£1bn fund for UK hospitality businesses unveiled

UK: Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £1 billion fund for hospitality and leisure firms affected by the Omicron variant.

The announcement comes as rising cancellations are reported by hospitality businesses. According to the government website, many have lost between 40 and 60 per cent of their December trade.

The new fund will enable hospitality businesses in the United Kingdom to apply for cash grants up to £6,000 per premises.

More than £100 million of discretionary funding has also been set aside for local authorities to support other businesses. This will be made available in the coming weeks.

A Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme [SSPRS] has been reintroduced to help small and medium-sized businesses of less than 250 employees. Covid-related absences, for up to two weeks per employee, can be reimbursed by those firms eligible from today. 

The Chancellor has also committed to a top up of discretionary grant funding and the release of a £1.5 billion package to support the supply chain. An additional £30 million has been announced to support theatres and museums until March 2022.

The rent moratorium remains in place and commercial landlords have been asked to show patience with struggling hospitality tenants.

Jane Pendlebury, CEO of HOSPA [Hospitality Professionals Association], said: “As an industry, we’ve been on tenterhooks since the Omicron variant emerged, with the pressure and concern ratcheting up considerably in the last few weeks and days. The move by the Chancellor then is a hugely welcome relief, and, from initial appearances, it looks like a generous package, which we’re enormously grateful for – as we have been for the supportive measures for our industry throughout the pandemic.

“The worst aspect of recent weeks has been the uncertainty and ambiguous messaging, which has heavily dented consumer confidence and already caused enormous damage to our industry. These measures though will go some way to stopping the rot – albeit already being too late for some.

“Hospitality has been buffeted mercilessly by the winds of the pandemic and unfortunately, despite this assistance, our rough ride shows no sign of abating anytime soon,” she added.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said: “This is a generous package building on existing hospitality support measures to provide an immediate emergency cash injection for those businesses who, through no fault of their own, have seen their most valuable trading period annihilated.

“It will help to secure jobs and business viability in the short term, particularly among small businesses in the sector, and we particularly welcome the boost to funds for the supply chain and event and business catering companies so badly affected by the reintroduction of work from home guidelines.

“It is a generous top up emergency fund in addition to previous support and with a commitment from ministers to prioritise hospitality and its supply chain in allocation of funds. There is now a real urgency in getting this funding to businesses so we urge local authorities to prioritise distribution of funds to make sure jobs and businesses are preserved through this difficult period,” she added.

Juliet Price, consultant executive director of HBAA, a trade association for meetings, events and accommodationsaid: “The Chancellor’s grants are in principle, welcome. But we wait to see the ‘small print’ to see how many of our 200 plus member organisations will be eligible for them. £6,000 may be helpful to small businesses but it won’t sustain larger venues or agencies with greater liabilities and no appreciable income in sight for most of Q1 next year.”