Devon business leader urges PM to ‘get a grip’

“Anyone with half a brain can see what’s going to happen. But stop making these fluffy announcements and be clear so that businesses can make the right decisions and survive.”

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com

A Devon business leader has called on the Government to “get a grip” and start taking decisive measures – including a new lockdown and a furlough scheme for businesses.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that no further Covid restrictions will be put in place before Christmas, saying there is currently not enough evidence on the severity of Omicron, the hospitalisation rate and the impact of the booster rollout to justify tougher measures ahead of December 25.

Earlier today, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled £6,000 one-off bailout loans to pubs and restaurants who have seen their Christmas trade wiped out as people stay away to avoid fast-rising Covid numbers.

Hospitality firms had been begging the Government for more support as dire warnings over the spread of Omicron had seen pubs, restaurants and music venues hit with “lockdown by stealth”.

Susie Colley, the chairman of the Torquay Chamber of Trade, has now called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “take the flak” from his own party and do what’s best for the country as a whole.

She said: “This new Omicron surge is already affecting businesses badly.

“Are the Government going to come back and furlough people? Loans are no good – people will never be able to repay them.

“The Government need to be clear and concise and yes they need to lockdown and save lives and save the NHS from collapse.

“Yes, it will push the country further into the red – but at least we will be alive to come out the other end.

“I desperately want to see my daughter – but I would rather wait and see her in the summer, if I’m alive and she’s alive. If we carry on the way we’re going, that’s not going to happen.

“If you’re the leader of the country, you’re not there to make friends or keep businesses happy. You have to steer the boat through this huge storm which could go on into 2023.

“Stop vacillating. Stop being woolly. The decisions have to be made now and a great leader will be prepared to take the flak from his own party.

“Get a grip Boris. The scientists are telling us that because of the virulent nature of Omicron it’s doubling every one and a half days.

“Anyone with half a brain can see what’s going to happen. But stop making these fluffy announcements and be clear so that businesses can make the right decisions and survive.”

Bars and restaurants are quiet as people fear the spread of Omicron in the run-up to Christmas.

The Chancellor has today come forward with additional help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England following days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.

It includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.

The Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund, the Treasury said.

Cabinet ministers are at loggerheads over post-Christmas restrictions, with a two-hour meeting of the Prime Minister’s top team reportedly exploding into a row yesterday.

Mr Sunak’s announcement has been branded as a “holding package” by opposition leaders, who have accused the Government of being indecisive.

Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Pat McFadden said: “This is a holding package from a Government caught in a holding position.

“The Prime Minister is a prisoner of divisions inside his party and within the Cabinet about whether any further measures are needed and whether they will get past Tory backbenchers. That is not the way that crucial public health decisions should be taken.

“Labour has been calling for an economic support plan for businesses affected by a wave of pre-Christmas cancellations.

“Support is welcome to see but we will be going through the details of this announcement to see which business and workers are included and excluded.

“Business support should have been announced when the Plan B changes were voted on last week but it has only happened after the Chancellor was dragged back from California to focus on the plight facing businesses and workers here in the UK.

“The real question after yesterday’s indecisive Cabinet meeting is what will happen next, when will the country be informed of that and will support for businesses and workers be placed alongside any further public health measures that might be announced.”

The trade body Hospitality UK has reported that many businesses have lost 40% to 60% of their December trade – at what is usually firms’ busiest month.

Speaking in a pre-recorded message to the nation which was released at 5pm today, Mr Johnson said: “There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.

“So 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.

“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation 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.

“We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.”