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Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 3

Daily Covid-19 Brief: Friday, April 3

Each day, our Public Policy team will be reporting on the latest news in the evolving situation. To view the previous day’s summary, please click here.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced further action to support firms affected by the COVID-19 crisis

  • Sunak has extended the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19 are now eligible and not just those who are unable to secure regular commercial financing.
  • This measure is in addition to banning lenders from requesting personal guarantees on loans under £250,000.
  • It came as Sunak revealed that only 983 businesses had £90 million of finance approved in the week since the scheme was launched, despite 130,000 inquiries being received.
  • The CBILS  provides government-backed loans of up to £5 million to companies with annual sales of up to £45 million,
  • The Chancellor has also announced a new scheme, operated by the Bank of England, to bolster support for larger firms not currently eligible for loans.
  • The new scheme will provide a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to make loans of up to £25 million to firms with annual turnovers of between £45 million and £500 million.

The exam regulator for England, Ofqual, has provided more details about how pupils studying for GCSE and A-level exams will get their grades

  • Teachers in England will be asked to decide the grades they think pupils would have achieved in cancelled GCSE and A-level exams.
  • Teachers’ predictions for A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs in England will be based on the evidence available – such as previous exam results, tests, homework, coursework, mock exams and what the regulator calls “general progress during your course”.
  • This will be used by exam boards to award results – along with a ranking order by ability of each pupil in a school, also to be sent in by teachers, by 29 May.
  • This could mean adjusting the grades suggested by teachers if they seem too generous or harsh, or unlikely in the context of previous results at a school – and to make the overall distribution of grades consistent with other years.
  • Schools will not be allowed to tell students the grades submitted to exam boards or how they are ranked.
  • The results will be available to students no later than the planned dates in August – but Ofqual suggested that they may be available sooner.
  • Students who are unhappy with their grades will have the chance to sit the exams as soon as reasonably possible after schools reopen – or in the summer of 2021.
  • Ofqual stated that alternative plans for vocational qualifications would be announced at a later date.
  • In Scotland, grades will be estimated by teachers and the Scottish Qualifications Authority have said that coursework which has already been submitted by pupils will not count towards results.

Other UK COVID 19 news 

  • The Welsh government is to make it a legal obligation for companies to ensure employees stay 2 metres apart. The law will come into force on the 6 or 7 April.
  • More than 100 MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum have written to the universities minister Michelle Donelan calling on the government to address the problems facing university students. The letter calls on universities to take a flexible approach to end-of-year assessments and rent refunds for those who have had to move out of accommodation. It also suggests a temporary suspension of the rule which currently prevents students claiming universal credit because so many have lost casual work.
  • The government has confirmed that more than 26.7 million units of personal protection equipment (PPE) were delivered to 281 NHS “trusts and providers” in England on 2 April.
  • A £400 million package has been provided to England’s bus industry, to keep key routes running to provide services for those who cannot work from home. £167 million will be paid over 12 weeks under the new COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant. As a condition of the funding, bus operators must maintain necessary services to meet with the reduced demand, and allow adequate space between passengers on board.

Company updates

  • The UK’s services sector contracted at its fastest pace on record in March, with the IHS Markit UK purchasing managers’ index dropping to 34.5 in March, down from 53.2 for February. This was lower even than expected, and marks the lowest reading since records began.
  • Department store Debenhams is expected to go into administration early next week, as they seek to protect the business from creditors during the crisis.
  • Bus company, Stagecoach has furloughed around 55 per cent of its bus drivers and engineering staff.
  • Arcadia, which owns Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, has announced it is furloughing said 14,500 of its 16,000 employees – including head office and shop staff.
  • Sainsbury’s has said it will join other supermarkets in removing limits on some products from this Sunday, though will maintain restrictions on goods including UHT milk and pasta.
  • Heathrow Airport has said it will close one of its runways next week as air traffic continues to fall globally.
  • Google is to publicly track people’s movements over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, so that the information can be used by public health officials and others around the world to help manage the outbreak.
  • Train operator Grand Central, which runs services between Sunderland and Kings Cross, has announced it will suspend running
  • NatWest and the Prince’s Trust have launched a £5 million fund to support young entrepreneurs and their businesses through the crisis. The fund will be available to 18 to 30-year-olds to maintain core business operations.

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