Monday 22 June 2020 2:02 pm

Government to unveil new bill to help businesses adjust to social distancing measures

The government is set to bring forward fresh legislation to help businesses adjust to new social distancing requirements, as the UK begins to emerge from months of lockdown.

The Business and Planning Bill is set to be introduced this week and will be led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis), the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today.

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The new coronavirus bill will centre around planning changes and allowing cafes, pubs and restaurants to serve takeaway alcohol as part of an “al fresco revolution”.

“At the heart of it will be legislation to enable businesses to adjust to new ways of working and to help businesses to capitalise on the summer months,” the PM’s spokesman said.

“We will look to support businesses to implement safer ways of working to manage the ongoing risks from coronavirus, and in particular the need for social distancing.”

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Plans to relax Sunday trading laws in a bid to boost weekend shopping are still “under review”, the PM’s spokesman added. Changes to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 would allow larger shops and supermarkets to open for more than six hours on Sundays to allow people to shop for longer and provide a welcome boost to retailers. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his chief adviser Dominic Cummings, chancellor Rishi Sunak, and business secretary Alok Sharma, all support the move, the Times reported.

However, a group of more than 50 Tory MPs are reported to have voiced their opposition to the extension, claiming it would result in larger retailers drowning out smaller shops, which are already permitted to trade all day on Sundays under the 1994 act.

Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We have said we will keep measures such as extending Sunday trading hours under review as they can support shops with social distancing and allow shoppers to buy food and other items more conveniently.”

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It comes amid claims the chancellor is set to cut the VAT rate in an attempt to kickstart the economy by encouraging the public to hit the high streets. Sunak is understood to have instructed Treasury officials to explore a cut to the sales tax.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) last week said the economic shutdown has slashed nearly two decades of growth and warned that borrowing will skyrocket to levels not seen since the Second World War.

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