Business Secretary urges councils to distribute £253m grants as high streets suffer

Kwasi Kwarteng
Retailers suffered a record Christmas sales drop following the spread of the Omicron Covid variant
//  Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned councils to speed up the dispersal of Covid grants
// The grants are worth £253 million

The Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has ordered councils to accelerate their distribution of emergency Covid grants worth £253 million after the high street witnessed its worst decline in December.

Kwarteng issued a call to arms to local authorities after councils were criticised for the “glacial” rollout of Covid funding.

He wrote to council leaders to warn them on their slow progress and “instruct them to distribute the money to those that need it”.

READ MORE: Retail sales suffer worst ever December decline

Kwarteng also warned that “jobs, livelihoods and communities” depend on the cash.

The warning came after retailers suffered a record Christmas sales drop following the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.

Retail sales plunged 3.7% month-on-month in the worst December decline.

“My message to you today is simple: businesses need you and your staff to help them through this period,” Kwarteng wrote in a letter to councils.

“The funding we have allocated needs to get to businesses to protect jobs, livelihoods and communities.

“The sooner applications are processed and funds are distributed, the sooner we will be able to provide businesses with the confidence and security they urgently need.”

By the end of November, councils had received more than £2 billion for additional restrictions support grants – mostly allocated by July – but were still sitting on £253 million of it, indicating delays in reaching businesses in need.

Kwarteng has encouraged officials to take part in the “national effort to beat the virus” more quickly with the next round of funds.

Omicron grants totalling £635 million are available as part of the new scheme for hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses across England, with £100 million for companies, and equivalent cash for distribution by the devolved administrations.

“I am calling on councils across England to continue to do their bit in the national effort to beat the virus while safeguarding jobs and businesses. Hard-working people across the country are counting on you,” Kwarteng said.

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