On Thursday 16th April, the Government announced new measures to help ease immediate financial pressures faced by councils in England due to the outbreak. The news means councils will be allowed to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government, and £850 million in social care grants will be paid up front in April, in a move aimed at helping to ease immediate pressures on local authority cash flows.
The Government also announced that businesses will be given additional support to help them meet their legal responsibilities, with Companies House temporarily pausing the strike off process to prevent companies being dissolved. This will give businesses affected by the outbreak the time they need to update their records and help them avoid being struck off the register. In addition, companies issued with a late filing penalty due to COVID-19 will have appeals treated sympathetically.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP confirmed that the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme has been expanded, with all firms with a turnover of more than £45 million now be able to apply for up to £25 million of finance, and up to £50 million for firms with a turnover of more than £250 million. The Government stated that it will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80 per cent on each loan to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) also added guidance on the 16th April to clarify that funding under Defra schemes does not count towards de minimis state aid allowance.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP, who is deputising for the Prime Minister, confirmed on Thursday that the UK's lockdown will stay in place for at least another three weeks as he warned easing off now risked a devastating second wave of the deadly illness. Although the number of new cases has started to flatten, he warned that relaxing strict social distancing measures now would ‘give the coronavirus a second chance’ and put thousands of lives at risk in a deadly second peak of infections. It is expected that restrictive measures will remain in place until at least 7th May, at which point there may be some relaxation of the rules, such as workers in some sectors returning to work and primary schools reopening.
On Sunday 19th April, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson MP stated that he could not give a date for lifting the lockdown restrictions, including when schools will reopen. Additionally, he announced an extra £1.6 billion in funding for Childline and the NSPCC, as well as confirming that the BBC have developed educational resources online and on TV, which will be available from today. Mr Williamson also confirmed that the Government will be providing vulnerable and disadvantaged young people across England with free tablets and laptops to support remote learning. Devices will be ordered for children in the most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers. The Government will also be providing free 4G routers if needed. Lastly, he stated that he is working with major telecoms providers to exempt certain educational resources from data charges.
The Education Committee has launched an inquiry into how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system. The inquiry, which is accepting evidence from anyone with answers to the questions until 31st May, and will scrutinise how the Department for Education is dealing with the situation. It will examine both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children. In particular, the inquiry is looking for submissions on the effect on disadvantaged groups, including the Department’s approach to free school meals and the long-term impact on the most vulnerable groups, including discrepancies with remote learning.
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