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Sunak offers lockdown-hit companies more help to keep jobs

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is seen at Downing Street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain September 24, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Rishi Sunak announced his latest programme to stave off a surge in unemployment on Friday, offering extra help for businesses and workers who are forced to stop work during local coronavirus lockdowns.

In a move likely to cost billions of pounds over the six-month duration of the new scheme, Sunak said the government will pay up to two-thirds of each employee’s salary, with a cap of 2,100 pounds a month, if they work for companies that are forced to close temporarily.

The announcement represented an expansion of the government’s Job Support Scheme - which itself is the replacement of the broader furlough scheme that ends this month - for companies ordered to close and their workers.

Sunak had previously resisted calls to increase the generosity of the government’s support schemes amid fast-rising job losses and his announcement on Friday is likely to herald the temporary closure of bars and other businesses.

Scotland’s government has already ordered a 16-day closure of pubs in the country’s two biggest cities starting on Friday.

As well as the new subsidies, he also announced more generous grants for lockdown-hit companies, offering up to 3,000 pounds per month payable every two weeks, compared with 1,500 every three weeks under the standard scheme.

“I hope that this provides reassurance and a safety net for people and businesses in advance of what may be a difficult winter,” Sunak said.

A Treasury source said the new wage support measures, which will last for six months from Nov. 1, were likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds a month.

Under the scheme, employers will not be required to contribute towards wages and only asked to cover social security and pension contributions.

Reporting by Andy Bruce and William James; Editing by William Schomberg

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