Liverpool City Region political leaders have today written an open letter to Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling upon him to bring in a package of support measures for businesses affected by the growth of the Omicron variant.
St Helens Borough Council Leader David Baines says: “The announcements this week have caused a huge amount of uncertainty and anxiety for businesses who are now seeing footfall drop dramatically in many cases. That’s why myself and other regional leaders are calling on the government to provide urgent support. If they don’t, I fear for the future of many local restaurants, pubs, hairdressers and more – the Chancellor simply must act now to safeguard jobs and businesses.”
Read the letter in full:
We write to you deeply concerned, not only with the health implications of the Omicron variant, but its potential economic detriment too. The high transmissibility makes it especially dangerous and, while we support restrictions to help slow that spread, we feel the situation is something of a halfway house. The restrictions – and your government’s own advice – mean people are staying home, while the lack of financial support means that businesses up and down the country are forced to pay the price.
The Liverpool City Region’s visitor economy is especially susceptible to these impacts. It is worth an estimated £4.9bn per year, with 4,300 businesses employing nearly 50,000 people. It is through a combination of local and national interventions that these businesses have survived the past 18 months – including investment of more than £44m of local funding which supported over 4,000 city region businesses.
As you will know, uncertainty can be fatal for businesses big or small. The current situation means that many local shops, bars and restaurants are heading into the Christmas period, the busiest and most profitable time of the year for many, facing uncertainty on all sides, ranging from staff shortages and late cancellations, to ordering stock when potential future restrictions are unclear. This, in turn, has knock on effects for other trades, like our region’s service industries and taxi drivers.
The confusion sown by asking people to “think carefully” about their actions while allowing hospitality to stay open is proving damaging to many businesses. People are rightly worried about the threat of Omicron, which is in turn leading to high numbers of cancellations and significant losses in expected earnings with nothing to cover the shortfalls.
Hospitality staff across the country, a great number of whom work unsecure hours and are among the lowest paid, have had many thousands of hours of shifts cut as a result. Even those not hit by cancellations find themselves struggling to find enough staff to open thanks to rapid transmission of this new variant.
We have all been contacted by countless local businesses, worried about the effects this is having on their livelihoods and, without urgent intervention, we are worried about the impact this will have on our city region’s embryonic recovery. It is estimated that the cost to our economy is circa £3bn in lost tourism revenue last year. We cannot afford to reverse the progress we were making pre-pandemic when we were the fastest growing city region in the country.
That is why we are calling on you to step up, as you did at the start of the pandemic, to give struggling businesses and workers a lifeline. We need a package of support to be brought forward quickly to assist all of the sectors affected by the knock-on effect of restrictions – including support for staff hit by a loss of earnings or employment during the festive period. The current Test and Trace Support Payments remain inadequate and, as research shows, is an impediment to people getting tested and self-isolating.
Please act now. Countless businesses up and down the country are relying on you.
We look forward to your response.
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram
Cllr Mike Wharton, Leader, Halton Borough Council
Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader, Knowsley Borough Council
Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool
Cllr Ian Maher, Leader, Sefton Borough Council
Cllr David Baines, Leader, St. Helens Borough Council
Cllr Janette Williamson, Leader, Wirral Borough Council