Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his team has held meetings with business leaders as pressure mounts on the government to provide assistance to companies impacted by the Omicron variant.
Mr Sunak cut short his trip to the US to hold more talks with business chiefs in response to the fresh COVID crisis on Friday.
He and his team held talks with a range of hospitality and business organisations on Friday, including peri-peri chicken restaurant Nando’s and brewery giant Greene King, with many in the industry hit hard by mass cancellations amid fears over the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
Following guidance to work from home and to prioritise social engagements, offices in major cities have emptied out and Christmas parties have been cancelled, hurting hospitality businesses.
The latest figures from Transport for London show that travel to stations in the City of London, home to some of the capital’s largest offices, dropped by about a third this week.
The guidance came in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, a mutation that is thought to be much more transmissible than Delta. New research suggests the new strain largely evades immunity from past coronavirus infection or two vaccine doses.
In response to the slowdown in trade, the government has yet to offer the kind of support it has extended during previous lockdowns.
Instead, it has hinted that businesses should turn to their local governments for help.
“We understand that this is a concerning time for businesses,” said Mr Sunak. “Myself and my wider team met with business representatives earlier today, listened to their concerns and will continue to work with industry leaders over the coming days.
“To keep safeguarding our economic recovery and the lives and livelihoods of the British people our priority is now to make sure everyone has the opportunity to ‘Get Boosted Now’.”
Mr Sunak came under fire for the timing of his trip to the US, and for not acting more swiftly to reassure businesses of the government’s continued support.
One of Mr Sunak’s first priorities after returning to the UK on Friday was to start “unblocking” £250m held by local authorities under the additional restrictions grant for companies hit the most hard by new rules, according to The Guardian. About three quarters of all councils are said to still be waiting to hand out up to 50% of their share.
This money has to be spent by councils by March 2022.
Retail, hospitality, and leisure firms are also able to access the business rates relief until March 2022, while hospitality and tourism businesses will continue to benefit from a VAT reduction – paying only 12.5% until March of next year.