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Chancellor Says ‘Winding Down’ Coronavirus Job Scheme Avoids Leaving Restaurants on a ‘Cliff Edge’

Government makes plans to soften furlough scheme as date approaches for lockdown announcement

Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus job retention scheme will wind down
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has couched his winding down of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) as a commitment to not leaving businesses like restaurants on a “cliff edge.” Sunak told ITV News that he is “working, as we speak, to figure out the most effective way to wind down the scheme and to ease people back into work in a measured way.” This would be as opposed to abruptly cutting off funding that currently supplies 80 percent of a worker’s wage, up to £2,500 per month.

The CJRS has given restaurants cause for hope and dismay in equal measure. While its recent extension to the end of June offered short-term relief for a sector deeply anxious about the impact of social distancing, the exclusion of tronc — a widely used service charge payment scheme — from its calculations will have left millions of restaurant workers out of pocket.

Significant numbers of restaurant staff, many of whom have been out of work since the government’s closure of all non-essential businesses on 20 March, have been among the total nine million workers to be furloughed in the U.K. Trade body U.K. Hospitality referred to this scale in reacting to the announcement, with chief executive Kate Nicholls tweeting:

Eater has asked U.K. Hospitality for further comment on the announcement, and the depth of the reassurance it offers the restaurant sector. Even with easing in place, rather than an abrupt stoppage, timing is crucial — get it wrong, and restaurants might not go over a cliff edge but be stuck on it, with the “choice” between staying open and dying out and closing for good.

With more and more restaurants warning against easing lockdown too early and emphasising the impossibility of reopening meaningfully through social distancing, the industry now awaits news on two fronts: what the winding down of this scheme looks like, and what gradually easing lockdown looks like. The latter is expected 7 May; the former may take longer to become clear.