Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak is under fire for being “missing in action” in California while British businesses battle against the Omicron variant’s devastating impact on Christmas spending and the UK’s economy.
The Bank of England shocked markets with an unexpected hike in interest rates today (December 16) to 0.25%, increasing the cost of borrowing and debt. The bank’s move – the first rate rise in three years and only the second December hike since the early 1970s – follows yesterday’s announcement that UK inflation has hit a ten year high, at 5.1%.
Last night’s warning by the government’s chief medical officer (CMO) for people to reduce social contacts to try and reduce infections will help protect the NHS but will inevitably have a huge impact on UK businesses.
Hospitality loses £2bn in 10 days
The hospitality industry reports losses of £2 billion in the last 10 days alone, with Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality saying sales in the sector have plunged by more than a third.
“It is quite clear that the impact of the current guidance and restrictions has been more hard hitting on an already beleaguered hospitality sector than expected,” said Nicholls, who called on the government to extend VAT discounts and business rates relief.
Meanwhile, sources say the chancellor’s four day trip to the US has left his Treasury team scrambling to produce a plan to help UK businesses and workers, according to another exclusive by the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar (who broke many of the stories around the Downing Street Christmas parties scandal).
Sunak’s spokesperson said: “It is a work trip where he is conducting Government business and has a packed schedule of meetings and round tables”.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady told the Mirror: “The Chancellor is missing in action.
“The Chancellor should be stood next to the PM, announcing help to pay wages, save jobs and stop businesses going to the wall.”
O’Grady called for “a permanent short-time working scheme – like furlough“ and additional support for the hardest-hit sectors including hospitality, retail, travel and the arts.
“Otherwise thousands of workers will face a miserable Christmas,” said O’Grady.
The Labour party echoed O’Grady’s remarks, and tweeted – along with a picture (used above) asking ‘Where’s Rishi?” – “Sunak should be in Parliament announcing business support. Instead, he is out of the country.”
Queen takes Prof’s advice over PM’s and cancels Christmas lunch
Daily Covid cases are hitting record highs with 88,376 reported in the government’s latest figures, released on December 16 . The number of deaths in the last seven days is 803, a 6% fall. However, hospitalisations have shot up by 8.6% over the last seven days when 6,013 patients were admitted. A major concern is that the surge in cases – up 31.4% over the last seven days during which 442,378 people tested positive – will see more hospitalisations.
CMO Prof Chris Whitty’s message, “Don’t mix with people you don’t have to”, was, the Guardian reports, “a sharp contrast to that of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who continued to insist Christmas parties should go ahead and proclaimed that a great national fightback has begun’ with the acceleration of the booster jab programme.”
The Queen, it seems, has followed the CMO’s advice over that of her prime minister given it has been announced that the royal family’s traditional pre-Christmas Day lunch – because the Queen goes to Balmoral for the festivities – has been cancelled.