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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Business briefing – 23 November 2020

Tougher Tiers to return post-lockdown as government announces its COVID Winter Plan

The Prime Minister has published the government’s COVID Winter Plan, setting out a toughened Tier system which will follow the end of national restrictions on December 2.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would be ‘a difficult winter ahead’ and that many more places would be in higher Tiers than before the current lockdown.

“The months ahead will be hard and cold, including January and February when the NHS is under greatest pressure which is why when we come out of lockdown next week we must not throw away the gains we have made.”

The COVID Winter Plan means that the ‘stay at home’ order will end from December 2 and shops, gyms, personal care, and the leisure sector will reopen. Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and people will not be limited to seeing one other person in outdoor public spaces. Instead, the rule of six will again apply.

England will move back into a regional, tiered approach with tougher restrictions than before. For example, in Tier 1 people will be encouraged to minimise travel and work from home where possible.

In Tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal. In Tier 3, hospitality will close except for delivery and takeaway, and indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas, casinos and bowling alleys, must also close. In Tier 3 areas, all pubs and restaurants will have to close.

The Tiers will be uniform, without negotiations on specific measures, and will be based on the following criteria:

  • Case rates in all age groups;
  • Case rates in the over 60s;
  • The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
  • The number of cases as a percentage of tests taken; and
  • Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

An announcement on which regions will fall into the various tiers is expected on Thursday. Tiering allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, and tiering regulations will expire in law at the end of March.

The Prime Minister said the government would be using three tools to tackle the virus – the toughened Tiers, more testing, including rapid community testing in areas of greater infection and the rollout of vaccines, although it may take many months for sufficient people to be inoculated against COVID-19.

He added that ministers were continuing to work with the Devolved Administrations on plans for a temporary relaxation of restrictions over Christmas.

Read the full COVID Winter Plan here.

Limited elite and grassroots sport to return from December 2

Supporters will be welcomed back into stadia and sports venues in limited numbers from December 2, in a major boost for fans, professional sports clubs and elite sport events.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced today that organised grassroots sport is also allowed to resume from the end of the current lockdown and gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen across all tiers.

Skills incentives for companies looking to create new jobs

The government has announced that as part of the Chancellor’s Plan for Jobs there are a range of skills programmes, some of which offer financial incentives, that are available for employers who are considering hiring employees or offering work experience.

The incentives can help businesses invest, help people upskill and improve their chances of securing a good job in a highly competitive labour market.If your business is looking to potentially:

  • Develop the talent pool in your business or develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce
  • Build a pipeline of talent for junior positions
  • Test out if someone is right for a permanent job or apprenticeship with you
  • Carry out a skills needs analysis for your business to understand gaps and find solutions
  • Find a flexible programme that can be tailored to meet your recruitment needs
  • Find more flexible ways to offer a work placement

One of these programmes might be right for your business.

Details of each of the schemes, and the financial incentives, can be found here: 

The government has released some examples of how employers are benefiting from the Kickstart scheme, and of how employers are benefiting from Apprenticeship incentives.

25 Getting Building Fund projects get green light from South East LEP to start building back local economy with £66.8 million approved

The South East LEP has approved £66.8 million in funding for 25 projects on the Getting Building Fund list, including a railway station for Thanet, a skills training centre with commercial workspace for SMEs in Lewes, education facilities for the transport and logistics sector in Thurrock, and a modular housing factory in Basildon.

These projects have been chosen for being shovel-ready and able to help get the local economy back on its feet to combat the ongoing effects of COVID-19. As the country deals with its second lockdown and the future of the UK business environment remains uncertain, these projects will help the areas and industries that are particularly affected by the lockdown caused by COVID-19.

They will bring jobs, skills training, workspace for businesses and greater connectivity for residents across the South East. These 25 projects will create and safeguard 4,514 jobs, unlock and deliver 5,627 new homes, support 5,147 learners and unlock 138,388sq m of commercial space. Read more.

Business Secretary’s letters to the construction and manufacturing sectors

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, has written to those working in the construction sector and its supply chain and those in the manufacturing industry and its supply chain.

The letters emphasise that the sectors can and should continue to work during the current period of restrictions and follow government guidance on safe working.

Additional updates and guidance

Income Tax and National Insurance contributions exemption for employer-provided coronavirus antigen tests
The government is committed to supporting businesses and individuals through the coronavirus pandemic, and this measure aims to make sure the use of relevant antigen testing procedures by employers are not subject to a tax charge.

Homecare workers to be tested weekly for COVID-19
Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly coronavirus tests, the government has announced.

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles
New guidance on the actions that drivers, operators and owners of taxis or private hire vehicles (PHVs) can take to protect against coronavirus – including information on how drivers can carry out risk assessment, picking up passengers, preparing your vehicle for the next passenger.

Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace
Cinemas, concert venues and theatres have been added to the list of venues that must have a system in place to request and record contact details of their customers, visitors and staff to help break the chains of transmission of coronavirus. It has also been clarified that indoor sports and leisure centres includes gyms.

Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus outbreak
Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations has been updated with information about the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the national restrictions guidance, the package of support available for those who have been made redundant on or after October 15, and functional skills.

Company directors and accountants urged to file earlier than usual and online
Companies are being urged not to leave filing their annual accounts until the last minute and consider going paperless by using Companies House’s online filing service, as the disruption caused by coronavirus continues to affect people’s lives, businesses and the economy.

Kickstart Scheme: employer resources
Tips for making a successful Kickstart Scheme application have been updated.

Consensus Statement emphasises importance of COVID-19 secure workplaces
Public Health England (PHE), Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) have issued a consensus statement on the best approach to reduce occupational risk for workers including those of ethnic minority groups.

Updated guidance on claiming for employees’ wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is being extended until 31 March 2021.

  • November 30 2020 is the last day employers can submit or change claims for periods ending on or before October 31 2020.
  • Claims for furlough days in November 2020 must be submitted by December 14 2020.
  • Guidance has been updated with detail on employer claim information that HMRC will make public.
  • Guidance on calculating how much you can claim for furloughed and flexibly furloughed employees has been updated with clarification of information relating to claim period deadlines and timings.
  • Language has been changed to make it clear that for claim periods starting on or after 1 December 2020 you cannot claim for any days on or after December 1 2020 during which the furloughed employee was serving a contractual or statutory notice period.
  • Eligibility criteria has been made clearer for employees who are made redundant on or after September 23 2020 and you have re-employed and employees that have a fixed term contract that expired after 23 September.