Business leaders say test and trace systems must improve to save jobs and avoid 'catastrophic lockdowns' - The Rugby Observer

Business leaders say test and trace systems must improve to save jobs and avoid 'catastrophic lockdowns'

A PLEA to the Prime Minister calling for a sharper approach to restarting the UK economy has been backed by business leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire.

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) President Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith has written to Boris Johnson, telling him businesses face “the most difficult trading conditions in post-war history” and setting out a series of measures the government should take – including “rapid improvements to test and trace systems”.

The letter from the BCC – supported by the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce – follows its recent research which indicates sustained economic difficulties, with almost a third of businesses expected to make redundancies in the next three months.

BCC published a three-step approach to ‘Restart, Rebuild and Renew’ the UK economy in May.

Baroness McGregor Smith said: “A successful restart of the economy demands bolder and more ambitious action.

“We face a difficult winter ahead – even without a significant resurgence of the virus itself. If the government wishes to avoid mass unemployment, significant levels of business failure, and long-term economic scarring in our communities, we urge you and your colleagues to act now.”

In the letter, Baroness McGregor Smith sets out a series of proposals which she claims could help offset the worst of the damage to businesses and livelihoods, and begin a return to prosperity.

She added: “Government should take every step possible to avoid damaging local and catastrophic national lockdowns and instead place the highest possible premium on alternative measures that maintain the economy and keep businesses open – such as rapid improvements to test and trace systems.”

She called on the government to ensure the test and trace programme was “quickly available to all who need it, results are returned quickly, and positive results tracked”.

She added: “Businesses are not ready to face the triple threat of further lockdowns, an end to government support schemes and the end of the Brexit transition period.

“Government must develop a confidence plan for businesses where it is clear what type of measures are expected for each change in scenario. This will allow business to plan.”

The letter notes that “far more ambitious” fiscal stimulus will be needed to deliver a full restart of the UK economy, adding: “The path to October and beyond appears very challenging, as the Job Retention Scheme, CBILS and BBILS schemes close, creating a perfect storm for otherwise viable businesses.”

Baroness McGregor-Smith’s suggestions include a reduction in the overall cost burden on firms to protect businesses and preserve as many jobs as possible.

She says an 18-month expansion of the Employment Allowance from £4,000 to £20,000 and an increase to the threshold for National Insurance contributions from £8,788 to £12,500 would help businesses with prolonged cashflow difficulties – claiming the latter could save businesses around £500 per job.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses across our patch have faced unprecedented challenges over the past six months and so many have shown incredible resilience in these difficult circumstances.

“Baroness McGregor-Smith’s letter to the PM quite rightly sets out the kind of package that companies require to help restart, rebuild and renew the economy.”

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