British firms say time is running out to keep their businesses afloat as coronavirus batters the economy – and that they are uncertain about how to access the financial support promised by the government on Tuesday.
Multiple firms have told the BBC that their local authorities are “in the dark” and unable to advise them on applying for grants, or whether they even qualify for the business rates holiday offered to the hospitality industry.
“We contacted our local authorities on behalf of our tenants [pub landlords], and they don’t know. They’ve had no instructions and told us to call them back next week,” said Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewery, which owns about 330 pubs and hotels in the southeast of England.
“There isn’t the time, businesses are closing now,” he added.
On Tuesday, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed a £350bn stimulus package for UK firms to battle the impact of coronavirus, including £330bn of business loan guarantees. It also included aid to cover a business rates holiday and grants for retailers and pubs.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) business body has also warned that haste is needed, because the pace of change “is too fast to play catch up”.
Director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “It is clear this situation will not stand still, so nor can the economic support.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) meanwhile is warning that the support offered by the government might not be able to save jobs in the retail, leisure and hospitality industry.
IFS director Paul Johnson said: “It will remain as expensive to pay people and if demand is down then jobs are likely to go.
“Supporting employment might require a targeted package which included targeted cuts to employer national insurance contributions, a delay in increases to the National Living Wage, and increased support for individuals through Universal Credit.”
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