Millennium Group depot delivery

Covid rules mean promised rates relief must be delivered – Bielby

The government must immediately open up the £1.5 billion in business rates relief offered to food wholesalers nine months ago, or face potential supply chain failures, the FWD has warned.

Having battled through almost two years of lockdowns and labour shortages with very little support from the Chancellor, wholesalers have been relying on a busy Christmas to start their recovery from the losses of 2020 and the early part of this year when their customers were closed.

But with demand falling in restaurants and pubs as Covid cases rise and the spectre of further restrictions on hospitality venues in the coming weeks, the promised Covid-19 Additional Relief Fund (CARF) set up by Rishi Sunak in the spring is now desperately needed.

Food wholesalers were specifically mentioned in the announcement on 25 March as an example of beneficiaries of the fund – the first time they have been given access to the business rates relief offered a year earlier to supermarkets and other parts of the food supply chain. But nine months later, no guidance has been given to local authorities on how the fund should be allocated.

The wholesalers who supply restaurants and pubs also deliver to vital services such as hospitals, care homes, schools and prisons.

The Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, which releases the £1.5bn funding, has been passed by Parliament and is now awaiting royal assent.

“Our members have endured their customers being closed on three separate occasions, including at one day’s notice earlier this year,” said FWD Chief Executive James Bielby.

“They’ve struggled to recruit and retain staff as labour costs have increased, they’ve had to absorb stock shortages and rising energy bills, and they’ve seen their teams hit by illness, isolations and a hot labour market.

“With the new restrictions now in place, Christmas isn’t going to be the boost they desperately needed and the New Year could be very challenging indeed if demand is restricted again. The money that could keep some wholesalers’ doors open through the winter is available – but they can’t access it.

“We need the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to issue guidance to local authorities immediately, so they can set up allocation schemes early in the new year. Any further delay could have very severe consequences for a distribution sector which has worked miracles to keep its customers supplied so far.”

business rates coronavirus covid-19 Foodservice FWD hospitality James Bielby Wholesalers