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Welsh businesses brace for firebreak lockdown

21 October 2020: Firms across Wales are preparing themselves for further disruption in anticipation of the two-week “firebreak” COVID lockdown due to kick in on Friday. But what support is available for businesses forced to close?

The Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has insisted that the lockdown from 6pm on 23 October until 9 November, is needed to prevent thousands more deaths and the NHS becoming overwhelmed.

During the lockdown, certain businesses and venues including bars, restaurants and most shops must close, and citizens will be told to stay at home. As for other businesses, guidance published by the Welsh government stipulates that people must work from home if they are able. Those who are not able to work from home, but can work safely in their workplaces, can do so, provided their workplace remains open. 

“Employees should not be required or placed under pressure to return to a workplace setting if there is not a clearly demonstrated business need for them to do so,” the guidance states. Employers who are considering requiring their staff to return to workplace settings should first assess whether alternative arrangements could meet the majority of the employer’s needs. 

Kate Palmer, Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, said if staff cannot work from home, employers may be able to make once again use of the furlough scheme, subject to eligibility, before it ends on 31 October. They may also be able to use the new Job Support Scheme from 1 November. “Wales’ First Minister has hinted at plans to bring forward the new scheme to use from this Friday in the country; this is still to be confirmed by the UK government,” Palmer added.

Businesses forced to close due to the new restrictions may be eligible for financial support; the Economic Resilience Fund Business Phase 3, open for applications from 26 October, will offer grants of up to £10,000 for microbusinesses and £200,000 for large businesses on the condition they match this with a sliding scale ranging from 10-50% of their own investment depending on business size. 

For companies in the Tourism and Hospitality sector, there will be discretion for grant awards of up to 100%. Full details, together with an Eligibility Checker, can be found here.

Commenting on the measures Martin Warren, ICAEW Regional Director for Wales, said: “We are glad to see that these measures include substantial support for businesses to survive the lockdown but remain concerned that there remains a high risk of good businesses and jobs being lost if this support is not maintained.”

Peninsula’s Kate Palmer said the timing of the lockdown over half term may help to mitigate the impact of staff needing to facilitate childcare. “There is no doubt that childcare issues are still likely, and employers will need to consider flexibility, and legal rights afforded to parents, over this period.”

Those responsible for work carried out in premises must take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public including maintaining the two metres distance rule, limiting the level of face-to-face interaction and providing reminders about the importance of increased hygiene.