Rishi Sunak will today launch a new rescue package to help firms hit by Covid restrictions retain their staff.
The Chancellor will update MPs this morning on a package of support set to cost hundreds of millions of pounds to help firms in sectors such as hospitality, which have been badly hit by new restrictions this month.
He prepared to reach deeper into the Treasury’s coffers as figures showed the Government has borrowed more than a billion pounds every day during the pandemic.
Office for National Statistics data revealed ministers have borrowed £208billion over the six months since April, working out at around £1.14billion daily.
Efforts to bring Government spending back under control have been derailed by a second surge of coronavirus which has seen more than half the population plunged into local lockdowns.
Ministers announced yesterday that South Yorkshire would be moved into the top Tier Three restrictions at the weekend.
Talks to put Nottinghamshire into the ‘very high risk’ category are said to be close to completion.
With Merseyside and Lancashire already in Tier Three, and Greater Manchester set to go in just after midnight tonight, eight million people could be living under the toughest restrictions by the weekend.
Ministers are also in talks with West Yorkshire about entering Tier Three. But the North East and Teesside were yesterday given a reprieve following a ‘slight’ decline in the Covid rate.
Yet Mr Sunak’s support package is believed to target firms in Tier Two which are not forced to close, so cannot access grants, but are struggling to turn a profit.
The Chancellor (pictured earlier this month) will update MPs this morning on a package of support set to cost hundreds of millions of pounds to help firms in sectors such as hospitality, which have been badly hit by new restrictions this month
Firms forced to close in Tier Three, such as betting shops and soft play centres, can already furlough their workers on two-thirds of their wages.
But there has been an outcry from hospitality firms in Tier Two, whose business models have been wrecked by restrictions that mean people can no longer meet socially indoors.
Tier Two restrictions now cover many of the most heavily populated parts of the country, including London, Birmingham, York, Essex and the North East.
Mr Sunak’s intervention is expected to cut the costs faced by employers wanting to keep workers on part-time.
The Chancellor was last night finalising plans to ‘tweak’ the existing Job Support Scheme, which offers help to employers who are able to keep staff on for at least a third of their hours.
Under the existing scheme, staff can have their wages topped up to 77 per cent of normal.
The state and employer each fund 50 per cent of the cost of hours not worked. But critics have warned that the scheme gives too little incentive to firms to retain staff.
Mr Sunak is today expected to cut the cost of the employer’s contribution, with the state picking up more of the bill.
Treasury sources were tight-lipped about the precise details of the new scheme last night. But any adjustment of the employer’s contribution is likely to mean a large bill for the taxpayer.
Rishi Sunak and his chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay in the Commons on Wednesday
Boris Johnson meets members of the Armed Forces on the terrace of No10 Downing Street, to mark Black History Month
No holidays under Tier 3 lockdowns, Downing Street confirms
Families living in Tier Three areas should not go on holiday this half-term, Downing Street has confirmed.
No 10 encouraged everyone in the high-risk areas to not plan a getaway as school holidays begin this weekend.
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, asked the Government whether her constituents in South Yorkshire – which will be put into the ‘very high risk’ category on Saturday – would be able to get away.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘People should not travel outside the area except for a very short list of exemptions, such as for care or work purposes.’
He added that while this was not the law, it was clear in guidance.
The Treasury has modelled anything from two to five million people taking up the support at a cost of roughly £300million a month – a total cost of up to £9billion over six months.
Downing Street yesterday hinted at the move, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying: ‘We do recognise that businesses operating in Tier Two will be facing difficulties because of reduced demand.’
Another proposal on the table is to broaden the criteria of the Job Support Scheme to include firms forced to close ‘by circumstance’ rather by law, according to the Telegraph.
Cash grant payments to hard-hit businesses of up to £3,000 a month could also be given to companies which are not legally requited to close but have shut because opening is commercially inviable.
South Yorkshire yesterday became the latest region to enter Tier Three after ministers agreed a funding package worth £41million.
Sheffield City Region’s Labour mayor Dan Jarvis said: ‘The number of people with Covid in our hospitals has doubled over the last ten days, with no signs this will relent over the coming weeks. Inaction was not an option.’
Mr Jarvis appeared to take a swipe at Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who held out against a deal with ministers, saying South Yorkshire had ‘taken the responsible route to ensure we save lives and livelihoods, and protect our NHS’.
He added: ‘I honestly don’t think I could have got any more money out of the Government.’
But other senior figures in the region called for more financial aid. Louise Haigh, Sheffield Heeley MP and shadow cabinet minister, claimed ministers were ‘treating the North with contempt’.
In South Yorkshire, case rates range from 285 people per 100,000 in Doncaster up to 402 people per 100,000 in Sheffield, officials said.
But Downing Street said talks on moving the North East and Teesside into Tier Three had been ‘paused’ following a decline in the Covid rate.
There were 276.1 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in the North East for the week to October 16, down from 316.6 the previous week.
Government sources played down reports that chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty is drawing up plans for a series of regional ‘circuit breakers’ next month, with even tighter restrictions.
Pubs and restaurants in much of Scotland will remain closed for another week, Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday.
The First Minister said restrictions introduced at the beginning of October – which were intended to last for two weeks – would continue for a third week.
It follows the announcement that there have been 1,739 positive tests reported in the past 24 hours and 28 deaths.
Miss Sturgeon added that a new five-tiered system of regional restrictions for Scotland would be brought in on November 2.