Chancellor sets out £1bn fund for Covid-hit businesses

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivers his one-year Spending Review in the House of Common

Rishi Sunak has announced a £1 billion support package for businesses hit by Covid. - Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak has offered a £1 billion support package to businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the high transmission of the Omicron variant.

The chancellor has come forward with additional help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England following days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.

It includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.

The government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund, the Treasury said.

Mr Sunak’s announcement follows crisis talks with business leaders after he cut short a government business trip to California.

Businesses have seen takings plummet due to Christmas festivities being scaled back amid fear over the spread of Omicron.

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Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said the previous rapid increase in cases appears to be slowing and, if that is true, there is no need for a lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the new funding: “With the surge in Omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year.

“That’s why we’re taking immediate action to help with an extra £1 billion in grants to these industries and reintroducing our Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

“I urge people across the country to please get boosted now to secure vital protection for yourselves, your loved ones and your communities.”

Mr Sunak added: “We recognise that the spread of the Omicron variant means businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors are facing huge uncertainty, at a crucial time.

“So we’re stepping in with £1 billion of support, including a new grant scheme, the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme and further funding released through the culture recovery fund.”