Lockdown: The big issues facing the four nations of the UK

  • 15 Jun 2021

The easing of Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, expected to take place in June, has been hit by rising cases of the disease, driven by the more transmissible Delta variant.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a delay to lockdown easing in England. On Tuesday, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon indicated restrictions would not be lifted until July.

Northern Ireland and Wales will be announcing their roadmap in the next few days.

Below, we outline the current status and issues facing each of the four nations in the UK.

England

The final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England is to be delayed until 19 July.

The delay will be difficult for many small firms who had been hoping for the Stage Four unlocking to take place on the 21 June and now urgent support is needed for small firms carrying the burden of this latest delay.

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry said: "So many small businesses will have been waiting for the 21 June with bated breath as their chance to be fully operative without most of the restrictions and closures that have dogged us for much of the past 15 months.

"But despite a successful vaccine programme and all the best efforts from small firms, they will be bitterly disappointed to find they face at least another month of restrictions.

 

"For many people, it probably feels like life has been getting back to normal. But take a moment to remember that some small businesses, for example nightclubs, have remained closed throughout the entirety of the pandemic. They have gone 15 months without income, all the while doing their best to support their staff, and they have now had their hopes of reopening on 21 June dashed. These sectors, and their supply chains, need ambitious and targeted support.”

"It is fully understandable that as this pandemic evolves, the goalposts too will move, but many small firms who have been hanging onto the edge will be left wondering if they can survive further periods of restrictions without additional support. Previous local lockdowns were confusing and did not work, so we are glad to see that we are not facing a return to these today.

"The 19 July must be the final date for when these restrictions will be lifted, it's crucial that we also understand the impact that these delays have on livelihoods as well as mental health.

"The decision to ease restrictions for weddings will come as a welcome announcement for those involved, especially suppliers, venues and organisers who have seen the sector decimated over the past 15 months.

"But in all our talks with the Government during this crisis, we've made it clear that support must be proportionate to the restrictions in place. These business support measures have been critical to saving thousands of businesses and jobs. But we now must push for more, at a time when so many small firms need that helping hand to survive.

"So, for others who remain restricted about how they can operate, these firms need urgent support. The Business Rates 100 per cent relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector, which is due to end on the 30 June should be extended beyond this next set of restrictions.

"Employer contribution changes that are due to take hold on the 1 July should be delayed until all restrictions have eased, thereby minimising the immense financial burden that small firms are facing.

“Many who have been unable to open are now faced with paying back their Bounce Back Loans. Government should consider writing off spent covid loans for the most restricted firms.

"Small firms need support now, they understand the need to take a cautious approach out of lockdown, but not at the sacrifice of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. So, the Government must act to prevent further economic casualties."

Scotland

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday June 15, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated that current coronavirus restrictions are unlikely to be lifted at the end of the month.

 

Andrew McRae, FSB Scotland policy chair, said: “Any unlocking delay comes with consequences for Scottish businesses and jobs. Hospitality and tourism firms face further weeks of restrictions which make it difficult to cover their overheads, never mind pay down their debts. We must remember that nightclubs, softplay centres and much of the events industry remain unable to trade at all.

“That’s why the bare minimum FSB expects is for state support to be proportionate to the scale of the restrictions. It would be unforgivable if governments in Edinburgh and London wound down the help on offer for firms while prolonging their difficulties.”

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, June 21 was also set to see a big step towards easing of Covid restrictions. Subject to a review on June 17, from June 21, 10 people from two households can meet in private homes, or up to 15 if a household has more than six members.

Up to 15 people from any number of households can meet outdoors in a private garden while live music will be allowed at "ambient levels".

If the data allows, theatres will reopen and concerts restart.

Wales

Lockdown measures in Wales will be reviewed on June 21.

The Welsh Government has announced that additional funding is now being made available to support businesses affected by the staged transition to Alert Level One, due to the impact the delta variant of COVID-19 is having on transmission rates.

Support will be available for businesses that have capacity for events of more than 30 people indoors or in contained spaces and to businesses that are still closed because of ongoing restrictions.

 

Commenting on the latest announcement from the Welsh Government, Ben Francis, FSB Wales Policy Chair, said: “Many businesses in Wales will be relieved to hear that there will be additional funding from Welsh Government to reflect the huge challenges that remain for those that are required to close or unable to hold events at this time.

“However, we are disappointed to see that FSB’s questions on the need for a Restart Grant have still been left unanswered. Businesses that have been closed or severely restricted for an extended period of time need support to meet the steepest costs of reopening, and we continue to call on Welsh Government to deliver this for those firms that need it most.

“Furthermore, this funding announcement does not appear to take into account the businesses that are able to open but subject to significant challenges due to the impact of social distancing on their ability to operate at a profitable capacity. Hospitality, tourism and leisure are some of the hardest hit sectors in this regard and FSB has made the case on multiple occasions for there to be targeted support for these industries. Many businesses are reporting that their takings are severely down, and that this is impacting upon their ability to be sustainable.

“We hope that today’s announcement is one staging point in Welsh Government’s ongoing conversation about the support that our economy needs to get back on its feet, and that the Economy Minister will be receptive to FSB’s call for a Restart Grant and targeted sectoral support in the immediate future.

“For those businesses that are eligible for this top-up funding, it is vital that they apply for the latest round of emergency funding from Welsh Government by the 16th June, and we’d urge all firms that think they may be eligible to do so.”

 

 

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