There was a time when the announcement of new Treasury spending tended to spell good news. However, these days it usually means that something has gone wrong on coronavirus. This afternoon, the Chancellor confirmed a shift in policy — new support packages for workers. Employees at UK firms that are forced to shut by law will now be eligible for two-thirds of their wages to be paid by the government. The scheme is estimated to cost at least hundreds of millions a month.
In some quarters, this is being labelled as a U-turn — given Rishi Sunak's previous insistence that there could be no extension of the scheme. What is being offered is not only less generous than what came before, it is more targeted. While a lot of industries are currently able to operate — at least in some capacity — this announcement lays the groundwork for a time when this is no longer the case.
New restrictions are expected to be announced on Monday as the government's coronavirus strategy enters a new stage. The details are still being thrashed out – the Health Secretary has been attempting to impose on people the severity of the situation while MPs are being quizzed on what restrictions they will accept. The expectation is that those areas worst hit by coronavirus — such as Nottingham or Merseyside — could find themselves in the red zone with hospitality venues forced to close. This is expected to be put to a vote next week – so long as Keir Starmer supports the measures there is little chance of a defeat.
While today's announcement will offer some relief to those affected, it cannot provide certainty about the future. The lack of clarity over a long term route out of the current problems means that many business owners are having to ask whether their company is still viable in the long term.