Through all its political engagements this fortnight, the CBI has been urging political leaders in Westminster, devolved administrations, and English regions to provide clarity and stability for firms to help them keep their staff safe and the economy moving.
Priority areas included improving access to finance, securing additional guidance on how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) will work in practice and how businesses can follow public health guidance on keeping their staff safe.
Alongside engagement with ministers and senior civil servants, the CBI is also building relationships with the new Labour leadership and shadow cabinet team following Sir Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader on 4 April.
Improving access to finance
One of the biggest impacts for businesses dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19 has been the growing strains on firms’ cashflow. To help address these concerns the UK government introduced the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBIL) scheme to help firms deal with short-term disruptions related to the pandemic.
However, the process of getting these funds approved has been slow in many instances. While speed at which applications are managed is improving daily, firms are still struggling to access the finance they need.
Acting on these concerns, the CBI has worked extensively with the Chancellor and senior officials at the Treasury to help improve how the scheme works in practice by increasing the annual turnover eligibility criteria to £500m from £45m and removing the ‘lender of last resort’ stipulations to enable more businesses to access the support.
While there’s still more to do, these measures are a big step forward and will help deliver cash faster to firms battling for survival in the headwinds of the pandemic.
Clarity on the Job Retention Scheme (JRS)
Alongside engagement with the government to improve the provision and delivery of financial support to firms, the CBI has also been working in lockstep across Whitehall to gain additional clarity on the JRS will work in practice.
On this, the CBI has continued to speak to the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, to feed in questions from CBI members in relation to JRS, including on which elements of remuneration and other in-work benefits count towards the £2,500 cap set by government, the ability to transfer staff on and off the scheme at short notice, and the ability for people to take a second job while being furloughed by their primary employer.
Following the relay of these questions into government, they have published additional guidance for employers and employees and confirms the eligibility for different types of employment relationships confirms the position of individuals with caring responsibilities.
To remain open, or close
Another issue that firms are seeking further clarity on from policymakers is whether businesses should remain open or closed during the COVID-19 outbreak.
With public health a devolved issue, the CBI is continuing to work with both the UK government and devolved administrations to help businesses keep operations running where it’s either critical or safe to do so, while protecting their staff’s wellbeing.
In Scotland, the CBI was one of 13 business that contributed to a public letter emphasising the need for cooperation, clarity, and consistency across all parts of the UK. Further to this, CBI Scotland Director has held separate calls with Fiona Hyslop, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture and separately with Ivan McKee, Scotland’s Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation and Jackson Carlaw MSP, Party leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.
In Northern Ireland (NI), CBI Director, Angela McGowan has been in direct contact with First Minister, Arlene Foster and is pressing for an updated NI critical worker list to provide extra clarity.
And in Wales, since the government introduced legal measures to require workplace social distancing, the CBI Wales team have been pushing for clarity which has led to the Welsh government issuing new guidance setting out what can ‘reasonably’ be expected of employers and business.
Building relationship with the new shadow cabinet
Finally, following Sir Keir Starmer’s election as Leader of the Labour Party earlier this month, the CBI has been building relationships with key players in the shadow cabinet.
CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, joined a business organisations conference call with Sir Keir and new Shadow Business Secretary, Ed Miliband, and Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, to congratulate them on their appointments and discuss the key issues facing businesses as the impact of COVID-19 grows across the economy.
Further to the conference call, the CBI’s Chief Economist had a separate call with the new Shadow Chancellor to discuss the impact the virus is having on the global economy and the importance of having a coordinated international response to ensure a short global recession.
For more information about the CBI’s work on COVID-19 including links to our daily webinars, please visit the dedicated coronavirus hub. Alternatively, if you have any questions or would like to share any insight please email CoronaVirusSupport@cbi.org.uk