£28m for businesses as shop reopening is delayed

A £28 MILLION support package means that help will be available for businesses until at least 30 April as the easing of Covid-19 restrictions is likely to be delayed, ministers have announced.

Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30074227)
Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30074227)

The government confirmed details of a new support scheme for fixed costs yesterday, as well as ramping up the existing payroll scheme.

Ministers outlined the new measures as it was confirmed that the Island’s ‘reconnection’ process was likely to be slower than previously envisaged.

Barring a major spike in active cases, which yesterday fell by a further five to 187, non-essential shops will reopen next Wednesday, followed by ‘close contact’ services, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, a week later on 3 February.

Outdoor sport involving more than ten people remains off-limits until at least 17 February, which is the same date that hospitality venues could start to reopen, with ministers confirming that the interval between stages will be at least three weeks, rather than the two weeks outlined earlier this month.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said that £28 million would be released from reserves and focused in two main directions.

Payroll support will now cover 90% of employee wages up to £2,500 per month, an increase of £500, with an additional ability for businesses to claim for some higher-paid staff earning £4,600 to £8,900 per month.

Compensation for the detriment suffered by businesses will increase to a supplement of 30% from the previous 20% figure.

Meanwhile the fixed-cost support scheme will be available in three tiers of £3,000, £5,000 or £10,000 per month depending on the rateable value of the business premises. Businesses which are fully closed can claim 100% of the allowance, while businesses which are ‘materially restricted’, for example restaurants operating at reduced capacity, will be entitled to 50%. There will also be allowances for businesses with mobile premises or staff based at home, who will be eligible for the 50% payment.

Audits will be conducted to pick up wrongful claims.

Businesses’ GST and Social Security payments for the first quarter of this year may be deferred for two years and repaid over the following three years.

However, the prospect of a reduction in employer Social Security contributions, flagged up by Senator Farnham in the States Assembly on Tuesday, has been shelved for the time being. A government spokesperson said the enhanced payroll support would have a greater beneficial impact.

The next stages of reconnection, starting with non-essential shops on Wednesday, are dependent on the latest data and scientific advice, as the full impact of the return to schools may not be clear until this weekend.

Ministers had previously suggested that shops could reopen on Monday 25 January but the likely delay of 48 hours will allow consideration for ways in which pedestrian flow can be managed in busier areas.

Data shared at a briefing yesterday showed that there were still some clusters of cases being seen in workplaces and care homes, but that the number of people being hospitalised had fallen to ‘one or two’ daily.

Deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat said that there was still no confirmation of the new ‘British variant’ in Jersey, but that results from 14 of the 21 samples sent for analysis had yet to be received.

The positivity rate for tests taken by arriving passengers has increased to almost 3% during recent weeks, with the new variant – which was most conspicuous in London and the east and south-east of England – being the likely cause of this.

Additional weekly testing is planned for schools, something which a government spokesman said had started this week at Les Quennevais and Jersey College for Girls. Testing of the lateral-flow devices, which offer results within half an hour, had gone well, he added, and would be rolled out for all teachers in primary and secondary schools, and for pupils in Years 11 to 13, over the next two weeks.

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