Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that new discretionary local authority grants in high alert areas were aimed at the “supply chains of those serving the hospitality industry”, alongside the new Job Support Scheme for open businesses and the Job Retention Bonus in all parts of the country.
Access to the local authority discretionary fund is the first time throughout the Covid-19 pandemic that wholesalers have been given specific support. The announcement follows weeks of intensive lobbying and high-profile media activity by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors and provides relief for struggling foodservice wholesalers which had previously been overlooked in the Government’s support packages.
In answer to a question from Jim Shannon MP about help for businesses delivering to hospitality and the public sector, the Chancellor said: “We recognise the complexity of the supply chains, which is why that very generous job support scheme will be available for all businesses in all parts of the country and I think that will make an enormous difference to the businesses he mentions.”
FWD Chief Executive James Bielby said: “This is a great win for wholesalers and will provide much-needed breathing space for those of our members whose hospitality customers are closed or barely trading. We’re very pleased that Mr Sunak made particular reference to foodservice wholesalers, as it indicates the Government’s evolving understanding of the vital role they play in the economic and social health of the country.
“There is still a severe threat to food distribution to the most vulnerable among us, in care homes, hospices and schools. Lockdowns at short notice leave wholesalers with unpaid bills and stock they can’t sell. While today’s new measures will keep the trucks rolling, the hospitality industry can’t come through these restrictions without further financial support for the sector that supplies it.”
FWD is calling for wholesalers to receive the same business rates relief that supermarkets and hospitality outlets have had, and says this is the most cost-efficient way for Government to prevent redundancies and business closures in the sector.
Earlier in the week the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers found themselves under fire from both side of the House as MPs stood to ask why they were ignoring the wholesale sector, in what Mr Sunak called a “co-ordinated attack”.
In a supportive speech, Carolyn Harris MP drew attention to a Government statement that said it was already offering support to the hospitality supply chain, when no such support existed.
FWD members took to the media with appearances on national and regional news programmes over the days leading up to the announcement. National newspapers also carried stories on the joint trade association letter, spearheaded by FWD, which called for specific support for the wholesale sector.
In an interview with BBC Breakfast before the announcement, FWD Chairman and Country Range Group Managing Director Coral Rose said: “In April retailers were up 12% – we were down 80%. They received Business Rates relief, we got nothing. We supplied care homes and hospitals at a loss.
“We’ve had no acknowledgement from the Government of the vital role we play in the supply of food and drink not only to hospitality but to schools, prisons, hospitals and care homes.”