Anne Marie Waters
Tuesday November 3rd 2020
It’s the development we were all dreading; another lockdown. England will enter a second lockdown – though one not as severe as the first – this coming Thursday. This means that pubs, non-essential shops, restaurants, cafes and other leisure facilities will close. Small and medium businesses are about to be dealt another enormous and potentially fatal blow.
Rishi Sunak to the rescue!
The Chancellor has announced that the furlough scheme (the Government footing the bill for 80% of staff pay) that was due to end on October 31st, has now been extended until at least December 2nd, when this lockdown is supposed to come to an end.
(I say ‘supposed to’, because even though this initial legislation hasn’t even been passed in Parliament yet, Michael Gove is already hinting at an extension.)
Furthermore, Boris Johnson has told Nicola Sturgeon that the scheme will be available for whatever future lockdowns she deems it wise to impose north of the border.
Labour are demanding a plan from Sunak as to how he intends to fund all of this, but there doesn’t appear to be one in sight. The Chancellor is virtue-signalling instead: promising to protect jobs. But if the Government is serious about protecting jobs, another lockdown wouldn’t be considered the only option. Johnson says there is no alternative, but has he looked? The Prime Minister is still being advised by the same people, and only the same people, who have previously gotten predictions wrong with disastrous consequences.
I agree the Government must do all it can to help the economy through this crisis, but that should mean cutting taxes and allowing the world to get on with living. We must invest now in getting business back on its feet, not play reckless games with the economy with randomly applied lockdowns.
The consequences of these lockdowns are not a mystery to us. Many people have worked hard to build their businesses, only to see them crash now, and through no fault of their own. Some people even used the first lockdown to start a new venture:
When Will Watts had to mothball his coastal tour business during the first lockdown, he decided to fulfil a long-held dream – opening his own fossil shop in Scarborough in Yorkshire.
After nine weeks setting it up and much investment, he opened in late October and saw strong sales over the half-term break.
But cruelly, within a week the prime minister had called another national lockdown, meaning that from this Thursday Will must shut his new store to the public.
“It has been the toughest year I’ve ever had,” he tells the BBC. “It does make you question why you do what you do.”
Now we are speeding towards Christmas, and even greater uncertainty.
According to the British Retail Consortium, the forced closure of shops in November will cost about £2bn per week in lost sales as we enter the “all-important” Christmas period.
That’s at a time when shop sales are already well below pre-pandemic levels.
Helen Sheward, who runs Gently, a chain of four gift and homeware shops in South East London, was hoping to make up some of her losses from the first lockdown this Christmas, but that won’t happen now.
“People don’t realise we’ve bought all of our stock for Christmas already,” she says.
“I cried all weekend after I heard the prime minister’s announcement.”
This is an awful situation. The news seems to keep getting worse, and still Rishi Sunak offers no answers. How are we paying for this? What relief will he give businesses when they reopen? What is the plan for 2021?
Rishi Sunak needs to tell us if he has grown a magic money tree, because if not, he’s playing dangerous games with our future.
Anne Marie Waters
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