Ministers draft in business chiefs for coronavirus economic plan as Johnson ‘eyes July recovery speech’

Details emerge as SAGE member says government was too slow to enter lockdown

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The government is drafting in business leaders and academics in a bid to help the UK weather the economic storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced.

Business secretary Alok Sharma has announced the creation of five new “recovery roundtables” aimed at shoring up the economy amid warnings of a steep recession and a spike in unemployment.

The new groups – which will meet for the first time this week – will bring together businesses and “leading academics” to “ensure we have the right skills and opportunities in place for our workforce over the next eighteen months“.


The five groups will look at the future of British industry, a green recovery, encouraging new businesses, boosting skills and apprenticeships, and attracting “high-value investment” to the UK.

Sharma said: “These roundtables are a redoubling of our efforts to listen to and work with the business community and academic experts as we consider the measures needed to support our economic bounce-back. This will undoubtedly lead to a cleaner, greener, more resilient economy which will create new jobs.

“The output from this initiative will feed directly into the government’s work on economic recovery and will help deliver the commitments we made to the British people only last December, which now take on an even greater sense of urgency and importance.”

The new taskforces were launched as The Telegraph reported that Boris Johnson is planning a major speech for 6 July focused on how Britain will recover from the crisis.

The prime minister’s speech will reportedly be followed by a statement from chancellor Rishi Sunak. Electric cars are set to get a major boost with a new scheme offering payments of up to £6,000 for those who switch from diesel or petrol vehicles.

The PM's announcement would come just days after the next lockdown review, due on 4 July, with government departments and business groups already being tapped for ideas to get the economy moving again.

Johnson last week admitted that “there will be many, many job losses” due to coronavirus, as he promised to do everything possible so the UK can “bounce back”.

The prime minister suggested young people could end up being worst affected by the pandemic and said it was “vital that we guarantee apprenticeships for young people”.

It was reported yesterday that Johnson has ordered ministers to speed up plans for easing the lockdown amid fears that millions of jobs could be lost.

According to the Sunday Times, Sunak and Sharma warned the PM that failure to reopen the hospitality sector over the summer could result in 3.5 million jobs being lost.

Under the plans, set to be unveiled this week, pubs, cafes and restaurants will be see restrictions eased to allow them to use outdoor areas, while places of worship could be reopened on 15 June for private prayer.

Meanwhile, transport secretary Grant Shapps has reportedly been ordered to secure "travel corridor" deals with some countries by 28 June to allow some overseas holidays to go ahead.

Lockdown delay 'cost a lot of lives'

The plans, reportedly signed off by Johnson on Friday evening, come as one of the members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said that the failure to lockdown the country earlier when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Professor John Edmunds told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show he believed ministers had been too slow to act and that he had regrets about the action taken.

“I think the data that we were dealing with in the early part of March and our situational awareness was really quite poor and so I think it would have been very hard to pull the trigger at that point, but I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier,” he said.

“I think that has cost a lot of lives, unfortunately.”

But health secretary Matt Hancock told the programme there was a “broad range of scientific opinion” on the SAGE committee and that ministers had followed the advice of the chief medical officer.

“I am sure, and as I keep looking back on that period, I am sure that taking into account everything we knew at that moment, my view is that we made the right decisions at the right time,” he said.

Edmunds also said he believed the virus infection rate needed to be lower before lockdown condition were eased any further.

"I would still prefer to see the cases come down lower than they are at the moment," he said.

"The [Office for National Statistics] survey suggests we're having around 5,000 new infections every day and that's just in the community and just in England – excluding Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland – that's excluding all the infections occuring in hospitals and care homes which are very significant numbers still.

"And so I would like to see the cases come further down, that's my own personal opinion. But the government have to weigh these things up, of course they do."

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