£24m for Norfolk's Omicron-hit leisure and hospitality industry

Martin Rodwell, owner of the Breakers Café at Cromer, who has started a 'pay with a post it' scheme

Martin Rodwell, manager at Breakers Cafe in Cromer - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Norfolk’s leisure and hospitality industry has welcomed a new fund of £24,338,385 to help them weather the worst of the Omicron variant’s impact.

The money is coming from a £1 billion government support package for the sector, which has been badly hit as people try to reduce their exposure to the highly transmissable Covid variant.

Martin Rodwell, manager of Breakers Cafe in Cromer, said the Omicron variant had “absolutely devastated trade in the lead-up to Christmas” and the fund would be “a huge benefit” after having to dip into his reserves over the festive period. 

He added that reducing VAT on businesses would be a further help, because “nobody in business wants to be hand to mouth”.

Michael Baldwin, west Norfolk area president of the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, said: "I think the fact that they’ve put the fund out there is a really positive step after the last month."

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Michael Baldwin, west Norfolk area president in the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce - Credit: AW PR

He added that the festive period had been "a real rollercoaster".

Mr Baldwin, who owns both Bank House and the Wenns Chop and Ale House in King's Lynn, said of early and mid December: "We had a lot of people cancelling, they weren’t sure whether they should go out.

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"We then found that by the week before Christmas, everyone had come to terms with it - [in] that last week, it was very very busy. 

"It got much quieter in January, because people were going into isolation," he said. 

One-off grants of up to £6,000 will be available for businesses to apply for from their local district council, with the size determined by the rateable value of each business.

Roughly a third of Norfolk’s total has been set aside for North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) alone - some £8,070,885, which is also the largest received by any authority in the East of England. 

But NNDC’s Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for sustainable growth Richard Kershaw said the money still might not be enough. 

“It’s good news that the government is taking action to support the businesses which have been critically affected by the impact of Covid and the measures taken to date to counter the spread of the virus,” said Mr Kershaw. 

Richard Kershaw North Norfolk District Councillor. Picture: Richard Kershaw

NNDC’s Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for sustainable growth Richard Kershaw - Credit: Archant

“The figure of £8.07m represents around 80pc of the £9.9m Covid-related impact we have identified in North Norfolk and while the sum allocated is very welcome, depending on how the next phase of the virus pans out in the months ahead, we will need to keep assessing the situation to see if we need to ask for more,” he added. 

The size of the payments allocated to each council was based on the number of leisure and hospitality businesses in each area. 

The second largest amount was received by Great Yarmouth (£4,698,495), followed by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk (£4,596,462), Norwich (£2,124,099), South Norfolk (£1,632,150), Breckland (£1,626,147) and Broadland (£1,590,147).

The grants will be equivalent to the monthly cash grants provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed this time last year, despite businesses now being still able to trade.

The industry trade body Hospitality UK has reported that many businesses have lost 40-60% of their December trade, often their most profitable month.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak stands with his ministerial team and Parliamentary Private S

Chancellor Rishi Sunak - Credit: PA

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "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."

The Culture Recovery Fund referred to by Mr Sunak will be used to support organisations such as theatres, orchestras and museums through the winter until March.

Businesses operating outside leisure and hospitality which have been affected by Omicron will be able to apply for funds from a newly topped-up Additional Restrictions Grant.