Civil servants across the country have been praised for their response to the coronavirus as a number of government support schemes for those affected begin to operate this week.
The Treasury yesterday opened its coronavirus business interruption loan scheme that will provide government-backed loans of up to £5m while the Bank of England’s Covid-19 corporate financing facility also opened to provide a quick and cost-effective way to raise working capital for large firms who need it.
In total, more than £330bn of loans and guarantees to help firms continue operating will be available for applications from the two schemes launching today, while the Treasury is also developing a coronavirus jobs retention scheme which will provide a grant to employers to keep their workers on if they are forced to close or work dries up. Under this scheme, which the Treasury hopes to have in place by the end of April, salaries will be paid at 80% of their current level up to a maximum of £2,500. In the meantime, £30bn of cash flow relief has been provided through the deferment of VAT bills.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the launch of the support plans, which were only announced on 17 March, showed that the Treasury was “working round the clock to do whatever it takes to protect our people and businesses”.
He added: “That means that we are not only taking unprecedented action but doing so at unprecedented speed, because we know that businesses and their employees need help now.
Elsewhere in government, a series of other policy changes are coming into effect this week. From today, the Department for Work and Pensions is suspending all reviews and reassessments for disability benefits to “reassure vulnerable people about the continuity of their benefits during the coronavirus outbreak and to ensure the department’s resources are focused on enabling access to financial support for new claimants”, the department said. This follows a decision to suspend all face-to-face assessments to safeguard vulnerable claimants.
Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “As this country ramps up its efforts to support people through coronavirus, we will do whatever it takes to protect claimants and our staff.
“We are automatically extending all awards and reassessments for health and disability benefits to provide that reassurance to those in receipt of them.”
The rolling out of the policy response comes as prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday ordered all non-essential shops to close and urged people not to leave their homes in order to tackle the spread of the virus.
The government response has been coordinated by four implementation committees in government, based around four policy areas each chaired by a cabinet minister – Sunak, health secretary Matt Hancock, foreign secretary Dominic Raab, and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove for the cross-government response. According to Buzzfeed, these four have formed a "war cabinet", with civil service support ramped up to each area, with officials from across Whitehall.
While there has been some public concern over the effectiveness of the government’s communication plan, the civil service response to the crisis has also been widely praised.
Responding to Sunak’s announcements last week, former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said the “very welcome measures to protect jobs” reflected the “big effort from many people & organisations to deliver this package”.
He added: “Thank you to UK civil service, businesses and organisations who have worked so hard to get this over the line.”
Former Labour leadership contender Jess Phillips added her voice to the praise.
“This begs saying because there are a lot of people to thank, but civil servants changing and adjusting so much deserve thanks too,” she said on Twitter.
- Has coronavirus changed your working life? CSW wants to hear from you - help us share the stories of officials leading the fightback
The coronavirus outbreak is changing how the civil service works. Many officials are now working from home, while others have also seen their day jobs change dramatically because of Covid-19.
CSW is keen to celebrate and share stories of the officials working flat out – or in brand new roles – to keep the country safe during this national crisis. If you, or a member of your team, have seen a significant change in your working life as a result of the coronavirus, please comment below or email deputy editor email@example.com and help us share these stories.