COVID-19: PM urges businesses to ‘stand by your employees’ in daily briefing

Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 19 March 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

Getting his fourth nightly briefing of the week underway today (19 March), PM Boris Johnson announced there would be a statement by the Chancellor tomorrow as to how the government would be supporting businesses with their employee costs.

Presumably, this is the employment support package we heard about earlier this week when Chancellor Rishi Sunak joined him to announce his economic stimulus package. The message to business this evening from the government was clear – stand by your employees, do not cut jobs – wait to see how the government will be making support available.

The key issues for businesses discussed today were:

  • It is vital that the government stands with individuals and businesses as the changes they are being asked to make are so vital
  • The PM feels that the “tide can be turned” within the next 12 weeks, but only if everyone takes the recommended steps
  • Trials for the first vaccine should start within a month
  • The government are in negotiations to buy an antibody test which would show if someone has had the virus and, if it works, they will buy “hundreds of thousands” of these kits
  • People should work from home if they possibly can and follow the self-isolation guidance
  • The message to business is “stand by your employees because we will stand by you” and there will be further announcements on this over the course of the next day or so.

As is customary now, the briefing ended with a Q&A session from the attendant press. This covered a lot of ground – everything from pub closures to when people will be able to plan for their summer holidays. The most pertinent issues discussed during the Q&A were:

  • When asked about reports that many businesses are finding business interruption loans are taking too long to access to be able to keep staff on, the PM stressed there would be a statement on this tomorrow from the Chancellor. He reiterated his message to businesses is – “stand by your employees as we are going to stand by you and we are going to stand by the workers in this country.”
  • When pressed on whether he accepted that every day he held back on announcing measures which would support business, was causing thousands of jobs to be lost, Johnson responded by repeating that he hoped businesses would stick by employees and referred again to the Chancellor’s announcement tomorrow which should show how the government was providing support to workers.

Once again, businesses are left waiting for the exact details on how they will be able to access the financial support promised to them by the Chancellor earlier this week. And so it follows that the big talking points for tomorrow are set to be what shape financial support for businesses will take, further confirmation on which vulnerable groups will be subject to the rumoured 12-week self-isolation and a more robust definition on who falls into the ‘key workers’ category.

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