U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has unveiled a £1 billion ($1.3 billion) plan designed to help businesses impacted by the Omicron variant of coronavirus that is sweeping across the country.
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises. Recipients must be solvent businesses and ratepayers in the hospitality and leisure sector, and eligible candidates include cinemas, pubs, hotels, restaurants and amusement parks. This scheme will have a total value of £683 million.
The government is also allocating an additional £100 million to local authorities, which will have discretion to allocate this funding to businesses most in need.
An additional £30 million in funding will be made available through the existing Culture Recovery Fund to support organizations such as theaters, orchestras and museums through the winter to March 2022.
As rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases mean more workers are taking time off work, the government is also reintroducing the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which will help small and medium-sized employers with less than 250 employees by reimbursing them for the cost of statutory sick pay for COVID-related absences. Cinemas and theaters typically fall into this category, with theaters especially hit in recent days by COVID-related cancellations.
Sunak said: “We recognize 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.”
“Ultimately the best thing we can do to support businesses is to get the virus under control, so I urge everyone to get boosted now,” Sunak added.
Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that there will be no closures before Christmas, but refused to rule out restrictions after the holiday. “What I can say tonight, is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health,” Johnson said on Tuesday.
“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalization rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas,” Johnson added.
“We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.”
In July 2020, the U.K. government had introduced a £1.57 billion lifeline to the arts sector, which has since increased to nearly £2 billion.