Friday 6 March 2020 9:23 am

Budget should include 'hardship fund' for firms hit by coronavirus, says British Chambers of Commerce chief

The chief of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has called on the government to include a “hardship fund” for firms affected by the coronavirus in this month’s Budget.

Director-general of the BCC, Dr Adam Marshall, has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak asking him to roll out measures supporting small and medium-sized firms, according to Yahoo Finance UK.

Read more: Government working with supermarkets to ensure self-isolating coronavirus patients can be supplied with food

It comes after the government warned that one in five employees could be absent from work at any one time if the outbreak escalates.

Marshall said he had heard “anecdotal” stories of firms struggling to obtain certain consumer goods, supplies for manufacturings and shipping containers, in an interview with Yahoo.

He said companies may suffer a more “direct impact” in the next few weeks and that a business rate “holiday” or temporary discount could help to absorb extra costs.

The business leader added that a hardship fund could also include support for costs around emergency remote working and wages at firms where public contracts are curbed.

Marshall called on the government to “back business wholeheartedly” amid trade uncertainty borne out of Brexit as well as the outbreak.

The BCC has argued that the government should provide support through its enterprise finance guarantee scheme for firms who have struggled to secure loans due to lenders’ reduced appetite caused by the virus.

Chancellor Sunak sent a statement to the BCC’s annual meeting apologising for not attending.

Read more: Firms send staff home as coronavirus arrives in Canary Wharf

It was read out to guests with Sunak citing Budget preparations as the reason for his absence, while praising British business.

Sunak promised “firm action” to support companies, public and government services alike in a statement on Monday.

“We are well prepared for this global threat and, as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, we stand ready to announce further support where needed.”