Business chiefs are demanding urgent extra support from the government as they brace for an extended period of new coronavirus lockdowns across the UK.
Firms warned they face hardship and said job losses could rise significantly in certain sectors as businesses adapt to the “body blow” of fresh restrictions.
The government is under pressure to extend support after England, Scotland and Northern Ireland joined Wales in announcing full-scale lockdowns on Monday. Vast swathes of the economy have now been told to shut for an indefinite period.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies understood why the prime minister had taken tough measures but were “baffled and disappointed” not to receive more help alongside the announcement.
“The lockdowns announced in England and Scotland today are a body blow to our business communities, hard on the heels of lost trade during the festive season and uncertainty linked to the end of the Brexit transition period,” he said.
“Tens of thousands of firms are already in a precarious position, and now face a period of further hardship and difficulty.”
Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, acknowledged it was “essential” to put public safety first and said firms would “step up” to support the national effort.
But he said the government had to ensure firms had the cashflow to survive the crisis. Danker said a broader range of measures were needed to plug gaps in existing support, including help to address supply chain issues.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said testing and a rapid vaccine rollout were key to “bringing to an end this cycle of lockdowns”. She urged business rate relief extension beyond April.
Retailers are set to lose £2bn a week in sales, Dickinson said, adding that 178,000 retail jobs had already been lost in 2020.
“With over 250,000 retail staff currently on furlough, that number could increase dramatically in the new year,” she said.
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