Despite some positive news in respect of a vaccination programme beginning, this has been tempered with the recent announcement that Northern Ireland will be plunged into a six week lockdown. The prospect of measures akin to those endured at the start of the pandemic would do little to inspire festive cheer.
What is normally a time to celebrate and gather together, will be something unrecognisable. The balancing act between suppressing the virus and stimulating the economy is certainly an unenviable task. But employers will be forgiven for their frustration and disappointment, looking forward in dismay in the absence of what many hoped would have been a brighter start to the New Year.
The latest ‘curve ball’ is the effect of the new strain of covid-19 which appears to be spreading more quickly than previous incarnations. This has caused most countries to close their doors to those travelling from mainland UK. The effect this will have on Northern Ireland is yet to be determined and we await more details from the Executive today.
In one positive development the Chancellor has outlined a reinforcement of the financial supports available to businesses struggling against the ongoing economic hardship.
Most notably from an employment perspective, the Furlough Scheme has been extended yet again and will now run until the end of April 2021. Originally intended to be the subject of review at the end of January, the Chancellor has confirmed the government will continue to pay 80% of employee’s salary for any hours not worked all the way until the end of the end of April, with the burden on employers solely to pay wages for hours worked and cover their NICS and pension contributions. The eligibility criteria for the scheme remain unchanged and it continues to remain available in all corners of the UK. Whether this will be the last hurrah for what has become one of the many buzz words of the year remains to be seen, but will certainly factor into what will be difficult workforce planning decisions in the New Year.
Employers should also be aware that the Furlough extension fits into a wider matrix of businesses support measures, with a greater time frame allowed to access state backed business interruption loans.
A final note is a key date for your 2021 calendar, the 3rd of March. This has been confirmed as the date the Chancellor will outline the Budget for the ensuing financial year, surely one of the most intriguing in modern times, he will attempt to paint a picture of the economic face of the UK post pandemic.
Should you require advice or assistance in relation to any of the above please do get in touch with Jan Cunningham or David Mitchell in our Employment Team.