More than 140,000 businesses had applied for the UK government’s coronavirus job retention scheme by 4pm on Monday 20 April, chancellor Rishi Sunak has said.
The grants that the firms will receive under the scheme will help to pay the wages of more than 1 million furloughed workers who otherwise would have been at risk of losing their jobs, the chancellor said.
“Exactly a month ago today, I stood at this lectern and said that we would step in and help to pay people’s wages. We promised this support would be available by the end of April. Today, we deliver our promise,” Sunak said on Monday.
“HMRC opened the coronavirus job retention scheme at eight o’clock this morning. As of four o’clock this afternoon, over 140,000 have applied.”
The Treasury announced the unprecedented wage subsidy scheme last month, hoping to prevent unprecedented job losses from the government lockdown.
Sunak said that the firms that applied on Monday should receive the cash grants within six working days.
Unemployment has jumped in recent weeks, but analysts say around 8 million workers could see their jobs protected through the furlough scheme.
“We’ve never seen an economic crisis like this one,” Sunak said, noting that the state’s most immediate purpose was the protection of its people. “Times like this demand that we put aside ideology and orthodoxy.”
Last week, the government extended the wage subsidy scheme until the end of June, following the decision to extend the nationwide lockdown for a further three weeks.
Sunak said on Monday that the government did not yet have an estimate as to how many firms would apply for the scheme, and declined to say whether Treasury expected to extend the furlough scheme again.
“It’s just the first day the scheme is open and I expect those numbers to continue to increase over the coming days,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sunak said that some 12,000 small businesses have received loans under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS), which sees the government guarantee 80% of the value of loans.
There have been around 35,000 applications, and between 80% and 90% of applications have been accepted, he said.
Sunak nonetheless brushed off calls for the government to launch a 100% government-backed loan scheme, noting that comparisons with other countries did not take into account the “totality” of the support measures being offered in the UK.
“It’s more significant in scope and scale than most of those other countries,” he said.
The launch of the wage subsidy scheme came after the government announced on Sunday a £1.25bn ($1.53bn) package of support for startups and tech businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic.
The Treasury said late on Sunday it was launching two new facilities aimed at helping innovative businesses withstand the crisis.
A new £500m investment fund, called Future Fund, will be launched for high-growth startups, while £750m of grants and loans for startups doing research and development will also be handed out.
Sunak said on Monday that he “strongly” believed in the role of innovation and enterprise in recovering the UK economy.