Westminster Diary - Our high streets are reopening – but we must remain vigilant to enjoy summer safely

15th July 2020

COVID-19 has had a profound impact across the economy. Businesses across the country have closed their doors, taking significant economic hits to protect the public’s health.

From the outset, the Government recognised the scale of the challenge facing business owners and their staff. That is why we put in place an extensive package of support for business, including grants and loans for small businesses, a business rates holiday, the job retention scheme, and support for the self-employed. 

At the time of writing, almost 900,000 firms have benefitted from over £10billion of business grants through the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund; almost £10 billion of business rates relief has been provided for firms affected by COVID-19; over 1 million Bounce Back Loans have been approved, worth over £30 billion; and over 9 million jobs have been protected through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme). This has provided a vital lifeline for firms across the UK, and here in Reading.

As we begin to bounce back from the devastating effects of coronavirus, it is vital that we get Britain’s economic engines firing once again.

Thanks to the efforts of the public, in recent weeks we have been able to reopen our town centres and high streets for business again. This is the next stage in our phased, cautious reopening of the economy, helping businesses get back on their feet and get people back in their jobs in a way that protects the health and wellbeing of us all.

I was delighted to see pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen on 4th July, and tourism, leisure and close contact services like nail and beauty salons reopening a week later.

As Business Secretary, my Department is helping these businesses adapt to new ways of working. We have published new Covid-19 secure guidance to give businesses practical, clear steps they can take to reopen safely for workers and customers. It is critical that businesses follow our guidance to reduce the risk of transmission and to keep people safe.

We are also bringing in measures to help businesses make the most of the summer months’ trading. Temporary measures in the Business and Planning Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, will allow our 127,000 pubs, restaurants and cafes – employing 2 million people – to bring alfresco dining to the great British public, so they can resume operations safely and within the social distancing guidelines.

And at the recent Summer Economic Update the Chancellor announced an additional £30billion of support for jobs and businesses, including new schemes like Eat Out to Help Out. I urge all eligible businesses in Reading to sign up and welcome your customers back with 50% off every Monday to Wednesday throughout August.

Slowly, cautiously, our high streets and town centres are returning to normal. But we are not through this yet, and it is vital we all remain alert to the virus. If you are heading out to support your high street this summer, remember to follow the guidelines to protect yourselves and others, so we can all #EnjoySummerSafely.

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