LONDON — British fashion, beauty and retail industry bodies have welcomed news of further government support for business to help them through the final months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his spring budget statement on Wednesday, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak extended the government’s generous furlough program and its help for the self-employed until the end of September. He also raised minimum wage to 8.91 pounds an hour, put a freeze on business taxes and offered 5 billion pounds in special “restart” grants for the retail sector.
Sunak said the British economy is poised to rebound this year, with annual growth of 4 percent and a return to pre-COVID-19 growth levels by mid-2022.
Caroline Rush, chief executive officer of the British Fashion Council, said the BFC “welcomes the announcements in today’s budget that will enable businesses and workers to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” adding that the organization “encourages responsible retail,” and will ensure “that the benefits of this support are passed on through the value chains to suppliers, designers and workers within them.”
The BFC said a report by Oxford Economics has shown the impact of COVID-19 could be twice as hard on the fashion industry than the economy as a whole, “therefore collective action is required to ensure recovery and positive growth of the industry, as there are many businesses and workers that fall outside of the government support measures.”
The organization added that the “combined, devastating effects of the pandemic and Brexit have had a greater negative impact on the fashion sector than most, and therefore we call on urgent action by the government to support the industry to play its role throughout the U.K. in its economic recovery,” the BFC said.
Jace Tyrrell, CEO of New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses in and around Oxford and Regent Streets, said Sunak’s “announcement of substantial economic support should be broadly welcomed. However, it delivers too little for major commercial centers missing out on tourism and office workers where rebuilding traffic, trade and tourists will require years of effort. Targeted relief and support is needed for centers such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, where recovery will take much longer. It cannot be a one size fits all approach.”
Tyrrell also called on Sunak to bring tourists back to the U.K. “The reopening of overseas tourism must be a two-way street. Allowing Brits to holiday and spend overseas must be matched by welcoming back priority overseas tourists who account for 50 percent of the West End’s annual 10 billion pounds turnover. Those that benefit commercial centers the most — in the Middle East, Far East and the U.S. — must be encouraged back to boost the British economy and its businesses. We hope to hear more clarity from the government on this issue in the near future,” Tyrrell said.
The British Beauty Council noted that the personal care sector was mentioned specifically in a budget for the first time, and said the spring budget will include “some important new measures which will support the hair and beauty industry in the vital coming months.” It pointed out that the personal care sector will be able to take advantage of a restart fund of up to 18,000 pounds per individual business; an extension of the business taxes “holiday” beyond its current end date of March 31, and an apprenticeship grant, which has been increased to 3,000 pounds.