Wholesalers are calling on government to issue immediate guidance to local authorities to grant access to Covid relief funding first promised back in March.

Fears are growing over the potentially devastating impact of the Omicron variant and government advice to “socialise responsibly” on the hospitality sector and businesses that supply it, who were relying on a busy festive period to claw back sales lost throughout the pandemic.

The FWD is asking 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.

They will share out a £1.5bn pot of relief funding, which was set aside for businesses impacted by Covid that were not previously entitled to business rates relief. The funding is included in 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.

The Grocer understands one foodservice wholesaler saw volumes fall 20% in the week beginning 6 December, with those levels expected to fall even further this week.

“Our members have endured their customers being closed on three separate occasions, including at one day’s notice earlier this year,” said FWD CEO 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. Any further delay could have very severe consequences for a distribution sector which has worked miracles to keep its customers supplied so far.”