CBI calls for more business support before Budget

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The government needs to give more financial help to struggling firms ahead of the Budget in March, the CBI business lobby group has said.

The furlough scheme and business rates relief should be extended, the CBI said in its Budget submission to the chancellor.

Firms cannot be expected to wait nearly two months to find out if current help will continue, the group said.

The furlough scheme is currently set to finish at the end of April.

The CBI, which represents 190,000 UK firms, also called on the Treasury to extend the business rates holiday for at least another three months for UK firms forced to close under current lockdown restrictions.

"Our Covid-related business support asks are about moving now or soon, rather than waiting until March 3... business support needs to go in parallel with the tiering of restrictions," said Tony Danker, the director-general of the CBI.

"Sudden stops and cliff edges really don't help and I don't think anybody in government believes that we're going to have a sudden opening up with the economy."

The trade body said business rates would become a particularly serious problem if not addressed soon. A rates holiday for retailers, leisure and hospitality sectors is due to end in just over two months.

It argues that this should be extended by at least three months and the government should commit to a significant overhaul of the commercial property tax.

'New low' for business morale

It said these measures, along with lengthening repayment periods for VAT bills that have been deferred, were necessary as "business resilience has hit a sombering new low".

Its quarterly survey of businesses found that four in 10 firms have seen their cash flow drop during the coronavirus crisis.

The BCC's director general, Adam Marshall, said: "The support schemes the government has introduced so far have saved many firms and jobs, but they have not gone far enough to help many survive a tough start to 2021."

The latest unemployment figures showed there were 819,000 fewer workers on UK company payrolls than at the start of the pandemic, with the unemployment rate increasing to 4.9% in the three months to October.

CBI chief economist Rain Newon-Smith said: "What we are saying to the chancellor is you need to act now on some of that business support just to help to really build that bridge to the other side of this crisis."

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