From working with the Treasury to secure vital flexibility in the Job Retention Scheme (JRS), to urging officials to provide much-needed clarity on the government’s quarantine policy for international travellers, the CBI has been leveraging its political networks to ensure the business voice is heard.
The future of the Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme
On Friday 29 May Chancellor, Rishi Sunak outlined further details on the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The changes include improved flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part time in July and a new taper requiring employers to contribute modestly to furloughed salaries from August.
In addition, the Chancellor also announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended - with those eligible able to claim a second and final grant capped at £6,570.
Prior to the announcement, CBI Director-General, Carolyn Fairbairn, spoke with the Chancellor to discuss the future of the scheme. Carolyn highlighted CBI member feedback about the importance of bringing extra flexibility to the scheme to allow a part-time element to furlough in order to help bring employees back to work in stages. With businesses now able to bring furloughed employees back to work part time from 1 July 2020, a month earlier than previously announced, more firms will be able to help support people back to work representing a real victory for business.
Keeping the government’s quarantine policy under review
On 22 May the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the government’s plans to introduce a 14-day quarantine for many international arrivals to the UK. The policy will be effective from the 8 June and apply to all countries apart from Common Travel Area, covering Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
While businesses recognise that the UK’s approach to quarantining international arrivals should be guided by the science, they are also clear about the cross-economy implications.
In the lead-up to this announcement being finalised the CBI was in regular dialogue with key officials at the Home Office, the Department for Business, and the Department for Transport, to reiterate the importance of having a mechanism to review the policy so that it can be adapted as the public health dynamics evolve.
Since the government’s statement, the CBI has also been engaging closely with officials to obtain greater clarity on the professions qualifying for the exemptions specified in the announcement.
Firms across all sectors of the economy depend to varying extents on an international workforce – for example overseas engineers and technicians – to keep their operations running. Against an already challenging business environment as firms adjust their plans to mitigate against the impacts of COVID-19, the CBI is urging government to adapt a pragmatic approach to ensure the economic recovery is not inhibited by the quarantine restrictions.
Helping businesses open safely and securely
Elsewhere, CBI Deputy Director-General, Josh Hardie, joined a call with the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, to discuss retail and guidance around non-essential businesses re-opening. During the meeting, Josh reiterated the importance of government addressing the key ‘enabling’ challenges facing firms when considering their reopening strategies – particularly improved public transport provision to enable people to get to and from work safely.
The Prime Minister subsequently announced last Thursday that the government was in the position to move to phase 2 of the roadmap to easing lockdown [in England], from 1 June. This phase includes plans to reopen nurseries and schools, and some non-essential retail businesses, starting with outdoor markets and car showrooms, where there is often significant outdoor space and easier to social distance.
Further to this, the Prime Minister went on to confirm the intention to allow all other non-essential retail to open, ranging from department stores to small independent shops from 15 June. This is subject to continued progress, and premises being COVID-secure.
Responding to the announcement, Josh was included in the government’s official press release where he welcomed the new guidance which would slowly reawaken high streets safely and securely.
Building confidence amongst employees and customers
With safety at the heart of businesses re-opening, the government’s NHS Test and Trace service will be a vital part of the UK’s restart and recovery. As high streets, factories and stores gradually begin to re-open, the newly announced NHS Track and Trace Service will help build confidence amongst employees and customers alike.
Prior to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock announcing the new Service on 27 June, Carolyn and Dido Harding, Chairwoman of NHS Improvement, spoke to discuss the upcoming announcement and how the service could help firms across the county and keep communities safe.
Further to these conversations, the Department of Business also hosted a virtual roundtable with Minister, Paul Scully to discuss how the Track and Track would work. On the call Carolyn welcomed the new service highlighting how it could help kickstart the economy at this vital time.
Continuing to engage and respond to the PPE challenge
In addition to strong engagement across the Treasury and the Department for Business, the CBI has also been engaging with the Cabinet Office on the PPE Challenge.
Last week, Carolyn had a call with Lord Deighton, who is heading up the government’s PPE work, to hear more about the government’s priorities and strategy on PPE and share the work that the CBI has been doing on this critical issue.
On the government’s priorities, Lord Deighton highlighted his work to secure deals with over 100 new suppliers, including agreeing contracts for a further 3.7 billion gloves, which the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, since announced during the daily coronavirus briefing on 26 May.
Going forward, the CBI will continue to work closely with Lord Deighton and the Cabinet Office team to ensure business is responding effectively to PPE challenges.