Reflections on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

By Sean Farnell, Burgis & Bullock

After 17 months and millions of jobs saved the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) has closed – or as it is more commonly known, the furlough scheme.

The scheme itself was unprecedented in terms of the support it showed for individuals and private businesses.

It was thought that more than one in 10 workers could be unemployed after the pandemic, but with the introduction of the JRS scheme that is currently less than one in 20.

Back in March, sat in our offices at Burgis & Bullock with no real idea of what would come in the following 17 months, we gathered around to hear the details of the scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

There was speculation that there would be some degree of support, but we didn’t anticipate they would stretch to paying 80 per cent of wages.

Millions of jobs saved

The scheme has definitely enabled millions of people to continue living semi-normal lives despite work not being available.

In some way, every industry has benefited from the scheme – while some will certainly feel they should have had greater help.

While there will inevitably be tax rises to cover the £66 billion cost of the scheme, at this point in time I don’t think many people would begrudge those increases considering the support that has been given.

We could have been sitting here with an additional six million unemployed and that would certainly have cost the economy more in the mid-term.

Flexi-furlough kept businesses afloat

It was important that the Government slowly pulled away the support of the furlough scheme to allow the economy to stand on its own two feet.

Tapering off the scheme in the fashion they did was a very sensible way to do this and the flexi-furlough was a great measure introduced.

The flexi-furlough has made the difference between some businesses ticking over and having to be completely mothballed. It has laid the foundations for businesses to be able to bounce back.

Businesses would have struggled to gain the momentum to bounce back if they were starting from a complete standstill.

The vast majority of clients we work with had moved everyone off furlough a couple of months ago – with a few clients still taking advantage of the flexi-furlough.

Our furlough claim work has certainly tapered off for the last three months and was virtually non-existent in September.

Challenges to the end of the furlough scheme

There will be challenges now for businesses with furlough having gone, both financially and for the HR department. There is still a hesitancy from people to return to their normal place of work and if you have been on long-term furlough, it can be difficult to get back into your work habits.

Blended and hybrid working will be introduced across a lot of business and there is a reluctance in some sectors to return to exactly what they were doing previously.

For staff that have spent the last 17 months on furlough there will be a lot of hard work required to get them back up to speed. Particularly as a lot of roles have changed during the pandemic in terms of marketplace, technology and customer requirements.

Will we ever see anything like this again?

While the pandemic has taught us never to say never, it would be very difficult to envisage seeing anything like this scheme again.

It was of unparalleled scope and lasted longer than anyone would have imagined possible. The Job Retention Scheme set out what it achieved to do, retain jobs. The economy is in a massively better position than we anticipated it would be 12 months ago.

It has been a great success… but hopefully we will never have to see a measure introduced by Government like this again. 

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