UK Launches New £4.6bn Plan To Help Virus-Hit Firms
The UK on Tuesday launched an extra £4.6-billion package for virus-battered businesses as it entered a fresh national lockdown set to last weeks.
The financial support, equivalent to $6.3 billion or 5.1 billion euros, “will help businesses to get through the months ahead — and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen”, finance minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.
Sunak announced grants for retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 per property to help businesses through the next several months.
Other impacted businesses would share £594 million, added the chancellor of the exchequer.
The UK government has already pumped out billions of pounds in support since early 2020 when the nation went into a first lockdown over the coronavirus, sending national debt soaring.
At the heart of the support is the state’s furlough scheme paying the bulk of wages for millions of private-sector workers.
The Bank of England is also pumping out vast sums of cash to prop up the devastated economy — and has slashed its interest rate to a record-low 0.1 percent.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the spring,” Sunak said Tuesday.
He added that more than 600,000 business properties would benefit from the new support.
The fresh lockdown meanwhile is aimed at containing a severe wave of infections with a new coronavirus strain believed to spread faster.
Similar to a first March-June lockdown last year, schools are shut and there is a ban on leaving home for all but exercise and essential shopping.
It comes despite the UK rolling out vaccines against Covid-19 and as the nation adjusts to finally exiting the EU single market and customs union.
“The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge — and whilst the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further,” said Sunak.
– ‘Package for the whole of 2021’ –
While supporting the lockdown, the head of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that UK businesses together faced losing £2 billion in weekly sales.
“Already, 178,000 retail jobs have been lost in 2020, and with over 250,000 retail staff currently on furlough, that number could increase dramatically in the new year,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the new support, while broadly welcomed, would not be enough for many firms.
“We need to see a clear support package for the whole of 2021, not just another incremental intervention,” he said.