In a letter to the Prime Minister, the London Covid Business Forum – chaired by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan – is urging the Government to come forward with an immediate package of support for the culture, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors in light of new restrictions and advice which have been introduced in response to rising cases of the Omicron variant.

“Plan B” measures have come into force at the most important time of the year for culture, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses. These vital sectors have suffered considerably during the pandemic, so the London Covid Business Forum agreed yesterday that it is crucial the Government takes action now.

The London Covid Business Forum was set up by Sadiq to tackle the key issues facing business as a result of the pandemic and set out a roadmap for the safe and full reopening of London’s economy.

It is made up of leading figures from the capital’s key business groups, including UKHospitality, London First, the Association of International Retail and the Night Time Industries Association.

The full letter is here and attached:

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as the London Covid Business Forum to urge the Government to provide additional support for businesses impacted by rising cases of the Omicron variant and “Plan B” measures coming into force.

Due to Londoners, commuters and visitors to London taking extra precautions, businesses in London in the retail, hospitality, and cultural sectors are already suffering, with takings immediately affected by a reduction in office workers following Government advice to work from home if possible.

A 25 per cent surge in Christmas bookings being cancelled has already been reported, there has been a 26 per cent drop in TfL usage week on week, and central London has seen a significant drop in footfall across the city. UK Hospitality has forecast that takings will be down by as much as 40 per cent for December, usually the most lucrative month for venues.

Retail, hospitality, leisure, cultural businesses and night time venues were banking on pre-Christmas sales after an extremely challenging and volatile 20 months. We currently face a ‘worst of all worlds’ whereby businesses are being very adversely affected; but without the benefit of support that existed during the previous total and partial lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

Businesses are also being affected by staff shortages due to rising case rates and isolation, shutting theatre shows across the West End. West End theatre is a major driver for tourism – 22 million people attend each year. These shows have taken enormous financial risks to get back on stage and are not covered by the Live Events Reinsurance Scheme. The Society of London Theatres is concerned that the scheme is not working for the sector because it applies to an entire run, not specific dates; it covers mandated closures rather than ticket losses due to social distancing requirements or the effects of illness and isolation on cast and crew; and, as of this week, it now takes eight weeks to apply, preventing theatres from responding quickly to changing needs. Consequently, theatres are not taking up the offer of the scheme.

The Government acted quickly during the last winter lockdown with additional support for businesses. We therefore urge the Government to consider the following measures to support hospitality, retail and cultural businesses, and their supply chains during this challenging period:

  • Full business relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to be reintroduced until March 2022 and an extension of the VAT relief (currently 12.5%) for hospitality, accommodation and certain attractions beyond March 2022;
  • Additional funds for Local Authorities to enable them to provide grants to businesses affected by new guidance; existing allocations of the Additional Restrictions Grant have largely already been spent or are committed via contractual agreements;
  • To urgently address the limitations of the current Live Events Reinsurance Scheme to produce a scheme that is fit for purpose;
  • An extension or further stage of the Culture Recovery Fund, available as soon as possible to support cultural businesses affected;
  • Ensure all freelance and self-employed workers are fully included in any future support, as many were excluded from the original Self-Employed Income Support Scheme;
  • To reintroduce the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate scheme;
  • To commit to keep the support under review and bring in new measures if further restrictions are required; or if the existing working from home guidance continues beyond the immediate period; and
  • To ensure any further guidance or restrictions that may be required to protect the public and NHS are proportionate and supported by evidence.

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