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UK trade lobby urges help for virus-hit firms

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A shuttered souvenir shop on Oxford Street, central London. Tolga Akmen/AFP

UK trade lobby urges help for virus-hit firms

Britain's main business lobby on January 19 urged the government to extend its furlough jobs support scheme and taxation holidays to help coronavirus-plagued firms.

With fears that tens of thousands of small businesses could collapse, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called on finance minister Rishi Sunak to act urgently, claiming companies could not afford to wait until his annual budget on March 3 for new measures.

CBI director-general Tony Danker said in a statement: “Many tough decisions for business owners on jobs, or even whether to carry on, will be made in the next few weeks.

“The government has done so much to support UK business through this crisis, [but] we don’t want to let slip all the hard work from 2020 with hope on the horizon [amid vaccine rollouts].”

The CBI has urged Sunak to again extend the furlough scheme that is funding the bulk of wages for millions of private sector workers.

The multi-billion-pound support plan, launched last March, is set to expire at the end of April but the CBI wants it to go on until the end of June.

The lobby group is also seeking deferred payments of value added taxation (VAT), and an extension to a pause in business rates levied on commercial property.

Much of the UK re-entered lockdown this month, with restrictions similar to the country’s initial Covid curbs imposed mostly during the second quarter of 2020.

Danker said on January 19: “The government’s support from the very start of this crisis has protected many jobs and livelihoods, and progress on the vaccine rollout brings real cause for optimism.

“But almost a year of disrupted demand and extensive restrictions to company operations is taking its toll.

“Staff morale has taken a hit. And business resilience has hit a sobering new low.”

The UK government has spent about £300 billion ($409 billion) in emergency measures to stem chronic economic fallout, sending Treasury debt soaring.

And recent data showed that Britain’s economy slumped 2.6 per cent in November from October, stoking fears that the current lockdown could spark a double-dip recession.

Danker meanwhile added that he hoped to see improved business regulatory rules after Britain finally departed the EU’s single market at the start of the year.

He told reporters: “Better regulation, smarter regulation, more modern regulation is definitely of interest.”

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