After the Prime Minister’s announcement that England will be going into a new national lockdown, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also pledged to offer new grants for businesses within specific sectors that are forced to close.

As a result of new lockdown restrictions that see schools and all non-essential businesses closed, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has revealed that the Government will be offering grants for businesses, specifically for those in hospitality, leisure and retail sectors.

The grants are provided on a per-property basis and will be worth up to £9,000 per property but will be a one-off payment. The Government has estimated that these payments will be able to help over 600,000 businesses, worth £4 billion across the whole of the UK.

In addition to this, Mr. Sunak stated that £594 million will be made available to businesses that do not fall under the remit of these sectors.  This money will be administered by Local Authorities and Devolved Administrations.

This comes in addition to the previous packages made available such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (expected to end in April) and Local Restriction Support Grants worth up to £3,000 a month. Overall, the total packages amount to around £4.6 billion.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said:

The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge – and whilst the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the Spring.

This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, a HR software company, has reflected on how these new lockdown measures will impact employers and what they should be mindful of:

Work from home guidance has already changed several times for England, with previous wording providing a degree of flexibility to employers around whether staff could work from home and do so effectively. Now, the guidance is much clearer.

People should only leave their home for work where it is ‘unreasonable’ for them to work from home. The knock-on effect of this is that employers will need to consider if any of their employees can reasonably work from home and take steps to implement the change.

Employees are certainly more likely to encourage management to re-think their approach to this, and if a business is going to keep staff attending a workplace, they need to ensure they have followed all advice on making it COVID-secure.

In another significant development, individuals are once again being asked to shield in England and are entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) for the period of time that they cannot work.

There are a number of options open to a company in this situation. Those with less than 250 members of staff can still make use of the SSP Rebate Scheme, which funds up to two weeks of SSP for coronavirus absences. Alternatively, the furlough scheme remains an option for all businesses to now use if eligible, even if they have not done so before and will do so until April.

However, Musab Hemsi, Partner at LexLeyton, solicitors who specialise in HR and employment law, suggested these new measures by the Chancellor may not go far enough:

Businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are engulfed in a fight for survival. Extremely limited turnover, coupled with the fact that premises across the country have been acting under the assumption that they would be allowed to remain open, has resulted in financial vulnerability.

Worse still, the huge cost that companies have incurred to make their premises COVID secure appear to have been ignored. Now, a huge number of these businesses find themselves on the precipice of liquidation.

Whilst today’s announcement on grant funding and previous furlough measures will certainly help in the short term, businesses are in desperate need of a long-term plan to allow them to safely reopen with proper Covid-security.

On top of that, to give businesses a fighting chance at continuity, or at least survival, government financial support for worker’s wages/business rates will need to overlap with the gradual increase in turnover once they are allowed to reopen to customers.