Chancellor vows to do “whatever it takes” in anti-viral Budget

Budget Rishi Sunak
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Pubs celebrated both a freeze on beer duty and a temporary suspension of business rates in Rishi Sunak’s Budget 2020, but critics have argued its pro-business measures don’t go far enough to counter the financial impact of COVID-19.


It was auspicious timing for Rishi Sunak’s first ever budget last week: the new chancellor unveiled a wave of economic measures aimed at steadying the ship in anticipation of the full economic onslaught of the Coronavirus.

Coinciding with the World Health Organisation’s announcement that the COVID-19 outbreak now constitutes a “global pandemic,” the UK’s Budget Bill 2020 was unveiled alongside a pledge from Sunak that the Treasury would do “whatever it takes” to support British business through the worst impacts of the disease.

Of £30bn of additional annual spending included in the bill, £12bn was set aside specifically to mitigate the effects of the virus: with £5bn going directly to the NHS, and the remaining £7bn dedicated to supporting both businesses and their respective employees.

“We are doing everything we can to keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure,” said the chancellor in his Budget speech to fellow MPs last Wednesday. Sunak added that he anticipated the short-term impact on growth to be “significant,” but pledged that “we will get through this together.”

Amongst the good news for customer-facing landed business was a suspension on business-rate payments for all shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and music venues with a rateable value of £51,000 and below. Meanwhile, a new “interruption loan scheme” is to be introduced, whereby banks will be supported in lending amounts up to £1.2m to small and medium-sized businesses.

On the pub front, the duty paid on alcoholic beverages remained frozen – much to the celebration of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA).

“Cheers to the chancellor!” said the trade association’s CEO Emma McClarkin in her budgetary response.

But McClakrin’s equivalent at UK Hospitality struck a markedly more sombre tone in her own response to Sunak’s relief package, arguing that the value threshold on rates relief had been drawn far too low.

“Many of the hardest hit businesses will not benefit, either because they have rateable values above £51k or because state aid rules mean that venues in bigger chains, the larger employers, will be ineligible,” she remarked. “These businesses have been utterly ignored at a time of business crisis.”

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