Covid-19 Impact Brief: Thursday, January 21
Each week, our Public Policy team will be reporting on the latest weekly news in the evolving situation.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have launched the Build Back Better Council
- The aim of the council is to unlock investment, boost job creation and level up the whole of the UK post-Covid.
- The Council will be comprised of 30 members including bosses of BT, BP, Tesco, Unilever and Jaguar Land Rover, representing industries from retail and hospitality to finance, science and technology. They will advise the Government on ways to spark growth after Covid-19.
- Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, will be a standing member and other Cabinet Ministers will attend as required.
- The new Business Council had its first meeting this week, chaired by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. In the meeting the Prime Minister outlined the need to seize opportunities of Brexit, support job creation, cement the UK’s position as a science superpower, deliver an upgrade to infrastructure and launch a green industrial revolution.
- Meanwhile the Chancellor, made clear that he backed the idea of an “active state” to support the recovery. He said the Government would work with the private sector “to create and secure the jobs of tomorrow”. The Chancellor also stressed the importance of skills as a means of improving productivity.
The Government has promised to tackle late payments to small firms to protect jobs
- The Government has promised to strengthen the Prompt Payment Code, ensuring larger companies pay their suppliers on time.
- It has been said that there is a required payment period to small businesses slashed in half to 30 days, with commitments to be made personally by CEOs or Finance Directors.
- These tougher rules come as the Government looks to increase powers of the Small Business Commissioner to protect jobs and growth as the UK builds back from the pandemic.
- The national free school meals voucher scheme has opened. It allows schools to place orders for supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers whose children are eligible for free school meals. The vouchers are worth £15 per week per child. Families can receive codes by email. If the recipient has no internet access, a gift card can be provided by post.
- Figures published by the ONS today show that GDP fell by 2.6% in November, as opposed to -5.7% forecast.
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that he hopes to see Schools in England open before Easter and that schools will be given two weeks’ notice before reopening.
- Student tuition fees in England are to be frozen for a year while the Government considers changes to the loans system and the introduction of minimum entry requirements for higher education.
- The Welsh Government has announced it is seeking Senedd consent for an emergency bill that would allow them to safely manage the Senedd election and, as a last resort, postpone the election for up to 6 months.
- Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Robin Swann, has proposed extending the nation’s current lockdown until 5 March. The Northern Ireland Executive will meet later to consider the proposals.
- The Scottish Government has extended the current lockdown measures until at least the middle of February. The islands of Barra and Vatersay were moved into lockdown on 20 January. Schools across Scotland will continue to use remote learning until the middle of February at least. The next review is on 2 February.
- The Welsh Government has announced £40m of extra funding to support students facing financial hardship. Universities will also be asked to prioritise funding towards the most vulnerable students, as well as strengthening advice and support services for students. The funding, which is in addition to over £40m already provided by the Welsh Government this financial year to help universities, will also be used to address ‘digital poverty’ among students.
- The Department of Health and Social Care has announced £120m of new funding to protect and support the social care sector through increased workforce capacity. This is in addition to the £149m announced in December, which is ring fenced for lateral flow device testing in adult social care.
- The Government has announced emergency border measures to prevent the spread of concerning new variants of Covid-19 into the UK. All travel corridors with the UK will be suspended. This means that all international arrivals who have departed from or transited through any country other than Ireland will be required to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for ten days on arrival. The new measures will be reviewed on 15 February.
- The Welsh Government has announced further legislation to ensure workplaces and shops are safer from Covid-19. The new legislation will require businesses in Wales to carry out specific Covid-19 risk assessments, covering issues such as whether ventilation is adequate, ensuring physical distancing is taking place and PPE and face coverings. The risk assessments will only be required for those businesses who employ five or more people.
Private sector update
- The trade union RMT has called for urgent action to prevent the collapse of the Eurostar link to the Continent. It has been reported that insiders are warning that the operation could run out of cash as early as the spring as passenger numbers have plunged by 95% as result of the pandemic.
- Over-50s holiday and insurance specialist Saga is to require customers to be fully vaccinated before boarding cruises. It also said it had pushed back the restart date for its travel business from April to May – to allow customers time to receive the jab. Holidaymakers will have to be vaccinated at least 14 days before travelling and also take a pre-departure Covid test.
- Supermarket, Asda, is to provide 7,000 laptops to schools. Asda has formed a partnership with technology provider Dell and is investing £2m so that every Asda store in the UK can donate at least 10 laptops to a school in need in their local community. Each laptop comes with a tech bundle that includes a headset and a mobile internet dongle with a data allowance of 20gb from Asda’s network partner Vodafone.
- Glastonbury Festival has been cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic for the second consecutive year. As with last year, people who have paid their deposits will be allowed to roll over their tickets for the 2022 festival