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UK government’s extra financial support for retailers gets cautious welcome

The UK government’s pledge of £330bn in support for business hardship as Coronavirus bites has been welcomed.

Putting the country’s economy on a ‘war footing’, chancellor Rishi Sunak, pledged cash grants worth £25,000 would be made to retail, leisure and hospitality firms to help them survive the period of turbulence. The smallest businesses in the country across all sectors of will be able to seek grants worth £10,000.

The loans, made on “attractive” but unspecified terms, would allow firms to carry out fundamental day-to-day tasks such as paying wages and rent bills and buying stock. The money, available from the start of next week, will be offered via the Bank of England for bigger firms, while smaller enterprises can seek business interruption loans of up to £5m each.

Business rates – taxes paid on commercial properties – will be scrapped this year for all companies in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. “Every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant … will pay no business rates for 12 months,” Sunak said.

He said he would set out further steps in the coming days and that he was holding talks with unions and business groups to develop a form of employment support to help protect jobs and incomes.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) welcomed the move. “The Chancellor has acted swiftly to back retail businesses dealing with the unprecedented challenges created by coronavirus,” says Helen Dickinson, BRC Chief Executive. “He is to be congratulated for listening carefully to the concerns of retailers and has delivered a big, bold package of measures that will be a huge cashflow boost and will improve confidence for those affected.”

Dickinson adds: “Business rates are a huge burden for retailers at the best of times. The business rates holiday, together with the announcement of a loan package, represent a vital shot in the arm for a sector facing enormous uncertainty. We still need to see the details and make sure that retailers can access cash with the minimum of delay, but it is a welcome and necessary first step to protect jobs. The Chancellor has said he will do whatever is necessary to support business and he has shown that he can respond to the changing need of retailers. While these are the right decisions today, the Government may have to take further steps as the full effects of the situation unfold.”

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