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Sunak branded ‘Scrooge’ as government announces hospitality grants

Written by: Emma Lunn
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England impacted by the Omicron Covid variant will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises, the government announced today.

There will also be more than £100m in discretionary funding made available for local authorities to support other businesses.

The government also said it will cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK. It also promised £30m funding will be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling more cultural organisations in England to apply for support during the winter.

At what is often their most profitable time of year, many pubs and restaurants have seen cancellations and reduced footfall as people have responded to the rise in cases ahead of Christmas, with Hospitality UK reporting that many businesses have lost 40-60% of their December trade.

The government said it has chosen to provide ‘generous’ grants, which are equivalent to the monthly cash grants provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed earlier this year, despite businesses now being still able to trade.

But the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) criticised chancellor Rishi Sunak for not bringing back the furlough job retention scheme.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA leader, said: “Frankly, it would have been better if he hadn’t bothered coming back from California as what he has said today does not get anywhere close to what is needed. Our travel trade, and now our hospitality sector, are being badly hit by restrictions and government advice that people should reduce their social contacts.

“What we needed to hear from Sunak was that the government would be reintroducing the furlough scheme for workers within all areas of our economy which Omicron is badly hurting.

“And of course, he should have also increased statutory sick pay across the board as the current rate is simply derisory. Instead of giving millions a Christmas cheer Sunak has re-emerged from the California sunshine as Scrooge.”

Sunak’s support package was branded ‘too little too late’ by Unite. According to the union, the package could mean as little as £50 per worker for an average four-star hotel and will be insufficient to see the sector through this latest wave of the crisis.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Workers did not create this pandemic and they must not pay the price for it in wage cuts and ultimately in losing their jobs. It is unacceptable that thousands of young workers face such awful uncertainty – they need to know now that they can pay their rent and that they still have a job. Today’s measures do not guarantee either. It looks like we are in ‘too little too late territory’ here.”

Dave Turnbull, Unite national officer for the hospitality sector, said: “This funding may well be too late and is far too little to save many in the hospitality sector. For too many, the lockdown by stealth has wiped out this season and the future looks extremely uncertain. This must not be the last word from Rishi Sunak and the government on this matter. We need to hear that there will be more support to pay workers’ wages.”

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