140,000 businesses apply for government furlough scheme in just 8 hours, Rishi Sunak says

20 April 2020, 17:13

140,000 businesses have applied to the government's furlough scheme
140,000 businesses have applied to the government's furlough scheme. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

The Chancellor has said 140,000 British businesses have applied to the government's furlough scheme in the first eight hours of it being launched.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Rishi Sunak said: "HMRC opened the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme at eight o'clock this morning. As of four o'clock this afternoon, over 140,000 firms have applied and the grants they will receive will help pay the wages of more than a million people.

"A million people who if they hadn't been furloughed would have been at risk of losing their job.

"Firms applying today should receive their cash in six working days. HMRC will continue to provide updates on the number of people furloughed."

Mr Sunak said the goal was to maintain "our economy's productive capacity so that we can bridge through this crisis".

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The UK has now been in lockdown for a month
The UK has now been in lockdown for a month. Picture: PA

"That is what we have done," he told the press conference.

The Chancellor announced last month the government would pay up to 80 per cent of employees wages, up to £2,500 a month, if businesses were not able to operate during the ongoing lockdown.

It means that where employers would usually need to let their staff go, the government is stepping in to ease the financial burden.

The scheme, named the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS), was extended up to the end of June after the government announced the lockdown has been extended for a further three weeks.

Mr Sunak would not be drawn on whether the cost of the furlough scheme or whether it would be extended again.

He told the press conference: "We don't have an estimate of take up yet - it's just the first day the scheme is open and I expect those numbers to continue to increase over the coming days."

READ MORE: Coronavirus job furlough scheme open - how does it work?

Public Health England head Professor Yvonne Doyle said the lack of PPE was "concerning"
Public Health England head Professor Yvonne Doyle said the lack of PPE was "concerning". Picture: PA

During the conference, Mr Sunak also said the government was "working hard" to get NHS staff the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need, as calls continue to get louder that some staff are not being protected.

The Chancellor insisted the Government is making improvements to ensure key workers get personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mr Sunak said: "Absolutely everybody working incredibly hard on the front line deserves to have the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and we're working round the clock to make sure we can deliver on that.

"We're improving our sourcing internationally and domestically to make sure we can get the PPE we need in what is a very challenging international context.

"But people on the front line can rest assured that we're doing absolutely everything we can and straining everything we can to get the equipment they need."

He added that today the UK welcomed a shipment from Myanmar of 140,000 gowns.

There are still growing calls for NHS workers to be given adequate PPE
There are still growing calls for NHS workers to be given adequate PPE. Picture: PA

But the government has been under increasing pressure to ensure the safety of frontline health staff and one leading NHS figure revealed his "bitter experience" of the lack of basic items such as gowns in recent weeks.

It comes as the number of hospital deaths of people who tested positive for coronavirus passed 16,000, with a further 596 announced on Sunday.

The figure does not include those who died in care homes.

There are worries over the lack of PPE as a much-anticipated shipment of 84 tonnes, including 400,000 gowns, failed to arrive from Turkey as scheduled.

Public Health England head Professor Yvonne Doyle said a lack of PPE "is a concern" but insisted officials are "working very hard" to improve the situation.

She said: "Yes it is a concern and obviously we want people who are working on the front line with patients at high risk to have what they need.

"Over this weekend I know, for instance, that 12 million pieces have been delivered to 141 trusts and as has been said there is incredible work going on internationally in a very high burn rate situation.

"A difficult situation undoubtedly, working very hard to make it better and trying to make sure we can deliver to where it's most needed."

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