More than 140,000 firms have applied for the government’s job retention scheme since it launched on Monday morning, the chancellor has said.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Rishi Sunak announced the grants to help cover the wages of more than one million people during the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Sunak said: “HMRC opened the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme at eight o’clock this morning.
“As of 4pm, 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 refused to be drawn on 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.”
The Bank of England has said the approval of coronavirus business interruption loans would be sped up if the government agreed to guarantee 100% of the loans – instead of the current 80% limit.
Mr Sunak said 12,000 loans had been approved, but added: “I am not persuaded that moving to a 100% guarantee is the right thing to do.
“Some people have made some comparisons with what is going on in other countries. I think when you look at the totality of what we are doing it is more significant in scope and scale.”
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But former chancellor Philip Hammond said that while the Treasury support schemes were “perfectly sustainable and manageable” in the short-term, the economy will not survive an endless lockdown.
“The government will have to be prepared to tell people that the high levels of support that are currently being provided cannot be provided forever,” he told an online forum hosted by the Chatham House think-tank on Monday.
“And they cannot prevent an essential restructuring as businesses that have become non-viable have to fail and jobs that have become non-viable have to go. That point will come.”
His advice to the government on an exit strategy was: “I think we’ve got to start re-opening the economy and I think the sensible compromise is to re-open around a set of conditions which assume that at least for the time being we are coexisting with this virus rather than conquering it.”