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Businesses have cautiously welcomed news that the non-essential retail sector could reopen as soon as 12 April but warned, for some, it will be too late.

It came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his roadmap for England’s path out of lockdown.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "While we are encouraged by a plan for non-essential stores to reopen, the heavy impact of the pandemic means some may never be able to.

"The cost of lost sales to non-food stores during lockdown is now over £22bn and counting.

"Every day that a shop remains closed increases the chances that it will never open again – costing jobs and damaging local communities."

The reopening of non-essential retail is the second step of the roadmap and the prime minister said it would take place at least five weeks after the first step, which will see schools reopen on 8 March.

The second step would be confirmed at least seven days in advance and include:

  • Non-essential retail
  • Indoor leisure (including gyms) individually or in household groups
  • Outdoor attractions such as zoos, drive-in cinemas and theme parks
  • Libraries and community centres
  • Personal care businesses, such as hairdressers
  • Outdoor hospitality
  • Funerals, wakes and weddings with limitations
  • Domestic overnight stays and self-contained accommodation (both household only)
  • Non-essential international travel will still be banned

An extra step is pencilled in for 29 March, which would see outdoor sport and leisure facilities reopening.

But with international holidays not allowed until at least 17 May – a date listed as being subject to review – those in the hard-hit aviation and tourism sectors face a much longer wait to resume business.

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: "As the worst-hit economic sector in 2020, this will ensure we will also be the worst-hit sector of 2021.

"The UK and devolved governments must set out sector-specific support to help ensure there are viable airports to be able to restart."

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, added: "We now look forward to working with ministers and as part of the proposed taskforce on the practical detail of how current restrictions – which are among the toughest anywhere in the world – can be removed, and how the sector can be provided with as much advance notice as possible before any restart.

"As we have always said, this must be risk-based and proportionate but based on the overriding assumption that, as the vaccine rollout accelerates, a phased easing of restrictions is achievable."

The final step in the government’s roadmap would take place from 21 June at the earliest, with remaining restrictions on social contact lifted, larger events able to go ahead and nightclubs finally reopening.

The Confederation of British Industry’s director general Tony Danker said: "The roadmap is a good starting point to the hard yards ahead and caution is rightly the watchword. Business backs the step-by-step approach to re-opening and put an end to damaging stop-start restrictions."

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: "Absolute clarity and honesty will be needed every step of the way over the weeks ahead, so that businesses have a fighting chance to rebuild.

"The stop-start dynamic of the past year, which has so damaged businesses and communities, must come to an end.

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said: "It’s important for this plan to protect against a fourth COVID wave and accompanying lockdown, the imposition of which would be devastating for the 250,000 firms that fear closure this year.

"Small businesses are clear that recovery depends on an accelerating vaccine programme, access to an improved testing infrastructure for firms of all sizes, the safe return of schools, and the right safety measures within businesses."

All major business representatives called for an extension of programmes such as business rates relief and the furlough scheme.

Mr Johnson promised a summer that would be "very different and incomparably better" for businesses, many of which have struggled through a year of pandemic restrictions.

Latest data from Springboard showed that footfall in UK retail destinations remains 62.1% lower than at the same time last year.

GDP shrank by 9.9% in 2020, and despite £280bn in government financial support, the number of employees on payroll fell by 828,000 between February and December last year.

Included in that was an increase in the unemployment rate among those aged 18 to 24 – from 10.5% in the three months to February 2020 to 13.2% in the three months to November.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed that Mr Johnson should also have announced "proper economic support", adding: "There’s nothing stopping him saying today that the business rates relief will be extended, that furlough will be extended and that the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure will also be extended.

"Businesses are crying out for that certainty and the prime minister should give it to them today."

They were words echoed by Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady, who said: "The prime minister’s plan means some businesses will not be able to reopen before furlough ends.

"This leaves workers worrying about their jobs and their incomes in the gap – which might be months in some cases.

"The government must stop dithering and delaying and extend the full furlough scheme for at least the rest of 2021. And it must provide urgent support for the self-employed."

© Sky News 2021