The Prime Minister has announced a four-week halt at Step 3 of the government’s roadmap, with the country’s current restrictions remaining in place.
England is now expected to move to Step 4 on 19 July. The COVID roadmap had laid out lockdown coming to an end no earlier than 21st June 2021, which would have removed all legal restrictions on social distancing and allowed larger gatherings and the opening of venues such as nightclubs.
A rise in COVID cases has caused the delay.
East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire) Chief Executive Scott Knowles said: “Today’s announcement that coronavirus restrictions will no longer end on 21 June is a huge disappointment to everyone and means businesses will have to stagger on for four weeks longer than they’d anticipated. Without proper support, for some this may prove to be one setback too many.
“It’s crucial that the Chancellor responds immediately by providing enhanced support in the form of grants for businesses in the hardest-hit sectors until the economy is able to reopen fully.
“Every week that goes by in which restrictions are in place has a real-life impact on the owners of hospitality, events and leisure businesses in particular as they must operate significantly under capacity.
“Many of these companies, already tight on cashflow, will have spent lots of money on marketing, staffing up and perishable stock in preparation for a milestone that is no longer happening.
“The Government must now postpone the tapering of furlough, which was due to commence on 1 July, for the duration of the extension to the roadmap, while grants would also help many of these businesses that have lost both expenditure and expected income.
“This must be the final delay to lockdown restrictions and, indeed, the four weeks should be a maximum period. The Prime Minister has consistently said his policy would be dictated by ‘data, not dates’ – therefore if the increase in Covid-19 cases doesn’t translate into significant numbers of hospitalisations and deaths, we would expect stage four of the roadmap to commence at the earliest opportunity.”
Jo Ferreday, Director of Market Harborough-based events company, Sheer Edge, said: “Further delays to lockdown easing will cause countless problems for businesses up and down the country. At the current rate, big parts of the hospitality sector could disintegrate before our eyes. We need clear, concise guidelines from the Government, nothing wishy-washy and ethereal.”
Sarah Loates, Director at Loates HR Consultancy, said: “My business provides HR consultancy and management training. My team has not met face-to-face since March 2020. With 21 June in mind, we are glide pathing hybrid working with a view to fully returning to our offices.
“Likewise, since March 2020 we have not delivered any face to face management training, we’ve adapted to virtual delivery, and we’ve benefitted from the removal of geographical limitations.
“So, delaying Freedom Day, for my business means we continue to adapt. However, I do, as a business owner myself, have empathy for those businesses who continue to be impacted.”
Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said: “Public health comes first, so while a delay is regrettable, it’s understandable. Most businesses favour certainty and irreversibility over speed, as lifting and then reimposing restrictions would be a nightmare scenario for many firms.
“But we must acknowledge the pain felt by businesses in hospitality, leisure and live events. At best they’re operating with reduced capacity hitting revenues, and at worst, some aren’t open at all.
“Continuing restrictions means the Government must urgently revisit the support available. That starts with holding back on the tapering of business rates relief and extending the commercial rent moratorium for those sectors most impacted. A solution must also be found for the hard-pressed international travel sector.
“Above all, we must now learn to live with the virus, with a growing focus on the data for long term hospitalisations and deaths but also vaccine coverage. Firms do require greater clarity and guidance on the future of the Government’s support for workplace testing, which is helping to keep staff and workplaces safe.
“Ultimately, rapidly vaccinating citizens – both at home and abroad – remains the best way to safeguard economic growth.”
Lewis Shaw, Founder at Shaw Financial Services, said: “For the majority of financial services businesses, any delay to lockdown easing won’t make a difference due to the technology that the pandemic has pushed us to embrace.
“That said, I, like most people I know, are weary of it all now so another four weeks after all this time is neither here nor there.”
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry said: “So many small businesses will have been waiting for the 21 June with bated breath as their chance to be fully operative without most of the restrictions and closures that have dogged us for much of the past 15 months.
“But despite a successful vaccine programme and all the best efforts from small firms, they will be bitterly disappointed to find they face at least another month of restrictions.
“For many people, it probably feels like life has been getting back to normal. But take a moment to remember that some small businesses, for example nightclubs, have remained closed throughout the entirety of the pandemic. They have gone 15 months without income, all the while doing their best to support their staff, and they have now had their hopes of reopening on 21 June dashed. These sectors, and their supply chains, need ambitious and targeted support.
“It is fully understandable that as this pandemic evolves, the goalposts too will move, but many small firms who have been hanging onto the edge will be left wondering if they can survive further periods of restrictions without additional support. Previous local lockdowns were confusing and did not work, so we are glad to see that we are not facing a return to these today.
“The 19 July must be the final date for when these restrictions will be lifted, it’s crucial that we also understand the impact that these delays have on livelihoods as well as mental health.
“The decision to ease restrictions for weddings will come as a welcome announcement for those involved, especially suppliers, venues and organisers who have seen the sector decimated over the past 15 months.
“But in all our talks with the Government during this crisis, we’ve made it clear that support must be proportionate to the restrictions in place. These business support measures have been critical to saving thousands of businesses and jobs. But we now must push for more, at a time when so many small firms need that helping hand to survive.
“So, for others who remain restricted about how they can operate, these firms need urgent support. The Business Rates 100 per cent relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector, which is due to end on the 30 June should be extended beyond this next set of restrictions.
“Employer contribution changes that are due to take hold on the 1 July should be delayed until all restrictions have eased, thereby minimising the immense financial burden that small firms are facing.
“Many who have been unable to open are now faced with paying back their Bounce Back Loans. Government should consider writing off spent covid loans for the most restricted firms.
“Small firms need support now, they understand the need to take a cautious approach out of lockdown, but not at the sacrifice of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. So, the Government must act to prevent further economic casualties.”