Closing the furlough scheme to new applicants at the end of the month is premature and could undermine work to save firms and jobs, a business leader has said.
John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce which includes firms in Huntingdonshire, said the scheme had helped preserve millions of jobs - but major uncertainties remained ahead.
He called for extra support for businesses and staff unable to get back to work for extended periods, including those hit by the lockdown.
Mr Bridge said the Government was continuing with the furlough scheme, in which it paid 80 per cent of the wages of employees who were unable to work, but it was being tapered down and was being closed to new applicants.
“Commenting on this from my perspective, however, I believe that although the furlough scheme has helped companies preserve millions of jobs through lockdown, many firms still face significant uncertainty ahead.
“On that basis, closing the scheme to new applicants at the end of June feels premature and risks undermining some of the work already done to preserve businesses and jobs.”
Mr Bridge said: “Over the coming months, Government will need to be open to providing new and additional support for businesses and staff who are unable to get back to work for an extended period, especially in sector of the economy facing reduced capacity or demand due to ongoing restrictions.”
Mr Bridge said firms must still continue to follow crucial guidance over coronavirus, despite parts of the lockdown being eased.
“As we begin to see more flexibility in the lockdown requirements I wanted to take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the very essential guidance that we must all still continue to follow,” Mr Bridge said.
He said firms should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, develop cleaning, hand washing and hygiene procedures, help people work from home, maintain social distancing and to take steps to reduce contact where this was not possible.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has protected millions of jobs and businesses across the UK during the outbreak – and I’ve been clear that I want to avoid a cliff edge and get people back to work in a measured way.
New statistics published today revealed the job retention scheme has protected 7.5 million workers and almost 1 million businesses.”