A Bristol MP has said the government should be prepared to “pay up” and support businesses that have been forced to close because of the coronavirus clampdown.
Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire urged the government to provide more clarity on how business owners will be able to pay their rent and buy food when their doors have been forced to shut as part of updated advice, which tells Britons to stop all “non-essential contact”.
Bristol streets and popular venues have been deserted as people follow orders to avoid travelling to and working in an office, visiting pubs, bars, clubs, shops and theatres.
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The new “social distancing” measures have prompted widespread concern among small and big business owners alike over how they will be able to stay afloat during weeks, if not months, of lockdown.
Their fears were compounded by the fact that Boris Johnson stopped short of imposing a ban on visiting these venues, meaning it will be difficult for those affected to claim on insurance.
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live show, Ms Debbonaire said the government should move towards imposing a ban to allow businesses to claim the loss of income on insurance.
“Unfortunately we haven’t got a ban at the moment – what we’ve got is uncertainty for the leisure, hospitality and creative industries who are faced with declining audiences and people coming out, but because they haven’t got a ban they can’t claim on insurance.
“The people who are working in those industries face considerable uncertainty about how they are going to pay rent and buy food and that needs to be sorted out.”
However, during the show, a statement from the Association of British Insurers was read out which stated that even if there was a ban, the insurance claimed by many would not cover it.
“Standard business interruption cover – the type that the majority of businesses purchase – does not include forced closure by authorities as it is intended to respond to physical damage at the property which results in the business being unable to continue to trade,” the statement read.
“A small minority of typically larger firms might have purchased an extension to their cover for closure due to any infectious disease. In this instance an enforced closure could help them make the claim, but this will depend on the precise nature of the cover they have purchased.”
Ms Debbonaire slammed the statement as “frankly irresponsible”.
“I find it frankly irresponsible that the Association of British Insurers is taking that line,” she said.
(Image: Bristol Post)
“These are businesses, small and large, who are paying in, in good faith.
“If this isn’t what insurance is for, for goodness sake what is it for?” she asked.
“My hospitality business, my entertainment business – I’ve got a BBC in my constituency upon which there are loads of supply chains dependent on a clear statement from the government.
“If it isn’t the insurers that pay up then it’s the state that has to pay up.
“So I think somewhere along the line the Chancellor needs to talk to the insurance industry and other parts of the financial services sector, and the banking sector.
“ I’m pleased to say some banks have contacted me with far more responsible approaches than the tweet if true, and I do hope that turns out to be a mistake.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who delivered his first coronavirus-dominated budget only a week ago, is expected to outline more details of a financial package for businesses at a press conference later today.
It comes following an admission that the pace of coronavirus has accelerated faster than the government and its advisers had been expecting, forcing a pivot towards the more drastic measures outlined on Monday.