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ECONOMY

France scales back economic support for Covid-hit businesses as aid bill hits €240 billion

France is scaling back its economic support to businesses hit by the pandemic, with the country's public accounts minister announcing a more targeted regime of aid.

France scales back economic support for Covid-hit businesses as aid bill hits €240 billion
Public accounts minister Olivier Dussopt. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

The French government has extended €240 billion in financial aid to businesses hammered by the pandemic since March 2020, mainly in the form of state-guaranteed loans, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced Monday.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to protect French companies and their employees “whatever the cost” after many were forced to close during three nationwide lockdowns since the outbreak began.

“The bill for ‘whatever the cost’ stands at €80 billion in subsidies, and €160 billion in loans,” Le Maire told France Inter radio.

The public accounts minister Olivier Dussopt has warned: “It’s the end of whatever it takes”.

The government wants to “look at what is really being lost, rather than just what is being said”.

He added that not all industries or regions were suffering equally, and that even within some Covid-hit sectors, there were businesses that were thriving.

READ ALSO Home-grown holidaymakers and health passports ‘have saved summer tourism’

“We are ready to help the sectors that really need it,” Dussopt told Radio J ahead of a meeting with leaders from industries still suffering from the pandemic, including tourism, small businesses and culture.

Since the beginning of the health crisis, the French government has run a generous package of economic aid for businesses, including furlough schemes for employees and grants for small businesses and the self-employed.

There have also been extra incentives for businesses to switch to online services such as ‘click and collect’ schemes for independent retailers.

Dussopt said that any future aid “will be a necessarily transitional, very sector-focused approach”.

As an example, he cited the restaurant trade: “In some regions, the number of visitors is the same as before, it is even higher than in July and August 2020, which were months that were not affected.”

Companies must also take responsibility for their own operations and for finding solutions to their problems, he said.

Instead of simply complaining about the difficulty they face hiring, he said, employers “have an interest in making the careers they offer more attractive” – by increasing salaries, for example.

The hospitality sector has reported staff shortages and difficulties in hiring since bars and restaurants reopened, with many former employees having either found wrk elsewhere or deciding to tur their back on an industry of anti-social hours and low pay. 

Economic growth is forecast at six percent this year, with the government hoping for four percent in 2022.

The minister said the government’s deficit peaked at 9.2 percent in 2020 and would come in “below nine percent” for 2021.

That was “despite the cost of the crisis, despite the cost of the recovery plan”, he said, adding “we can aim for a target of around five percent” in 2022, depending on actual growth.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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