'We can't survive anymore': Businesses tell LBC of disaster as Sunak goes to California

16 December 2021, 18:08 | Updated: 16 December 2021, 19:16

Rishi Sunak was criticised for taking a trip to California during the Omicron crisis
Rishi Sunak was criticised for taking a trip to California during the Omicron crisis. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Businessmen facing desperate times have spoken about the dire consequences of Covid measures as Rishi Sunak drew criticism for travelling to California.

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Labour has asked why the Chancellor travelled to the US state as businesses "struggled to cope" with the wave of Omicron infections, which led to Plan B measures.

The Government made a point of keeping hospitality, heavily battered by past restrictions, from tougher 'Plan B' rules involving mask wearing.

But it hasn't stopped tales of cancelled Christmas dos as the public takes precautions against the fast spreading variant.

Experts have also recommended Brits reduce their socialising in the run up to Christmas.

Read more: Whitty: Omicron is a 'serious threat' and people should socialise 'carefully'

Read more: 'He'd be here if he'd had his jabs': Stepson of 'first UK Omicron victim' speaks to LBC

But while Mr Sunak visits California - a trip he will now come home from early - LBC heard in one heartbreaking call how a publican is "frustrated and angry" with the Government.

He accused them of using "scaremongering words" which affect hospitality and led to cancellations over the crucial festive period.

Brendan in Norfolk pointed out that he at least had funding to help him last year.

"I will probably have to close in the next couple of weeks, I can't survive anymore," he told LBC's Tom Swarbrick, adding he was "nearly in tears" and "cannot see a way back".

"How am I going to tell my kids that I have no pub and no restaurant?"

Read more: Omicron's R number 'could be high as five' - but peak could be short, Chris Whitty says

Phil in Leeds told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast his promotional marketing agency is taking "another hammering this year", losing £10,500 of revenue since Plan B measures came in, and he has the Bounce Back loan to repay soon too.

He said business was "amazing" from July to September, but since then has experienced a "shocker".

He believes his company will survive but has had to cancel arrangements with self-employed workers he uses because of new measures. This included a marketing push focusing on Canary Wharf workers that can’t go ahead because they are doing their jobs from home.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Sunak's trip to California was a "long-planned trip", but did not know why it was not on the list of Government engagements for the week.

"I'd have to refer to [the] Treasury on that for when it was finalised," he said.

A Treasury spokesperson said: "The Chancellor is in the US on a long-planned trip conducting government business.

"He is in constant contact with staff back home and will be speaking to UK hospitality businesses today to hear their concerns."

It was later confirmed Mr Sunak would return early, and hold talks with business chiefs over Omicron on Friday.

Shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden questioned why Mr Sunak had travelled to the American West Coast on Tuesday when "it was already clear that UK businesses were struggling to cope with what the Prime Minister himself has called a 'tidal wave of Omicron'?"

"Even if he's abroad, California is not exactly a communications desert. They have television there, I've even heard they have the internet, but it's still radio silence from the Chancellor - tumbleweed rolling through the Treasury."

Mr McFadden said Mr Sunak needed to speak to businesses "losing bookings by the hour and watching their December profits vanish into thin air", adding that advice to reduce contacts was having a "direct impact" on hospitality and entertainment.