As part of the new national lockdown, the Chancellor has announced some £4.6 billion of additional support. New lockdown grants will be available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. Chris Scargill, partner at chartered accountants and business advisors, MHA Larking Gowen, has a special interest these sectors.
“The lockdown grant will be most welcome as swathes of the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are desperately in need of funds,” Chris said. “As with previous grants, the new lockdown grant is for businesses operating from their premises. However, there is some funding available for other businesses too.”
What is the detail?
Much will come from the small print, which is not yet available, but the announcement advises that there will be automatic grants of:
- £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
- £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000
- £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000
However, Chris points out, “There is a condition: the one-off top-ups will be granted to closed businesses. Whereas the rateable value-based grants back in the spring of 2020 were for all businesses in these sectors, what is meant by “closed businesses”? How will those with a micro online business be affected? We await more details,” explains Chris.
Many potential winners from the previous round of rateable value-based grants were furnished holiday lets and businesses with small retail outlets associated to largely alternative activities. These are businesses where owners put at risk large tranches of funds, often borrowed, and so the new lockdown grants will be welcomed. For some holiday lets, this lockdown grant will come at a time when normal business may be light. However, how consistent the local authorities will be on delivering these grants will be interesting as, back in 2020, some of this was a postcode lottery.
For enterprises with a rateable value of over £51,000, a top-up grant of £9,000 will not go very far at all, but at least this time they are included, as the previous grants have been, in some cases, capped.
“This is likely to be a very small sticking plaster over an already gaping wound, and for many this will not be enough to save them. This raises the question, therefore, of whether the nearly one-size fits all top-ups are fit for purpose,” said Chris.
“In its defense, the Government reminds us that it has also provided 100% business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses; it has already put £1.1 billion into an existing discretionary fund for Local Authorities; it has extended the furlough scheme to April 2021; and 100% government backed loans have been extended until March 2021.
“Moreover, the hospitality and leisure industry’s cut in VAT rates was a significant help when these businesses were able to trade. The majority are now praying this continues beyond March 2021.”
What funding is available for other businesses?
It has been announced that local authorities will be given an additional £594 million to support other businesses not eligible for the lockdown grants, but who might be affected by the restrictions.
To obtain these funds, businesses should apply to their local authority. This will be welcome by the many businesses in these sectors who may not operate specifically from trade premises, or indeed premises in their sole name, and who were ineligible for previous funding.
It’s worth remembering there’s also existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 per month for impacted businesses once they reopen.
Ultimately, though there can be no denying that attempts are being made to keep these key sectors alive, it is possible to be much fairer than what is being made available. The pandemic is by no means over, and Chris admits there will be many more bumps in the road.
“Planning for the future,” he concludes, “and planning for expansion has become planning to survive.”