Labour is today calling on the Government to set out a clear blueprint for business so they know what restrictions they will face after the 2nd December – the provisional date when the national lockdown will end. Labour is setting out that the Business Secretary should come to the Commons by Wednesday at the latest, with one week to go until lockdown ends, to give businesses clarity about how and whether they will be able to operate.
For many shut down businesses, including those in the hospitality, retail and beauty sectors, December is a critical month with profits from Christmas trade supporting them through the winter. Non-food retailers take a fifth of their annual turnover in November and December, twice that in January and February.
With many firms facing a Winter cash crisis, after a year of tumbling turnover, Labour argues that it is critical for government to set out when businesses will know if they are allowed to re-open, on what basis they will be able to re-open, and under what restrictions, so that they can plan.
Labour is therefore asking Ministers:
- What the criteria is for the national lockdown ending and businesses reopening.
- To decide, and announce, with at least one week’s notice whether or not businesses can reopen from 2 December – allowing businesses to forward plan, stock up, notify staff and begin taking bookings.
- Whether the guidelines for businesses that were in in place before the national lockdown will remain the same; and if not, when the new guidance will be issued.
- What financial support will be available for businesses in different Tiers, and how Ministers will plug the gaps for those excluded, including the self-employed.
Every day of lost trade threatens business viability at a crucial time of year. With only three weekends before Christmas in December, businesses cannot afford to only be told at the last minute whether the lockdown will end; whether guidance will change; and in what tier or under what social restrictions they will be operating. Hospitality businesses need days to restock, brewers need time to brew beer, hairdressers and beauty salons need to make bookings in advance, restaurants need to know who they can take bookings from, and suppliers need to be prepared, and all businesses need to know whether to take staff off furlough. According to the ONS there are more than 160,000 businesses reliant on bookings and Christmas trade who particularly need advance notice to reopen – including beauty salons and hairdressers, pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, and event caterers.
Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to focus on the country, not the “Downing Street psychodrama” and make sure businesses and workers are made aware of any changes in a managed way, through a statement to Parliament, or at the bi-weekly press conferences – rather than on the front pages of national newspapers the night before the 2nd.
Lucy Powell MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Minister, said:
“Businesses are at the end of their tether and have very little slack in their budgets to risk reopening without a clear plan, due to mixed messages from government hitting cashflow and confidence.
“That’s why Ministers must end the dither and delay and urgently set out a blueprint for businesses desperate to plan ahead. The Prime Minister has wasted weeks on the Number 10 psychodrama, instead of putting a clear plan in place.
“This Government’s incompetence has cost struggling businesses far too much. Gaps in support mean many face a bleak Winter, whilst late guidance and shifting sands because Ministers haven’t got a grip on the virus, threaten the futures of so many more.”