Furlough extension welcomed in Suffolk - but Covid worries remain

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak giving a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on econom

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak giving a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on economic measures for the second national lockdown in England. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 4, 2019. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Picture: PA WIRE - Credit: PA

Business leaders from across Suffolk have welcomed the extension of the furlough scheme, but question what it means for the governments long-term coronavirus strategy.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the major U-turn in the House of Commons on Thursday, which will see the coronavirus job retention scheme extended until March 2021.

Mr Sunak said the government’s highest priority remains “to protect jobs and livelihoods” and it will continue to pay 80% of furloughed staff wages.

Nick Attfield, Adnams director of properties, welcomed the news and said: “It continues to protect the jobs, which is what’s so vital to us in terms of being able to turn the tap on-or-off as required.

“There’s a lot of skill within our business, a lot of knowledge.

“I know that if we re-open on a Wednesday, I can get my teams in on a Monday and between us we know what we’re doing.

“My guys know that they’re going to get to get 80% of their salary covered and they know they can live off that because they have done it before.”

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The property sector of Adnams business employs around 250 people.

According to Mr Attfield, nearly all of them – including him – will be going on furlough at some point during the lockdown.

“The good thing about this scheme is that you have a lot more flexibility than you did in the spring, when you were either furloughed or you weren’t.

“It means I can make better use of the skills that people in the business have.

“There are four or five of us who are part of the core closing down team, but we’re only going to do three or four days each.”

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But Mr Attfield added that the extension also sent mixed messages about the future of furlough.

“The message it sends that worries me is: Are we going to more of these stop-starts-stop-starts?

“For me, that’s much scarier for being in a tier one or even a tier two situation.

“The stopping and the starting is the costly thing for businesses.”

Harry Harris, chief commercial officer for Swarm Apprenticeships, also questioned the government’s long-term coronavirus strategy.

He said: “I have heard the phrase ‘off the edge of history’ being used to describe this pandemic and that is exactly what I think is happening here.

“None of our forecasts or plans will be able to reflect what is happening at the moment because there was no way to predict this.”

The community interest company specialises in training focussing on apprenticeships, qualifications and short courses in both Norfolk and Suffolk as well as further afield.

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He added: “I truly believe the government is doing the best it can given the situation. But what I would say is that now is the time for more autonomy when it comes to tackling unemployment.

“The ‘big government’ policies like furlough and the kickstart scheme are fantastic but they may not necessarily reflect the issues we’re seeing on the ground.

“It is the businesses, the policy makers and the training providers who know where skills are needed and how best to plug those gaps, so it is a question of giving the resource to the community groups and businesses so they can look at tackling the problem on a more local level.”