Chancellor sets out £1bn fund for Omicron-hit businesses

Businesses that are being rocked by a spike in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant can access more emergency measures.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to access grants of up to £6,000 per premises, while there's a £30 million pot to help theatres and museums.

The Government will also help employers pick up the cost of statutory sick pay for COVID-related absences.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the measures just before Christmas, amid escalating concerns over the rapid rise of Omicron.

It also marks a shift in policy which previously saw emergency support extended when Government policy restricted businesses' ability to trade.

Now, low levels of consumer confidence has prompted the latest round of help, proving this is almost as damaging as mandatory closure.

The British Chambers of Commerce said the measures offer "welcome respite to many of the businesses hit hardest" by the latest restrictions.

However, the Resolution Foundation argued the scale of assistance was "only sufficient for a flash wave [of COVID-19 cases]".

Sunak refused to rule out additional support should further restrictions be announced in the event the Omicron crisis deepens.

For now, here's what we know about the measures that apply to businesses in England.

Hospitality & leisure sectors

Before Christmas, hospitality and leisure firms were hit by a collapse in bookings due to consumer fears over the spread of Omicron.

According to Hospitality UK, many of these businesses reported lost trade in December 2021 - often their most profitable month - of 50%.

Restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres in England can apply for a grant of up to £6,000 for each of their premises.

The Treasury has set aside an initial £683m for these firms and it will be provided under existing council-run schemes.

The system is based on business rates. Firms with a rateable value of up to £15,000 will be eligible for grants of £2,700.

Those with a rateable value from £15,000 to £51,000 will be eligible for grants of £4,000.

Those with rateable values over £51,000 can get the £6,000 grants, so larger chains will be the ones to benefit from the top end of this support.

Statutory sick pay

The statutory sick pay (SSP) rebate scheme for employers is back, less than three months after it closed on 30 September 2021.

Small and medium-sized employers with 250 or less employees can get reimbursed for COVID-related absences, for up to two weeks per worker.

Eligible employers will be able to reclaim £96.35 a week in SSP payments made to each worker who is off sick or isolating for more than four days.

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed this measure amid claims up to a million employees could be off sick or isolating this month.

Additional resources grant

Outside of the leisure and hospitality sectors, other struggling firms can apply to their local authority for the additional restrictions grant (ARG).

The Treasury is providing an extra £102m to top-up the £250m of previously allocated cash handed to local councils at the height of the pandemic.

Local authorities in England will use their own discretion to allocate this top-up fund to the businesses they deem to be most in need.

Culture recovery fund

Cultural organisations and heritage sites in England stand to benefit from an extra £30m available via the existing culture recovery fund (CRF).

Firms can generally apply for between £25,000 and £3m, but must prove they are at risk of ceasing to trade viably within the next three months.

Talk to us about these new measures.