This last week and a half has seen huge cancellations throughout the city’s bars, restaurants, theatres and gig venues, as people have seemingly enforced their own personal lockdown rules in reaction to the rapid growth of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Daily cases have “skyrocketed” in recent days, and with Christmas looming, and with the introduction of the government’s half-arsed ‘PLAN B’ restrictions, people across the city have decided to just stay at home and not risk getting COVID for Christmas.
As a result, many businesses in the city (and the rest of the UK) have lost up to 60% of their trade in December (according to UKHospitality) and with rumours of a ‘circuit breaker’ or upcoming lockdown – things don’t look good for the hard-stricken industry that is seemingly always the first to get thrown under the bus when COVID strikes.
This afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, fresh from a holiday in California (where he may or may not have been helping to negotiate selling off chunks of the NHS), has announced a new bailout package worth £1bn for businesses losing trade due to the recent Omicron surge.
The bailout package consists of grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in England, which can amount up to £6000 per premise, which will be administered through local authorities and available “in the coming weeks”.
He also announced further grants for businesses in England, worth £102m, to help businesses “most in need” and a resumption of the statutory sick pay rebate scheme where small businesses (with less than 250 employees) will get COVID-related sick pay reimbursed.
In addition to this package, the Scottish government will receive £150m, the Welsh government £50m and the Northern Ireland executive £25m.
But is it enough?
Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, Sacha Lord tweeted this afternoon that the package is “an insult”, with a measly £6000 not even being able to cover the loss of business and staff pay for a week, never mind the rest of December and into January.
Many have also noted that at the very least, businesses that have been adversely affected have been listened to – however it’s difficult to ascertain at this point just how useful these grants will be.
It’s also unclear how the proposed funds will be used to help theatres and gig venues too, who have been hit particularly hard over the last couple of weeks, cancelling popular shows for the foreseeable future.
It’s not a package.
It’s an insult.
— Sacha Lord (@Sacha_Lord) December 21, 2021
There’s also the rumours of potential lockdowns looming large on the leisure and hospitality sectors, which considerably hinder any potential decisions that need to be made at such an important time over the Christmas and New Year period.
Will the rise in cases overwhelm the NHS? Will we need to go into another lockdown? If we do, will Boris Johnson even be able to get it through Parliament?
These are all questions that will be on our lips over the next couple of days, which puts a massive dampener on Christmas once again. I suppose only time will tell – keep an eye out on the news for the inevitable developments as they unfold.