This week saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak deliver his first Budget, delayed from November due to the election. However, for pub regulars like me it was worth the wait. Duties on beer, wine, cider and spirits were all frozen – the first time all have been frozen together for 20 years. I think we can all drink to that!
As becomes more and more obvious by the day the biggest issue facing our economy is coronavirus, which is going to have a big impact, even if only temporarily. At worst, up to a fifth of us may be off sick at any one time, which will impact small businesses who may need help to make it through.
The Chancellor set out ways to help small businesses cope during the outbreak. A £1 billion loan scheme for companies was announced and for business with fewer than 250 employees, they will be able to claim back any statutory sick pay for staff off work because of the virus for up to 14 days.
Business Rates have been abolished for almost 50% of business properties this year and any small business already eligible for small business rate relief can apply for a £3,000 cash grant to help get them through whatever lies ahead. Many Pendle businesses stand to benefit from this support.
Apart from businesses, it is clear our health system is going to come under huge pressure. A £5 billion emergency response fund for the NHS was announced. This was on top of an extra £6 billion in new NHS funding for the next four years to help pay for the 50,000 more nurses, 50 million more GP surgery appointments and 40 new hospitals the system needs. Overall, what was announced at the Budget is of the most comprehensive packages anywhere in the world to fight the virus.
There was a lot more announced in the budget. I especially welcome more investment in our roads that will see an extra £66 million for pothole repairs in the North West, whilst also continuing the freeze on fuel duty. The short-term focus has to be on tackling coronavirus but we must not lose sight of what we need to do in the long-term.