Spring budget | Retail restart support, extended furlough, and £300m more for the Culture Recovery Fund

A restart programme to support retailers reopening next month and a £300 million culture recovery fund have been announced in a budget described as the Government’s “use of the full fiscal firepower of the country,” by Chancellor Rishi Sunak this afternoon.

Among the first issues addressed by Sunak as he outline the plans for the 2021 budget – billed as a ‘budget of our time’ – as England makes its preparations to ease out of lockdown, was the return to business for the country’s non-essential retailers.

Under a Restart Programme described by Sunak, non-essential retailers who will be on track to have suffered a 17 week closure through the country’s third lockdown, will be offered a £6,000 grant to help them get them moving forward again.

The support will be part of a £5 billion scheme for businesses across the country, adding to the total direct cash support system for business to now total £25bn over the course of the pandemic.

For hospitality and leisure businesses, the grant has been increased to £18,000 in accordance to the staggered re-opening and social restrictions that will be enforced as they return to operation. Business rates for such businesses will remain 100 per cent suspended for these businesses for the next three months, at which point rates will be discounted by two thirds for the remaining nine months of the year.

Meanwhile, the Culture Recovery Fund which provides financial support for music venues, independent cinemas, museums, galleries, theatres, and heritage sites as they weather the financial storm of the pandemic, will receive a boost of £300 million.

The first recipients of support from a fun that now totals £1.87bn were detail in October last year, with over 1,385 theatres, museums, and cultural organisations across England benefitting from a £257 million share of the fund.

The Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown has also raised hopes around the return of the live music scene, with June 21st earmarked as the date of full relaxation on any and all coronavirus restrictions.

Elsewhere, a final key point to have arisen in Sunak’s afternoon budget address was the introduction of a increase to corporation tax from 2023 to 25 per cent. The tax will be applied to profits of the businesses in excess of £250,000. Companies with profits of less than £50,000 will remain at 19 per cent corporation tax.

“It’s a tax rise on company profits, but only on the larger more profitable companies, and only in two years’ time,” said Sunak.

The Chancellor also went on to confirm that the furlough scheme will be extended until the end of September with employees set to continue to receive 80 per cent of their wages until the scheme ends, but with firms asked to contribute 10 per cent in July, and 20 per cent in August and September as it begins to wind down.

Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive of retail industry charity retailTRUST, said: “Retail will have an absolutely vital role to play in tackling issues like youth employment and social mobility as we move out of this crisis so decisions taken now will not only protect vital jobs and businesses, but the social, economic and cultural importance of the sector to the UK. 

People working in retail have been hit hard financially, emotionally and physically during the entire course of the pandemic. They have had to cope with extremely difficult changes in their working conditions, livelihoods have been placed on hold during the lockdown periods, and, very sadly, tens of thousands of people have been left with no jobs to return to due to the pandemic’s devastating impact on shops and businesses up and down the country. This has led to record demand for retailTRUST’s services.

It is essential that the government and businesses now work together to safeguard our colleagues’ long-term interests and their wellbeing. And as a sector, we all have a responsibility to come together and make the most of initiatives which will help to protect, support and create roles.”