UK business chiefs warn 'generation' of firms could collapse after Covid strain

7 June 2021, 20:42

UK business chiefs called for support at the Treasury Select Committee
UK business chiefs called for support at the Treasury Select Committee. Picture: PA

By Daisy Stephens

UK business chiefs have issued a fresh plea for government help after piling up billions of pounds in debt during the pandemic.

Leaders in the UK’s hospitality, travel and retail sectors have called for financial support measures and policy shifts at the Treasury Select Committee on Monday, and have warned that a “generation” of firms could collapse without more help.

"The support measures that have been available have been appreciated, but at the margin and not adequate for the scale of the challenge the travel industry has faced and is facing,” said Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade body Abta.

"The summer season counts for two-thirds, we are in it, and no-one is travelling.

"The Government needs to recognise that the travel sector is in a class of its own regarding the pain it's suffered really.

"And if we don't have support through these critical weeks, I really do fear that we will be losing a generation of travel companies if we don't act and get financial support to them now."

It comes as thousands of UK travellers scramble back from Portugal before the Government enforces new rules on returning tourists, something that Mr Tanzer called a “real blow” and something that sent a signal that "international travel is not going to come back as envisaged".

He added that there is still discernible demand for travel from UK consumers, but said this has been stifled by obstacles and communication issues regarding requirements needed for foreign travel.

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Meanwhile, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, and Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) told MPs at the select committee that the Government should extend the current rent moratorium.

The suspension is due to end on June 30 and will allow landlords to take action to claim rent that has gone unpaid because of the pandemic.

"You are going to have long Covid for the economy if you are not very careful,” said Ms Nicholls.

"We currently have £2.5 billion in historic rent debt which is going to fall in one hit on July 1, when the moratoriums end, so we urgently need those extending.

"We are two weeks away from the next quarter rent day, so we need that extended as a matter of urgency and we need the Government to work with us, lenders, landlords, to find a solution to this rent debt, so we don't start tripping up businesses and causing insolvencies when we should be coming out of this crisis."

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Ms Dickinson added that the pandemic has accelerated the shift of retail firms further online and warned that the future of many stores could depend on changes to the moratorium and business rates.

"We've seen a closer relationship between physical and digital, but we've lost around 5,000 shops over 2020," she said.

"Whether we lose more than we need to will depend on the moratorium decision, giving space to businesses which need to negotiate with landlords, and the business rates review."