Posted: 22.02.21 at 17:28 by Derek Davis
Prominent commerce leaders and local councillors have cautiously welcomed prime minister Boris Johnson's roadmap to come out of the latest Covid-19 lockdown but have called for more tangible support to ensure Shotley peninsula businesses can survive.
Mr Johnson announced dates for reopening pubs, shops, restaurants and hairdressers as well as when sporting events can begin to take place.
While the PM's plans show a way ahead, there are concerns his announcement does not go far enough in providing certainty.
Babergh district councillor Alastair McCraw, who represents the Brantham ward and is chair of the Overview and Scrutiny committee, said: "The measures remain extremely cautious, probably wisely due to people only being human.
"The people and businesses being asked to keep waiting for ‘blue skies’ are going to need more support to make it possible, and they’ll need it announced now. Or we may not have anywhere to go to."
A spokesman for the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce said: "“Suffolk Chamber of Commerce broadly understands the Government’s cautious stepped approach to re-opening our society and economy, as nobody wants a return to a full lockdown ever again.
“We also commend the Government’s openness in setting out the four conditions which need to be met before each step can go ahead.
“However, this plan is only part of the solution, with next week’s Budget being absolutely crucial in determining the future viability of thousands of local businesses, many of whose cashflow situations have seriously declined over the last few months.
“That is why we are looking to the Chancellor to ensure that no additional taxes or other burdens are placed upon the business community for many years to come.
"Specifically, we would like to see an extension and expansion in the 100% business rates relief scheme, an immediate, further round of upfront cash grant support – at least equivalent to the £25,000 available in the first national lockdown, an extension to the deferral on VAT until at least the end of 2021 and enhancements to the current Government lending schemes.
“To protect livelihoods, we are advocating an extension to the Job Retention and Self-Employed Income Support Schemes at least until a full reopening of the economy is possible and at least until the end of July 2021, as well as an expansion in income protection support for directors of limited companies.
“We are also advocating for a New Deal for Business to lock in a long-term economic renewal centred around national growth sectors and sustained training and development support for all workers."
Mary McLaren, Babergh councillor for Stour ward, said: "Who would want to be the person making the decision to bring our country through its journey back to some normality. The Prime Minister has been torn between two opposing views both of which were very strong, very sound and very worthy.
"The most important news is that our citizens of tomorrow can go back to their education, social interaction and their friends. For those young people who have suffered during the lockdown we are thrilled that they are able to free yourselves of some of the restrictions that have been painful for them during this period.
"I am very sorry for all our businesses on the Peninsula especially hospitality who will have found todays news not as promising as they thought.
"On balance I welcome the caution and the progress. COVID-19 is a fact of life and we will have to live with it for a very long time. The good news is the current amazing vaccination programme our NHS has and will continue to achieve for all our residents brings the hope to our futures."
Addressing schools first, Mr Johnson said all schools for all pupils will reopen two weeks today and outdoor after-school sports and activities will be allowed to restart.
From March 8 outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted. It means people will be allowed to sit together in a park with a coffee, drink or picnic.
Larger groups will be able to meet outside - including in private gardens - up to a maximum of six people or two households from March 29 providing infection rates do not go up.
Tennis courts, golf courses and other outdoor sport facilities will also reopen on March 29 - the first Monday of the school Easter holidays.
Organised adults and children's sport, including grassroots football, will restart on this date.
Non-essential retail will open as will barbers and hairdressers on April 12.
Pubs and restaurants will begin to open for outdoors service and there will be no curfew or requirement for people to order a substantial meal.
Zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas will open, as will public libraries and community centres.
Mr Johnson said that by May 17, most restrictions on meeting outdoors will be lifted and pubs and restaurants will open for indoor service.
Cinemas, play areas, hotels, and theatres will also open and larger events will be allowed, subject to enhanced testing.
Mr Johnson said that on June 21 all limits on social contacts should be lifted and large events like weddings should be able to go ahead.
The prime minister told MPs restrictions will be eased step-by-step across the whole of England, avoiding a return to the previous system of regional tiers.
Mr Johnson said there will be five weeks in between each stage of lockdown easing - with four weeks to analyse the latest COVID data, and one week to give notice to businesses.
Ministers are aiming to offer all UK adults a COVID vaccine by the end of July.
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