This investment is part of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis announced by chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in his 2020 Budget Speech.
The chancellor announced the GDP growth forecast was 1.1 per cent in 2020, but acknowledged that this did not factor in the economic impact of Coronavirus. Among the SME support measures was a dedicated helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities, a coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support up to a further £1bn lending to SMEs to support businesses accessing bank lending and overdrafts, and a £2.2bn grant scheme for small businesses. Businesses that do not pay business rates will also receive a £3,000 stimulus payment.
Most significantly, the chancellor announced the government would refund the cost of statutory sick pack for businesses with fewer than 250 employees for up to 14 days in a move to encourage people to self-isolate.
BESA director of legal and commercial, Debbie Petford, said: “These measures go a long way towards easing the financial pressures on members in this extraordinary situation and ensures they are not penalised for doing the right thing by their employees.”
Ms Petford noted that the infrastructure-spending splurge and other announcements by the chancellor would be welcome by BESA members, such as a new £1bn Building Safety Fund to deal with all unsafe combustible cladding. However, she argued that the government had missed another opportunity to help construction SMEs with no new initiatives to boost fair payment announced.
She said: “A commitment to fund a pilot retention deposit scheme would have been a sound investment for the long-term sustainability of our industry.”
The chancellor announced further measures to deal with air pollution across English towns and cities including £500m to support the roll-out of new rapid charging hubs for electric vehicles, and providing over £300 million to help local authorities reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions and improve air quality.
Nathan Wood, chair of BESA’s health and well-being in buildings group, said these were positive developments, but more was needed on indoor air quality: “Anything that helps make the outside air we breathe cleaner is welcome, but most of us spend 90 per cent of our time indoors. The government could improve indoor air quality by boosting funding to upgrade public buildings such as schools and hospitals to ensure they are safe havens from pollution.”