WATCH: Boris Johnson explains his four-step lockdown exit plan
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has promised to maintain government support for the economy during the phased exit from lockdown, hinting that current support schemes could be extended.
Johnson announced a "cautious" four-part plan to reopen the UK economy on Monday. Schools will reopen from 8 March, with more phased re-openings in the weeks and months after that. Some businesses, such as nightclubs, will have to wait until 12 June for a full return to normality.
The prime minister promised continued support for businesses during the exit from lockdown.
"We will not pull the rug out," he said in parliament. "For the duration of the pandemic, the government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK."
He said chancellor Rishi Sunak would set out more details about state support at the budget next week on 3 March. Johnson's statement suggests COVID-era support programmes could be extended.
The government has spent over £280bn ($392bn) supporting the economy and combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Supported has included almost £70bn in state-backed loans and paying the wages of millions of workers.
The furlough programme is currently due to end in April and the Bounce Back loan scheme, which has proved the most popular state-backed lending programme, closes next month.
The official website of the self-employed income support scheme, another COVID-era government support programme, already promises that details of a fourth grant will be announced on 3 March.
Businesses leaders said extra support was vital.
"All the key support schemes for business should be extended – through the summer and wherever possible throughout 2021 – to ensure that as many viable firms as possible can make it to the finish line and recover," said Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said Johnson should "stop dithering and delaying and extend the full furlough scheme for at least the rest of 2021."
Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, urged the chancellor to "announce targeted business rates relief from April and extend the moratorium on debt enforcement, as well as removing state aid caps on Covid business grants".
Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The Chancellor must deliver on the Prime Minister’s 'whatever it takes' pledge at next week’s Budget."
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