of writing this, the spreading coronavirus seems to dominate almost every facet of the news cycle, in a way which even Brexit did not manage to last year. It dominated this year’s Budget Statement giving us a strange Chimera Budget which refocused what we might have expected to have been a more Brexit-focused one or post-Election one.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a raft of measures aimed at providing peace of mind and support to businesses in the firing line of the coronavirus. In isolation, it is actually a pretty astonishing set of measures which includes:
- A suspension of business rates for one year for small businesses in hospitality.
- A loan scheme to help support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
- A refund of 14-days’ worth of statutory sick pay for businesses with fewer than 250 staff.
- Abolition of rates for businesses with a rateable value of under £51k; and a £3k grant scheme.
There is also an the extension of pub relief to £5k and confirmation of the long-awaited review of the system in the Autumn.
Under any normal circumstances this Budget would be cause for some celebration. It is a measure of how drastically events have unfolded, and the goalposts been shifted, that this glut of support has only been cautiously welcomed.
Time will tell how deeply the impact will be felt, but our members are already reporting reduced footfall and a reduction in bookings. It is possible that the measures, as eye-catching as they are, will not go nearly far enough in helping tourism and hospitality businesses weather the storm. Larger businesses will still have to shoulder the burden of a virus that does not discriminate depending on how many outlets you have.
Unprecedented circumstances mean that there are no proven quick fixes. Hospitality has demonstrated its robustness in getting through previous crises but none of this nature. Our sector will once again need to be innovative and fleet of foot, but it will also need more far-reaching support than the Budget promised, to help the UK through the weeks and months ahead in good health, physically and economically.