Businesses applaud UK government's pandemic moves

Business chiefs in the UK have reacted favourably to the government's latest initiative to issue £350 billion in loans and state aid to help businesses amid the global havoc caused by COVID-19.

People at a cafe

People at a cafe, before the Coronavirus emerged. Businesses such as cafes, restaurants, hotels, theatres and cinemas, are currently struggling due to the adverse economic effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19: more government assistance will be needed

However, they are unanimous in suggesting that even more assistance will be needed if the economy, companies and individuals are to survive the pandemic with minimum damage.It was a position that Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the government understood. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, he said, “I completely understand that people want us to go further, particularly on this issue of support for employees, for employment. The chancellor was very clear that this is a conversation he and I are having with employers and trade unions, and we’ll come forward in the coming days with further measures.”Measures outlined by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on Tuesday evening included £330 billion of government-backed loans - equivalent of to 15% of GDP - a three-month mortgage holiday for people in financial trouble, an increase in business interruption loans from £1 million to £5 million, a 12-month business rates holiday for all shops, pubs, theatres, music venues and restaurants, and cash grants of up to £25,000 for businesses with a rateable value under £51,000.Ministers are still discussing with industry and trade unions measures that could lead to a bailout of airlines and to additional support to the self-employed and those who lose their jobs because of Coronavirus.

Confederation of British Industry: government support to businesses needs to be delivered with speed and simplicity

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said, “The chancellor has taken substantial steps in unprecedented times. Today’s massive increase in government-backed loans, higher cash grants and widened business rates relief for some sectors will help firms protect jobs and businesses. All now need to be delivered on the ground with speed and simplicity.“The new financial package provides valuable support to areas facing immediate stress, including hospitality and retail. As next steps, it will be vital to stay ahead of the economic impact, not waiting until firms are on the brink. Wider whole-economy measures like regulatory and tax relief in areas including VAT and National insurance will support a broader range of firms in real need.“Urgent decisions are also needed on wages. An immediate mechanism is needed to top up wages for firms with no choice but to reduce hours for lower-paid staff, so they can keep them employed and get through to the other side.

“It is clear this situation will not stand still, so nor can the economic support. The pace of change is too fast to play catch up."
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British Chambers of Commerce: measures could be a lifeline for many businesses across the UK

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses would welcome the scale of the government's response, particularly the specific support it was offering some of the worst-affected parts of the economy."These measures could be a lifeline for many businesses across the UK who are now experiencing wholesale disruption as a result of the pandemic," he added.“The key to the success of these measures is whether they get cash to businesses on the front line, fast. Companies need practical details, at great speed, for these interventions to have the desired impact, and to reassure firms across the UK.“Both the prime minister and the chancellor were clear that the government would do whatever it takes over the coming days to support businesses, their employees, and the economy. Further measures will be needed to help all firms and their employees meet this unprecedented challenge.”

Make UK: nothing should be off the table to protect people and businesses

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, said industry would be reassured that the government was ready to do "whatever it takes" to protect the economy."Business understands that dealing Coronavirus was always going to be a massive task and, given the speed of events, there may be extra measures needed. Nothing should be off the table to protect people and businesses," he said.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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