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Eventprofs call expansion of job support scheme ‘disappointing’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that employees who work for UK firms that have been forced to shut by law, because of coronavirus restrictions, will get two-thirds of their wages paid by the government.

Sunak announced the plan as an extension of the Job Support Scheme, which will replace the furlough scheme at the beginning of November.

While there was no direct mention of how the extension will support event venues in his announcement, it is widely known that events have not been able to run in their pre-Covid-19 capacity since late March, forcing the majority of venues to shut.

HBAA chair Lex Butler said of the announcement: “While we wait to see the terms and conditions of this  ‘legally locked down’ support, and how far this may ultimately apply to our own members, we are encouraged by the Chancellor’s initiative today as it shows a willingness to respond to the impact of Government decisions that are having a catastrophic effect on our industry.

“We hope this is an indication that the Treasury may be starting to appreciate that businesses are closing and jobs being lost because we are scarcely able to trade. What we need next is recognition that, for all those businesses in the meetings and events sector –  whether locked down or not –  time is running out, and many desperately need help now.”

In a Twitter thread from Sunak, he explained businesses that are forced to close their doors, resulting in employees not being able to earn money for a week or more, will receive funding from the government to pay their employees two-thirds of the employee’s normal salary, up to £2,100 a month.

Sunak also announced that businesses forced to close their premises in England will receive a non-repayable grant of up to £3,000 per month depending on the size of the business.

The Meetings Industry Association expressed its concerns over the plans.

Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the mia, said: “While we attempt to clarify what Rishi Sunak’s announcement means for the sector, we fear the expansion of the Job Support Scheme, which begins on 1 November, simply won’t be enough to keep the sector afloat over the course of the next six months.

“The Chancellor’s announcement far from provides the “reassurance and safety net” that has been intended. The doors of many of the sector’s venues have remained closed since March, as the consistent lack of clarity has diminished all consumer confidence and subsequent bookings. While venues haven’t officially been asked to close again, the Government has certainly blocked its business.

“It’s disappointing that support has solely focused around labour costs. The ignorance surrounding the costs to operate this industry is insulting and deceiving an intention to protect employment. We know it isn’t sustainable for many venues to stay open to serve small meetings of up to 30 people, yet it is only in instances where venues are forced to close that they can utilise today’s support package as a means of survival.”

Commenting on the announcement, UKinbound CEO Joss Croft said, “Once again the Chancellor has ignored the fact that inbound tourism businesses, that deliver £28 billion in export earnings for the UK every year, are on their knees, unable to fund viable jobs as they’ve been excluded from virtually all Government support channels since March,”

“The Government has already stopped businesses trading due to measures such as quarantine and previous lockdowns, and it, therefore, needs to compensate all affected companies, not just those facing these new measures or with an obvious shop front.”

Sunak said in his announcement that this scheme is “a very different scheme to what we’ve had before, this is not a universal approach, this is an expansion of the job support scheme specifically for those people who are in businesses that will be formally or legally asked to close”.