Millions of UK jobs still at risk from pandemic, business leaders warn

Millions of jobs in some of the UK’s hardest hit sectors, such as retail, are still at risk despite chancellor Rishi Sunak’s support for employers, according to business leaders and union bosses. 

Executives had wanted the government to extend some of the programmes that have helped support companies through the pandemic, such as business grants, rates relief and the state guaranteed loan schemes that have seen banks lend £45bn to more than 1m businesses. 

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that over the coming weeks the chancellor would also need to address the ticking clock on a number of other concerns — including the impending end of key business loan schemes.

Mr Sunak offered targeted support for hospitality and tourism but not retail or manufacturing, despite the many job cuts expected in those industries.

Business chiefs were also disappointed that there was not a blanket cut to value added tax, broader help with national insurance contributions or a cut in income tax. 

Vivienne King, chief executive at Revo, which represents the retail property sector, warned that 3m retail jobs remained in jeopardy unless the government undertook “a fundamental review of business rates and direct financial support to underwrite rents”.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said the support for employment and training in the UK was welcome but “it was disappointing that the chancellor did not extend [VAT cuts] to the retail industry and the 3m people it employs”. 

Jonathan Geldart, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said that many of its members would feel like the chancellor had “missed a trick”. The job retention bonus offers “an off-ramp from the furlough scheme”, he added, but “with cash so tight now, January may feel like a long way off for some businesses”. 

The IoD had hoped for broader-based measures to help companies ride out the crisis, “particularly for those who have so far fallen through the gaps of support schemes”.

The manufacturing and automotive industries also expressed frustration at the absence of support and warned that more jobs were at risk without sector specific measures such as tax cuts as well as incentives to drive consumer spending.

The manufacturing and automotive sectors were disappointed at being left out of the help schemes © Colin McPherson/Alamy

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said it was “bitterly disappointing the chancellor has stopped short of supporting the restart of one of the UK’s most important employers”.

“Of Europe’s five biggest economies, Britain now stands alone in failing to provide any dedicated support for its automotive industry, a situation that will only deter future investment,” said chief executive Mike Hawes.

“Until critical industries such as automotive recover, the UK economic recovery will be stuck in low gear.”

Rowan Crozier, chief executive of pressings and stamping specialist Brandauer, said it felt “like a lot of paper shuffling, rather than actual new proposals and more of a popularity parade than making the right choices to bring the UK out of this recession”.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, the unions’ umbrella body, said the government needed to do far more to stem the “rising tide” of redundancies.

She called for extra investment in jobs across public services — including the 200,000 vacancies in the NHS and social care. 

“And if the chancellor wants people to have the confidence to eat out, he should have announced a pay rise for hard-pressed key workers rather than dining out discounts for the well-off,” she said.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, the union, said the cut in stamp duty might well please “the better off with little to fear from this crisis”, but it was “no use to the tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs in recent weeks and the millions more we fear could follow them”. 

Additional reporting by Peter Campbell


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