Jim Pickard

Boris Johnson faced calls for further financial support for companies – from both business groups and union leaders – after announcing England’s toughest set of restrictions since last spring.

The prime minister’s message to the general public to stay at home, with schools shut until mid-February, came amid fast-rising rates of coronavirus infections.

Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said companies would understand why Mr Johnson felt compelled to act.

“But they will be baffled and disappointed by the fact that he did not announce additional support for affected businesses alongside these new restrictions,” he said.

Mr Marshall said tens of thousands of firms were already in a precarious position and now faced a period of further hardship unless the government “stepped up” financial support.

“The lockdowns announced in England and Scotland today are a body blow to our business communities, hard on the heels of lost trade during the festive season and uncertainty linked to the end of the Brexit transition period,” he said.

“Billions have already been spent helping good firms to survive this unprecedented crisis and to save jobs. These businesses must not be allowed to fail now, when the vaccine rollout provides light at the end of this long tunnel.”

Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the Treasury should increase the discretionary grant scheme for local authorities to help struggling companies.

He also suggested that the government would need to extend the job support scheme – known as the “furlough” – which will be wound up at the end of March.

“It will also be crucial to smooth the cliff-edge in support that’s fast approaching in the spring,” he said.

“Many companies will have next to no chance to build up steam before the end of the first quarter, when support measures are set to wind down. Indications on future policy support and stimulus will be crucial for directors to factor into their plans now.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the existing financial package was just not good enough to cope with the renewed public health emergency.

“Without more support, jobs will be lost and businesses will close,” she said. “Ministers must act quickly by providing targeted help for hard-hit industries, boosting sick pay to a real Living Wage so that people can afford to self-isolate and increasing Universal Credit….government must not force a choice between lives and livelihoods.”

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