Struggling businesses were just getting back on their feet after the U.K.’s first national lockdown sparked the country’s deepest recession in over a century. Now they face another six months of hardship after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a fresh tranche of coronavirus restrictions that will last until spring 2021.
Johnson’s announcement immediately put pressure onto Chancellor Rishi Sunak to set out how the government intends to protect jobs and help businesses through the autumn and winter, just as it winds up its support programs.
The Treasury has been considering a plan from business leaders for the state to top up wages of employees who return, but has so far rebuffed calls to extend the furlough program in full. “I don’t think the chancellor is minded to wholesale extend the furlough scheme,” First Secretary of State Dominic Raab told Sky News on Wednesday. “We are looking at targeted measures.”
The biggest blow is likely to be felt by the hospitality industry, which is being forced to close early — at 10 p.m. each night from Thursday — and will suffer from the government’s new instruction to office workers to work from home. That will leave many city centers virtually empty of customers during the working day and after hours.
“Lots of businesses will not survive this and we are going to see more and more people lose their jobs unless we have the support to counterbalance these restrictions,” Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said. “The Government must immediately announce an exhaustive package of financial support, otherwise our sector is facing ruin.”
Sunak and Johnson are trying to protect the country from a deadly resurgence of the coronavirus that left the U.K. with the highest death toll in Europe, while avoiding an economically disastrous second national lockdown.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, the prime minister ordered restaurants and bars to close earlier to stop people passing on the disease after drinking alcohol. He also scrapped plans to allow live audiences back into sporting events next month.
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