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‘No time to plan’: Cambridge business leader’s exasperation at tier 4 announcement

Health secretary Matt Hancock making the new tier 4 announcement, December 23, 2020. Picture: PA Images
Health secretary Matt Hancock making the new tier 4 announcement, December 23, 2020. Picture: PA Images

Businesses in Cambridge face additional uncertainty as the twin impacts of a new variant of the coronoavirus and the imposition of tier 4 restrictions make themselves felt – and Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Bridge OBE is exasperated.

The county will move into the toughest Covid-19 restrictions at 12.01am on December 26 (Saturday), health secretary Matt Hancock announced today (December 23). Case numbers have nearly doubled in Cambridgeshire in the most recent week, with the most rapid increases seen in South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridge – but the shunt into a new level of emergency has plunged the business community into despair and fury.

“The introduction of an additional tier without warning or additional help is a huge blow to business people who wanted nothing more than to be able to trade safely through the holiday season and beyond,” Mr Bridge said. “It is clear from the rising rate of infections and pressure on hospitals that government needs to do more to address the public health emergency but businesses are yet to understand the rationale behind closing businesses, such as beauty salons, hairdressers and gyms, that have implemented government safer working guidance at significant cost.

Constant chopping and changing has left many businesses and their customers confused about how the rules apply. It is very tempting to respond with anger and disbelief that the government chose to introduce yet again sudden and unexpected changes with far reaching consequences for many leaving them with no time to plan.”

Nationwide Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: PA Graphics
Nationwide Covid-19 restrictions. Picture: PA Graphics

There are no new announcements on support for businesses and the post-Christmas trading window is now closed, and with it the last chance for the local economy to regain some of the ground lost during the economic fallout following the arrival of the virus on these shores at the start of the year.

“We want a package commensurate with the losses that business are going to incur,” stated Mr Bridge. “The ongoing costs of running a business far exceed the grants that are available – and the Job Retention Bonus will not be available after the start of February so this is a double whammy.”

The crisis that has devastated the UK economy – the expected 11 per cent contraction is the worst for 300 years and the effects will likely last until 2024 – is now worsening all over again.

“The key thing is, we want a proper exit strategy,” said Mr Bridge. “People need to know.

“My emotions have not subsided as Christmas was already cancelled for many businesses and individuals, but even more will now suffer as a result of this last-minute decision.

Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Bridge, OBE
Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Bridge, OBE

“While government must act on public health concerns, it must also address the economic consequences of its actions. There must be more help for firms being forced to shut their doors – and for those who have paid for stock they now can’t sell? What support will there be for companies whose cash flow projections have once again been thrown into chaos?

“With huge numbers of firms already on the edge, it is reprehensible for further restrictions or closures to be announced in the future without a more comprehensive package of support in place that gives businesses the confidence that ministers will stand by them through an uncertain year ahead.”

In a tier 4 area, you must follow the rules over the Christmas period. This means that you cannot meet other people indoors over the Christmas period, unless you ordinarily live with them, or they are part of your existing support bubble. Outdoors, you can only meet one person from another household.

UK coronavirus growth rates are increasing rapidly
UK coronavirus growth rates are increasing rapidly

One of the few sectors to escape the punitive new regime is Stansted Airport. A spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “The airport will remain open and operational as normal once Uttlesford goes into tier 4 on Boxing Day, as other airports in tier 4 have done already.”

Areas moving to tier 4 from Boxing Day are: Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, those parts of Essex not yet in tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire – including Portsmouth and Southampton but with the exception of the New Forest.

Following the introduction of tier 4 the government updated the guidance applicable to all of us for the Christmas period which can be accessed here.

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