Covid: New restrictions mean firms still need help – Scotsman comment

Boris Johnson warned against complacency about the coronavirus outbreak (Picture: PRU/AFP via Getty Images)Boris Johnson warned against complacency about the coronavirus outbreak (Picture: PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson warned against complacency about the coronavirus outbreak (Picture: PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
Government cannot afford to be as generous as it has been for long so should now target aid to those businesses in most need and with the best prospects for the post-Covid world.

When the lockdown was first introduced as the coronavirus outbreak began in the UK, Boris Johnson’s Government took a momentous decision: the taxpayer would pay 80 per cent of the wages of millions of people who were unable to work because of the restrictions. The furlough scheme was the centrepiece of measures by both the UK and Scottish governments designed to keep the economy afloat during this unprecedented crisis.

Six months later, both governments are reimposing significant restrictions amid serious concern that this deadly disease is once again getting out of control.

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The news prompted the business world to warn of the dire consequences. The Scottish Hospitality Group said “we are now staring into an abyss”; the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said a 10pm curfew would “devastate” their industry; and Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, urged politicians to develop a new plan to support business, starting with a successor to the furlough scheme, due to end next month.

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Clearly, it would be impossible for the government, which is funded by tax-payers, to continue to pay millions of tax-payers almost all their wages. On such a mass scale, the furlough scheme was only ever going to be a relatively short-term measure. But businesses should still get significant state aid – targetted more precisely on those with the most need and the best prospects – because Covid is a problem that will eventually be overcome, not a permanent state of affairs.

If we allow too many businesses to collapse and too many jobs to be lost, our economy will suffer for years to come. The debts the nation is wracking up are considerable, but they are tiding us over until some semblance of normality returns. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world and its economy should bounce back.

As Johnson told MPs yesterday, Britain has reached a “perilous turning point” and now risks a second wave. Warning against “complacency that could be our undoing”, the Prime Minister said: “If we fail to act together now, we will not only place others at risk but jeopardise our own futures with the more drastic action that we would inevitably be force to take.” As the Covid threat grows, the strain on our economy and the public purse is showing. So, once again, the Scotsman urges everyone to take this seriously and do their bit.

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