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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Business briefing – 15 June 2020

Shops selling non-essential goods have reopened for the first time in almost three months
Retailers have had to introduce strict safety measures as High Streets reopened today amid fears about the health of the UK economy.

Boris Johnson has urged people to “shop with confidence,” but retail experts warned shops were unlikely to see any immediate relief.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, leading today’s Downing Street press conference, confirmed that the government would ‘stick to its plan’ and would be carefully monitoring the effect of the current changes before moving to its ‘phase 3’ of easing lockdown, which would not happen earlier than July 4.

Earlier in the day, Parliament debated the 2m social distancing rule after MP Greg Clark asked why the UK had chosen a larger distance than many other countries, while other countries have mandated face coverings.

Edward Argar, Minister of State for Health told the Commons that it would be “premature” to speculate on the conclusion of a review into the 2m social distancing rule.

He said the review was being led by scientific evidence and would consider the effect on businesses, particularly the hospitality sector.

Argar said the review would issue a report in the coming weeks, but declined to set a date. Many MPs asked for a decision to be made in time for the planned reopening of the hospitality industry on 4 July.

Today was also the first day that anyone travelling on public transport or attending at a hospital had to wear a face covering. More than 3,000 extra staff including police officers were being deployed at stations to make sure people comply.

‘New furlough’ guidance released
The government has announced the closure of previous Coronavirus Job Retention scheme and released guidance (click here) on its replacement. From July 1, employers can:

  • Only claim for employees who have previously been furloughed for at least three consecutive weeks between 1 March – 30 June.
  • Flexibly furlough employees, meaning employees can come back to work for any amount of time and any work pattern.
  • Still be able to claim the furlough grant for the hours the flexibly furloughed employees do not work, compared to the hours they would normally have worked in that period
  • From 1 August, the level of the grant will be slowly reduced. No grant will be available for Class 1 employer NICs or pension contributions from 1 August although these contributions will remain payable by the employer.
  • From September 1, employers will also be asked to contribute towards the cost of your furloughed employees’ wages to ensure they continue to receive at least 80% of their wages for the time they’re on furlough.

You can find out more here on how the amount of grant available through Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is changing.

HMRC are running a webinar to be held on Thursday 18 June 9:45am-10:45am and Friday 19 June 11:45am-12:45pm. It provides an overview of the changes to the scheme, how employers will be affected, flexible furloughing, key dates and support available. Sign up here.

Border and transition period announcement
The government has formally notified the EU that it will neither accept or seek any extension to the EU Exit Transition Period.

Recognising the impact of coronavirus on businesses’ ability to prepare, the government has announced that it will introduce the new border controls in three stages up until 1 July 2021.

  • From January 2021: Traders importing standard goods, covering everything from clothes to electronics, will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as keeping sufficient records of imported goods, and will have up to six months to complete customs declarations. While tariffs will need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made. There will be checks on controlled goods like alcohol and tobacco. Businesses will also need to consider how they account for VAT on imported goods. There will also be physical checks at the point of destination on all high risk live animals and a proportion of low-risk live animals.
  • From April 2021: All products of animal origin (POAO) – for example meat, pet food, honey, milk or egg products – and all regulated plants and plant products will also require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.
  • From July 2021: Traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs. Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for SPS commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will now take place at GB Border Control Posts.

To support businesses with the new processes taking effect next year, the UK Government has developed a new £50 million package to boost the capacity of customs intermediaries – including customs brokers, freight forwarders and express parcel operators

Find out more here.

Additional updates and guidance

Retail guidance updated
New guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) has been issued to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic. It includes updated guidance on managing product handling and returns, guidance on the test and trace service, guidance on safer travel and to provide guidance on managing security risks. Click here to view.

Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, Consumers & Labour Markets, has also written a letter to the retail sector – click here to read.

2,500 new places on artificial intelligence and data science conversion courses now open to applicants
Government has launched the application process to the world’s first artificial intelligence and data science conversion courses – click here for more information.

COVID-19: safer aviation guidance for operators
Update to the safer travel and working principles for airports and aviation operators includes the new requirements for passengers to wear face coverings. Find out more here.

For guidance for passengers, find out more here.