BRC calls for flexibility in government plan to reopen English retail by mid-April
As the UK prime minister laid out his cautious ‘one-way road to freedom’ strategy to get the economy reopened by May, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned the plan could be too late for many businesses.
The devolved governments are in control of the reopenings in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the English plan is crucial given that England's population makes up almost 85% of the entire UK population.
Importantly, the BRC also called on the government to maintain crucial financial support for businesses in the run-up to the easing of restrictions.
In response to Boris Johnson’s Monday afternoon announcement to reopen non-essential stores by 12 April at the earliest, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Government should remain flexible and allow non-essential retail to reopen as soon as the data suggests it is safe to do so”.
Dickinson added: “We welcome the additional clarity provided by the Prime Minister. While we are encouraged by a plan for non-essential stores to reopen, the heavy impact of the pandemic means some may never be able to".
She noted that cost of lost sales to non-food stores during lockdown is now over £22bn “and counting”.
“Every day that a shop remains closed increases the chances that it will never open again - costing jobs and damaging local communities. Non-essential shops are ready to reopen and have been investing hundreds of millions on making themselves Covid-secure”, she added.
She also said that until the reopening of retail business is permitted, “retailers will need continued support from government”.
Although Dickinson said the BRC welcomed the PM’s call ‘not to pull the rug out’ from under businesses’, she also waned that the government must act on “three vital issues – rents, rates and grants”.
“To avoid further job losses and permanent job closures, the Chancellor must announce a targeted business rates relief from April and extend the moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants", she stressed.
“This would relieve struggling businesses of bills they cannot currently pay and allow them to trade their way to recovery.”
On Monday, the prime minister said that “the end really is in sight” as he published a blueprint for reopening businesses.
Driven by “data not dates” the timeline showed almost all sections of the economy will be reopened by 17 May under the plan, enabling people to resume many aspects of their normal lives.
From as early as March 29 the government will end the “stay at home” guidance and change it to “stay local”. There will be a “significant” reopening from April 12, when non-essential shops will be allowed to welcome customers. Pubs and restaurants will open for outdoor service.
However, the prime minister is facing pressure from Tory MPs to go faster in reopening the economy, particularly for the hospitality industry. Steve Baker, a senior lockdown-sceptic Tory MP, told The Times that the plan would “hammer” businesses.
In the Commons Mark Harper, a Tory MP and chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery group, asked why restrictions were not being lifted at the end of April once all over-50s and vulnerable people, who account for 99% of deaths, have been offered the vaccine.
A snap YouGov poll last night found that 46% of voters believe that the road map “has got the balance about right”, 26% of those surveyed think the rules are being relaxed too quickly and 16% think that the rules are being relaxed too slowly.
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