Over the past fortnight, the CBI has been engaging with politicians and civil servants across Westminster, the English regions and the devolved nations to discuss the key issues facing businesses, including the pressure the firms are facing on whether to stay open or closed, the Job Retention Scheme, and support for the self-employed. On all of these issues and many more, the CBI has been sharing the latest insight with government and have put forward policy proposals to help businesses deal with the impacts of COVID-19. Meanwhile, CBI offices in Brussels, Beijing, New Delhi and Washington have been gathering intelligence on global best practice and making the case for a joined up international response from decision-makers.
Providing clarity on what businesses should remain open and which workers qualify for the ‘essential services list’
Following the UK moving into the contain phase on 23 March, business across the UK have been seeking guidance on what the new measures means for them, whether they can continue to stay open and the steps they can take to keep workers safe.
With many firms wrestling with whether they should stay open, CBI Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, raised the benefit more specific guidance would bring to business when speaking with the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma. The government has since published sector specific guidance for the food industry, and separately more general guidance on business closures on their new microsite.
While the UK government have published its own guidance, the Devolved Administrations have taken different approaches, resulting in confusion for many firms especially those with operations across the UK.
To address this confusion, the CBI has spoken to Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neil, the First and Deputy-First Minister in Northern Ireland as well as Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales to reiterate the CBI’s call for alignment and co-ordination between all four nations.
A breakthrough on the Job Retention Scheme
Another area of the CBI has been working incredibly closely with the government on is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS).
With businesses across the UK feeding in questions about the scheme, the CBI relayed these to government through conservations with key government contacts including Alex Chisholm, BEIS Permanent Secretary and Charles Roxburgh, HMT Second Permanent Secretary.
Following these conversations, last week the government provided greater clarity and guidance on how the scheme will work in practice. The CBI welcomed the government’s direction as it allows firms to plan effectively, and crucially save thousands of jobs.
The CBI will continue to use evidence and insight from members, to have a constant dialogue with government departments across Whitehall to ensure that the government is supporting business through this crisis and answering many of the questions firms still have about the scheme.
Supporting the self-employed
The CBI has been supporting the FSB who have been leading the charge on supporting the self-employed following the government’s landmark package of measures for business, people and jobs.
Following those efforts, the Chancellor announced a new Self-Employed Income Support Scheme which will provide a taxable grant of 80% of average earnings over the past three years, up to a cap of £2,500.
Responding to the announcement, the CBI stressed how these new measures will provide essential support to those facing significant uncertainty and loss of income. Given the complexity of the task, the government is aiming to have the scheme up and running by June at the latest. To help bridge this gap, the CBI has called on the government to provide fast clarity on how and when money will reach their bank accounts to individuals to plan.
Supporting members across the globe
CBI’s office in Beijing was the first CBI team to respond to the coronavirus crisis. From January, the team were working under lockdown to give assistance and practical support to members on issues such as customs delay. As China starts to re-open, they are now sharing lessons from the Chinese experience that international businesses can learn from. Since India moved into full lockdown at midnight on 24 March, the CBI team in Delhi has worked closely with DIT in country to give members practical support, like securing curfew passes for employees and ensuring that sectors such as insurance and IT are included on the government list of critical industries. Meanwhile, CBI teams in Brussels have joined forces with Business Europe to raise trade barriers on health supplies with the European Commission, while the team in Washington have issued guidance on travel bans and US bail-out package.
For more information about the CBI’s work on COVID-19 including links to our daily webinars, please visit the dedicated coronavirus online hub. Alternatively, if you have any questions or would like to share any insight please email CoronaVirusSupport@cbi.org.uk