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Business leaders demand answers on how PM’s lockdown easing will work

Business leaders last night demanded answers on how the PM’s lockdown easing will work so they can plan to restart the economy.

Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce led calls for more details on Boris Johnson’s plans for companies.

He was backed by other industry heavyweights including Jonathan Geldart of the Institute of Directors and Dame Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI.

Firms also want to know if the Government programme to pay the wages of workers under the furlough scheme will be extended beyond the end of June.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is today expected to tell employers the scheme will stay in place until September, but at a rate from 80 per cent to 60 per cent.

Firms want to know if the Government (pictured, the PM during his speech last night) programme to pay the wages of workers under the furlough scheme will be extended

Pictured: The three-step plan announced by the PM for the phased reopening of the country

Pictured: The three-step plan announced by the PM for the phased reopening of the country

Mr Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘Businesses share the Prime Minister’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks.

‘Companies will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully as more sections of the economy are permitted to re-open.

‘Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, coordinated with all nations across the UK and supported by clear guidance.

Government ‘to top up wages of furloughed staff if they can only return part-time’

Furloughed workers who can only go back to their jobs part time may get their wages topped up by the government as the Treasury looks for ways to wind down the system.

Businesses are to be given an incentive to gradually bring staff back to work so social distancing rules can be observed.

Ministers have begun telling bosses the plan will continue through the summer until September, with taxpayers footing the bill at a reduced rate of 60 per cent of wages.

The current version of the scheme is due to expire at the end of June, with firms able to claim 80 per cent of a furloughed worker’s wages up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

The changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme could be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as soon as today.

A Treasury source told the Telegraph talks were ongoing with final decisions yet to be taken.

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘Future decisions around the scheme will take into account the wider context of any lockdown extension, as well as the public health response, so that people and businesses can get back to work when it is safe to do so.’ 

‘It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of PPE.

‘Firms will also need to know that Government support schemes, which have helped save millions of jobs in recent weeks, will continue for as long as they are needed so that they can plan ahead with confidence.

‘The timing of further easing of restrictions must be guided by the public health evidence, but businesses need their practical questions answered so they can plan to restart, rebuild and renew.’

Businesses are to be given an incentive to gradually bring staff back to work so social distancing rules can be observed and operations can be slowly built back up.

Ministers have begun telling bosses the plan will continue through the summer until September, with taxpayers footing the bill at a reduced rate of 60 per cent of wages.

The current version of the scheme is due to expire at the end of June, with firms able to claim 80 per cent of a furloughed worker’s wages up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

Mr Geldart, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Directors know that the battle with this virus is far from over, and they want to play their part in preventing a second spike, which would extend the economic pain.

‘As the Government begins to ask more people to return to work, it’s vital that the guidance is clear so that companies can plan how to return safely.

‘As people with ultimate legal responsibility, directors need to have confidence that it’s safe, and that if they act responsibly they won’t be at undue risk.

‘Businesses should consult with their people to put in place robust policies, which in many cases might not be an overnight process.

‘For a large number of firms, operating under social distancing rules will mean significantly reduced activity, so the Government’s support measures must match continuing restrictions.

‘A more flexible furlough system would help businesses get back on their feet, bringing people back to workplaces gradually.

‘Meanwhile, countless small company directors continue to find themselves left out in the cold, unable to access the Government’s aid, and this need to be changed quickly.’

There have been growing fears in Whitehall the nation was becoming ‘addicted’ to state help.

Government statistics showed 800,000 firms have made applications for furlough, covering more than six million workers.

It means the Treasury is facing a monthly bill of £8billion, with experts suggesting the final amount could be as much as £40billion.

Downing Street last week revealed the monthly cost of furlough was £8billion. The NHS has a monthly budget of approximately £11billion

Downing Street last week revealed the monthly cost of furlough was £8billion. The NHS has a monthly budget of approximately £11billion

Business have warned the reduction in help from the government must be gradual to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ which could result in a wave of redundancies.

Richard Jones, of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said: ‘Health and safety must come first.

‘People shouldn’t re-enter workplaces until employers are certain that they’re properly managing the risk of infection and providing the support that workers need.

‘Prevention has to be the focus because, if organisations don’t get this right, workplaces can become places of transmission.’

Government sources sparked controversy when they said the UK was becoming ‘addicted’ to cash handouts.

Businesses fear if the support is withdrawn too quickly and weakened companies are forced to reopen it could result in millions of jobs being put at risk.

Ministers are thought to be planning a flexible version of the scheme in the coming months which would allow some workers to return part-time while still getting some of their wages paid by the state.

One way forward, which is believed to have been considered, could see the level of wage support reduced from 80 per cent to 60 per cent while the monthly cap of £2,500 could also be lowered.

Dame Fairbairn, CBI director general, said after Mr Johnson’s speech: ‘Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn (pictured in November), CBI director general, said after Mr Johnson's speech: 'Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy'

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn (pictured in November), CBI director general, said after Mr Johnson’s speech: ‘Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy’

‘A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services. The Prime Minister has set out the first steps for how this can happen.

‘Businesses are keen to open and get our economy back on its feet. But they also know putting health first is the only sustainable route to economic recovery. The message of continued vigilance is right.

‘This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex.

‘It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a road map, with dates they can plan for.’

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK – the manufacturers’ organisation, also cautiously welcomed the Government encouraging those manufacturers who have not continued to operate to return to business.

He added: ‘It is critical that there is clear advice on how to do that, and an understanding that firms will be helped to comply as we navigate uncharted waters, and not punished for inadvertent errors.

‘In many parts of manufacturing people will need to work much more closely than two metres apart. It is vital that the guidance is explicit about how this may be achieved safely.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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