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From the closure of premises and disruption of supply chains to the numbers of workers who may be required to isolate themselves to limit the spread of COVID-19 and falling consumer spending, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the private sector is manifesting itself in crises of both supply and demand. Whilst the impact of the crisis across different sectors is deeply uneven, it is estimated that 7.6 million jobs (around 24 percent of the UK workforce) may be at risk and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has acknowledged that not all businesses will survive the pandemic. The Government has announced a range of support measures worth more than £330 billion to assist businesses and employees, including:

  • A Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to pay 80% of furloughed workers’ wages and a Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for the self-employed.
  • A Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme enabling banks to offer loans to SMEs and allowing businesses and the self-employed to defer tax payments over an agreed period.
  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) costs for businesses with fewer than 250 employees.
  • Business Rate Relief for eligible businesses and provisions to prohibit lease forfeitures.
  • Cash grants to the smallest businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector and for businesses in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief and Rural Rates Relief.
  • The Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility for large businesses.

There have also been a range of examples of the private sector mobilising to assist with the efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus and mitigate its impacts. They include (but are not limited to) engineering and manufacturing firms shifting their production processes to assist in the manufacture of ventilators and ventilator components; breweries and cosmetic retailers producing hand sanitiser; the development of contact tracing and symptom recording apps; and continued cooperation across the pharmaceutical and research sectors in the search for viable vaccines and treatments for the disease.

However, the Government has also attracted criticism for appearing slow or reluctant to take up related offers of assistance, notably from UK-based manufacturers of personal protective equipment (PPE). In turn, the Government has contended it must be sure that all such equipment meets required safety standards and said it was in dialogue with those who had offered to help.

On 21 May 2020, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion moved by Lord Dobbs (Conservative) that “the virtual proceedings do consider the contribution made by businesses and the wider private sector in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic”.

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