The CBI has joined a chorus of major business bodies calling for further financial support for UK firms as England grapples with its third national lockdown.
The business group today urged chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the furlough scheme for two months beyond its current expiry date of April, and to provide “targeted support” for businesses over the summer.
It also called on the Treasury to extend the business rates holiday for at least another three months for UK firms forced to close under current restrictions, and to expand financial relief to supply chains.
“Throughout the pandemic, the Treasury has listened and acted swiftly to offer businesses a lifeline. But with the latest lockdown squeezing cash flow and demand like never before, business resilience is at an all-time low,” the group said in a statement.
The CBI, which represents around 190,000 British businesses, also joined the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in calling for temporary VAT cuts.
It urged Sunak to lengthen repayment periods for existing VAT deferrals until June 2021 “at the earliest”, and to implement deferrals on VAT bills due now until 2022.
“Almost a year of disrupted demand and extensive restrictions to company operations is taking its toll,” said CBI director-general Tony Danker. “Staff morale has taken a hit. And business resilience has hit a sobering new low.
“The government must once again stand shoulder-to-shoulder with businesses to underwrite support for the duration, helping viable enterprises to last the course… The rule of thumb must be that business support remains in parallel to restrictions and that those measures do not come to a sudden stop, but tail off over time,” he added.
“Just as the lifting of restrictions will be gradual, so must changes to the Government’s sterling support to businesses.”
The latest unemployment figures showed more than 800,000 people lost their job in 2020, with the jobless rate increasing by 1.2 per cent to 4.9 per cent in the year to last November.
BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “The support schemes the government has introduced so far have saved many firms and jobs, but they have not gone far enough to help many survive a tough start to 2021.
“The drip-feed approach to business support measures has meant many firms simply cannot plan for the future.
The chancellor has so far spent £280bn during the Covid crisis, taking the UK’s deficit to record levels.
Sunak told City A.M. last week that the Square Mile is set for a “Big Bang 2.0” in the wake of both Brexit and the pandemic that will take the City’s “culture and creativity” to greater, global heights.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday indicated that ministers are keen to “get out of these national lockdowns as soon as possible”, adding that current measures will begin to be eased “`hopefully by March”.