Chamber of commerce chief warns of ‘devastating blow’ of fresh lockdown

Chamber of commerce chief executive John Bridge says that new restrictions being imposed from Thursday “will be a devastating blow to all our business communities”.

He said this was despite the fact that Cambridgeshire businesses “have done everything in their power to adapt and operate safely”.

Mr Bridge said: “Business and market confidence have been hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach taken by governments across the UK over the past eight months, with little end in sight.

“Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions.”

He said the temporary extension of the furlough scheme will bring short-term relief to many firms, and responds to the chamber’s call for business support to be commensurate with the scale of the restrictions imposed. “While there is no substitute for a functioning economy, the full financial support package for businesses facing hardship, whether through loss of demand or closure, must immediately be clarified and communicated,” he said.

“Sustained help must be available to employers, to the self-employed and to the many businesses and individuals that have not been able to access any of the government’s schemes to date.”

Mr Bridge said the Government must ensure that the time afforded to them through another lockdown will be used to enable mass testing and radically fixing the Test and Trace systems “which hold the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy”.

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He said the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce - with more than 1,000 members - would examine the detail of new restrictions and support carefully over the coming days, together with business leaders across our area.

“Business communities will judge them on whether they are clear and evidence-based - and on whether businesses are able to see a suitable exit strategy for planning when these restrictions may come to an end,” he added.

He said he had received confirmation that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended for a month with employees receiving 80 per cent of their current salary for hours not worked.

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