More than 380,000 firms apply for government scheme to pay 2.8m furloughed staff

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More than 380,000 businesses have applied for a government scheme to pay the wages of 2.8 million furloughed workers, Business Secretary Alok Sharma has revealed.

Firms impacted by the COVID-19 crisis are able to claim for government cash to pay 80% of each employee’s wages, up to £2,500 per month.

Appearing before a House of Commons committee on Thursday, Mr Sharma told MPs that – as of 4pm on Wednesday – the coronavirus job retention scheme had received 387,000 applications covering 2.8 million employees.

He also disclosed that, as of 19 April, nearly 500,000 firms had received grants of £10,000 or £25,000 – distributed by local councils – totalling just over £6bn.

The government is also guaranteeing 80% of each loan from lenders to small and medium-sized businesses.

Mr Sharma told the business, energy and industrial strategy committee that, so far, 16,600 firms had secured such a loan – totalling £2.8m.

There have been around 36,000 completed applications to date to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), according to UK Finance.

More than half the total number of loans have been approved in the past eight days alone.

The government has faced criticism for the slow roll-out of the loans scheme for smaller businesses.

It has previously been estimated that 300,000 CBILS enquiries have been made, with Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband highlighting how there are a total of nearly six million small and medium-sized firms in the UK.

Commenting on the latest CBILS figures, Mr Miliband said they showed the scheme was “in no way equal to the scale of economic distress facing our firms”.

“Providing 16,000 loans in four weeks in a country of nearly six million SMEs is not good enough,” he added.

“In an average week last year there was more than £1bn of new SME lending.

“The fact that CBILS are now only at that level at a time of the worst economic emergency in our lifetimes is a clear sign that they are inadequate.

“The government must recognise the scheme is not working adequately and change it urgently.

“The future of many of our small firms depends on its decisions.”

Meanwhile, at a separate Commons committee, it was confirmed there had been 1.5 million new claimants for Universal Credit welfare payments in the six weeks to 12 April.

Department for Work and Pensions minister Will Quince revealed that, in one single day, there had been 110,000 claims when the department usually receives 55,000 per week.

However, he said there had since been a “significant slowdown” in the number of claims.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, an independent think tank, is to publish new findings that claim UK unemployment could reach more than six million by the end of next month – a rise of around five million workers.