Apology over business lockdown guidance as financial help for firms and self-employed on the way

GAVIN St Pier has apologised for confusion around who can open for business during the coronavirus lockdown - and revealed financial support for firms and the self-employed could begin within days.

Gavin St Pier has apologised over lockdown guidance for business. (27768609)
Gavin St Pier has apologised over lockdown guidance for business. (27768609)

In an open letter to islanders, the chair of the civil contingencies authority said additional guidance for business released on Friday [27 March] ‘may have caused confusion’ and that it was being revisited.

Deputy St Pier also said the impact on business of the situation was recognised - and confirmed that a financial scheme to help businesses and the self-employed was expected to start making payments in the second half of the coming week. Details of a loan guarantee scheme developed with the clearing banks could also be publicised within days.

But referring to the business guidance, he said: 'I’ve said many times before that we won’t get everything right. This week we stumbled on some of the detail, specifically around what that means for essential business and of what "locking down" means. For that, I am sorry.'

Stressing the extraordinary situation, he went on: ‘We have no rulebook or precedents. There will be difficult judgements and nobody said it would be easy. We have, rightly, had to move incredibly fast to protect public health, and there simply has not been time in many cases to deliver fully fleshed out measures that covers every circumstance.

‘The big policy decision to lock down was the right one, but clearly we recognise that the additional detail may have caused confusion and challenges in its implementation.

Since the decision to move to lockdown, he said that the authority had taken time to thrash out that detail as how it should apply to certain businesses – which it did not have time to consider in the ‘short hours’ before the lockdown began.

Additional guidance issued on Friday had included those details, but Deputy St Pier added: 'We have heard your concerns, we are looking at the problems you have highlighted to us, and we are revisiting the guidance that is based on Public Health advice to make it better, make sure it lines up with our core message to stay at home, and most of all make sure it is an effective part of our public health strategy.'

Detailed revision to that guidance would be issued today [Sunday 29 March] 'We will be ensuring many of the jobs that are clearly non-essential, are not permitted to continue as normal during this initial two week period.

‘We have reviewed carefully the list of retailers who should be allowed to open, some of which will have to remain closed and others may need to operate with very strict limitations in place.’

The starting point was to keep in mind what the measures were designed to achieve – namely ‘to minimise unnecessary contact between individuals from different households’ to reduce transmission of the virus and the number of Covid-19 cases to ensure the health care system was not overwhelmed.

Acknowledging the impact on businesses, he said further support measures had been unveiled earlier this week with an ongoing assessment where further initiatives were needed across the economy.

'I should add, in respect of the payroll co-sharing and grants schemes for businesses and the self-employed, we expect to be in a position to begin making payments in the second half of this coming week. We recognise this is urgent.'

Deputy St Pier also said: 'The response to the economic crisis has also continued apace this week and I hope that we will within days be able to publicise details of the loan guarantee scheme developed with the clearing banks.'

• All the test equipment needed for local virus tests is now in the island’s pathology laboratory, said Deputy St Pier in his update. ‘It is being trialled and the team are being trained in its use and preparing to begin local testing in earnest. We will, of course, advise as soon as this is the case.' Some 100 health staff have also been trained this week to assist if required as part of preparations that made the island 'as ready as we can be' in the face of the virus outbreak.

You can read the full letter here.

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