The insanity of the UK Government’s Covid-19 policy took another crazy twist this week. First the Prime Minister announced a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and cut the numbers for social gatherings even further and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak replaced the furlough scheme with the Job Support Scheme (JSS).

The JSS announcement is a crushing disappointment when compared to the more business friendly policies put in place in Germany and France. Unfortunately the chancellor also insisted he couldn’t save every job saying the scheme was targeted at saving ‘viable’ jobs.

As many in business have said since if you take away all the customers then your business is not viable. And that is what this Government is doing to huge sectors of industry which is having a massive knock-on effect to the rest of the economy and the health and welfare of the general public.

I’ve written before about how the Government have got it wrong in its Covid-19 strategy – but this latest turn is madness. At the end of October as the furlough scheme ends many firms will cease trading or will only survive by making many of their staff redundant. Some have called it a cliff edge as they will collapse if they cannot trade as normal. Others are zombie businesses who have clung onto life with the furlough scheme but were not viable before the pandemic and so will perish. Even the chancellor suggested that unemployment will rise to the levels on the 1980s. Frankly if we got away with only two million unemployed that would be a relief. The received wisdom in Whitehall, business and the trade unions is that it will be far higher than that.

The latest Covid-19 rules further restrict the hospitality industry and put the dampers on retail with more mask wearing instructions. Both sectors are being emasculated by a Conservative Government that has become estranged from business. With Dominic Cummings as an advisor and the joint doomsters in Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance the PM has in effect told everyone to curl up in a ball and stay at home. Except of course, for the essential workers, who he relies on in hospital, to deliver his groceries or to ferry him around. If they can work so can everyone else. Those who are vulnerable to the disease can continue by taking all the precautions to keep themselves free of infection. And for hospitals and care homes sensible procedures should remain in place.

What is needed is a route map out of this crisis with the essential element being we have to live with the virus like we do with every other form of disease. Covid-19 is not the biggest killer – but it is killing the economy. And so far that’s what the Government is doing.

There is no need for millions of workers to stay at home on various tax-payer funded schemes. Firms don’t want more loans as they will only have to pay them back. The JSS is not what it is hyped up to be as the mathematics do not work for many businesses. And the banning of gatherings for weddings, football matches, theatrical productions and music venues is unnecessary. All could be open with a few precautions in place – something which will save more businesses than any furlough scheme can achieve.

Firstly the Government should stop all the negative rhetoric such as cancelling Christmas, and don’t use public transport, or you must work from home. Secondly end the restrictions on social gatherings and reduce most of the rules for retailing and pubs and restaurants. Reopen libraries, museums and parks and end the introduction of fines for rule breakers.

Anecdotally the British public are beginning to give up on the rules. It’s unfair on the police to break up wedding receptions, ban groups of teenagers from hanging out and stopping cars in Wales and Scotland to check if the drivers are taking unnecessary journeys. If the various UK Governments haven’t realised that then £10,000 fines and troops on the street to prevent the spread of Covid-19 won’t work. We just have to live with the virus as it doesn’t stop spreading at 10pm.

Harry Mottram

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