The director general of Britain’s biggest business group has warned that a second England lockdown will be a “real body blow” for business.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a host of new measures aimed at curtailing the rising number of COVID-19 infections, including a four-week England lockdown from 5 November until 2 December.
The measures mean that pubs, cafes and restaurants will shut, except for takeaway and delivery services. but schools and colleges and construction sites will remain open.
Johnson also announced that the furlough scheme, also known as the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, has been extended until December, as the UK economy braces for a second lockdown in England due to start on Thursday.
This means that the government will continue paying up to 80% for the wages of employees whose businesses were forced to close.
“It’s an incredibly difficult time for business — this is a real body blow,” Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) boss said in response to the announcement.
She hailed mass rapid testing for business adding it “could be a total game-changer.”
Fairbairn said: “So many firms have worked very hard to become COVID-safe, they have been resilient through the first phase, so this is undoubtedly very tough.”
The industry leader cautioned that economic support for business during COVID-19 “has felt too often as though it’s tail-end Charlie” adding that “if that isn’t there then jobs will be lost now.”
She added: “We need to do everything we can to minimise the damage of this second lockdown… We need to keep as much of the economy open as we possibly can and actually because more businesses are Covid-safe now manufacturing, construction should be able to stay open.
“We need to use the next four weeks to really prepare for what might come next and mass rapid testing for business could be a total game-changer, enabling more of our economy to be open and work safely and productively.”
Additionally, she called for clarification from the government, saying that businesses “need to plan” and they need know that as long as “restrictions are in place” so is support.
Fairbairn also criticised Johnson relationship with business, saying it “could be a lot better.”
When asked whether Johnson was a business-friendly PM on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday Fairbairn said: “I think he is in his bones, but I think what we now need to see is that in action.”
She suggested that the CBI’s annual conference was a perfect opportunity for the PM to show that he “absolutely backs business.”
Dame Fairbairn, who is due to step down as the group’s director general at the end of the year expressed “disappointment” that there hasn’t been a closer relationship with the PM.
Speaking on Brexit, she reiterated her previous stance. The CBI boss said that Brexit “has been done we now need the deal, that is really important.”
“It is over and actually all that business now wants to do is make a success of that, to move us forward and we have to do that partnership,” she said.
On Monday, she will use her final keynote address as CBI boss to urge the UK government, business and wider society to work together on a strategy akin to that seen during World War II in order to spearhead Britain’s revival. Fairbairn will also call for a post-pandemic recovery plan for the young.
Watch: In full: PM announces lockdown in England