High street agents who applied for government support to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on business should start to receive their share of the £22 billion pot from this week.
The Treasury on Wednesday (1 April) said cash grants of up to £25,000 were starting to be paid into businesses’ bank accounts, and confirmed the business rates exemption for SMEs had now come into force.
All businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, including agents, with a rateable value of less than £51,000 are eligible for the business rates “holiday”.
Some £5.3 billion has meanwhile been pledged to the UK’s devolved administrations to “support people, business and public services”. This includes £2.7 billion for Scotland, £1.6 billion for Wales and £900 million for Northern Ireland.
The grants and rates relief come in addition to the government’s job retention and self-employed income support schemes, which many travel businesses have already taken advantage of.
Tui confirmed on Tuesday (31 March) it was furloughing 11,000 of its 13,200 UK staff on 80% of their wages (up to £2,500 per month) under the job retention scheme, while Hays Travel took a similar step last week.
“High street businesses are at the core of what keeps our economy thriving,” said chancellor Rishi Sunak. “We’re taking the unprecedented step to provide businesses with the vital cash they need to ensure their survival during this difficult time.”
Sunak confirmed 300 businesses had already received payments, and revealed an early £3.4 billion payment was made to local authorities on Friday (27 March) to ensure grants would get to businesses “as soon as possible”.
“Every local authority in England has now received the full amount of grant funding they need to support their local businesses,” said the Treasury in a statement.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the measures would “help many employers survive the crisis” and put the sector in a position to start rebuilding.
“These are, naturally, very concerning times for businesses in the hospitality sector,” said Nicholls. “Ours was one of the first sectors to feel the significant impact of the crisis as customers began to avoid social gatherings.
“Cash flow is effectively at zero for many employers in hospitality, so we needed swift and significant support to ease the burden. The business rates holiday for our entire sector, the third largest in the country, will provide a substantial boost to businesses when they most need it.”
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the measures “could be the difference between [businesses] surviving this crisis or folding”.
Any businesses that have already made 2020/21 business rate payments will be refunded, and the Treasury said it was working with local authorities to ensure new bills are issued as soon as possible.
“In most cases, local authorities will need to collect details from small businesses in order to be able to make payments,” said the Treasury statement. “Local authorities will be in touch with all eligible businesses shortly.”