March 23, 2020 @ 9:19 by Richard Dawson
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week (March 20) set out his most ambitious pledge yet to support the UK economy in light of the widespread disruption caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Speaking at the daily press conference briefing at 10 Downing Street, Mr Sunak announced that the Government will pay 80 per cent of the salary of any British worker who is unable to work or furloughed due to the pandemic.
He advised that employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of their workers in a radical attempt to try and retain people’s jobs.
It is thought that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1 and will be open initially for at least three months, to be extended if necessary.
The news comes as many businesses, particularly in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, come under immense financial strain from having to close their doors as part of the new physical distancing measures.
The Chancellor was under pressure to act as the prospect of mass redundancies and lay offs grew over the course of last week.
The wage bailout scheme was created in partnership with business groups and trade unions who were urging the Treasury to provide more support to struggling industries.
Speaking from Number 10, Mr Sunak said: “We said we would stand together with the British people – and we meant it.
“We have never had a scheme in our country like this before – and we’re having to build our systems from scratch.
“I can assure you that HMRC are working night and day to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks – and we’re aiming to get it done before the end of April.
“Now, more than any time in our recent history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion.
“Our ability to come through this, won’t just be down to what government or business can do, but by the individual acts of kindness we show one another.”
Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce, added: “We welcome the Chancellor’s support measures announced today. It is so important our businesses are supported in their ability to retain their staff.
We know there are many firms in serious difficulty right now and it is extremely urgent that Government’s financial assistance is delivered as soon as possible.
“There can rarely have been a more pressing need for swift and efficient action to protect our economy.”
For more information on how to access this and other initiatives, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses