// Labour warns that high streets could turn into “ghost towns” in areas with new local lockdowns
// Labour said there was a £170m underspend in the government’s Covid-19 grants for businesses in areas with local restrictions
// It estimated that this funding could support an additional 15,000 businesses in affected areas
Labour is calling for more support for workers and retailers in areas with local restrictions in a bid to safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The party warned that high streets could turn into “ghost towns” in areas with new local lockdowns because of Covid-19.
Labour said there was a £170 million underspend in the government’s Covid-19 grants programme for businesses in areas with local restrictions, claiming that ministers were “clawing this back”, rather than using it to safeguard jobs and livelihoods.
- CBI calls for improvements in handling of local lockdowns
- Lockdown sees “modest” increase in retail vacancy rates
- The general health of UK retail is at all-time low
The party estimated that this funding could support an additional 15,000 businesses in areas with local restrictions.
“It’s a week since local restrictions were put in place in Greater Manchester, and West Yorkshire, yet there has been zero extra support for struggling businesses caught up in this public health crisis,” shadow minister for business and consumers Lucy Powell said.
“We’re seeing a wave of redundancies across the high street, threatening jobs and livelihoods, which could lead to ghost towns, as businesses are forced to shut up shop.
“Unless ministers take action to provide extra help to firms, that wave will turn into a tsunami leading to lasting damage, and the loss of many thousands of jobs, weakening our economy and our ability to recover from the crisis.”
Labour called for a Hospitality and High Streets Fightback Fund to protect jobs and help struggling businesses, adding that if local areas were able to use the underspend in the coronavirus business grants schemes, it would unlock significant funds for local areas to target help.
Funds should be better focused on struggling businesses and their supply chains, including bed and breakfasts, hotels and cafes in coastal communities, conference centres and music venues, Labour said.
A government spokesperson said: “We understand the challenges faced by the hospitality industry and the high street.
“That’s why we’ve taken unprecedented and targeted action with our Plan for Jobs to support people and businesses through the pandemic.
“This includes the successful Eat Out to Help Out scheme, a 15 per cent cut in VAT, cash grants worth up to £25,000, 100 per cent business rates relief for eligible businesses, eviction protection and tax deferrals, alongside support for over 9.6 million furloughed workers, a £1000 bonus for every furloughed staff member a business retains.”
“We’re working closely with local areas to make sure that individuals and businesses in all regions are directed to the right support.”
with PA Wires