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Government thanks business but warns banks

01 April 2020

By Simon Gentry

Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, lead today’s government Coronavirus press conference.  He began by recounting the growing human toll of the virus, with another 563 deaths being reported today.

He noted that the virus does not discriminate and is the greatest threat to the UK and the world in decades.  It is, he said, having a huge impact on people’s lives and on the economy.  He paid tribute to frontline workers and employers.  Companies are helping their workers and the government, he said, is thankful.  Businesses are keeping the economy going, ready for Britain to bounce back once the crisis is over.  He paid particular tribute to INEOS for getting a hand sanitiser factory up and running in days, and the Mercedes F1 team for its wok on ventilators.  He also thanked broadband providers for increasing free data so that people can work from home.

He then recounted some of the financial support companies are getting from today, particularly small companies which are being paid £ 25,000.  He noted too that local authorities and are expected to get the billions of pounds they have been given for business support to the intended recipients quickly.  Turning to the role of banks, he said that the Chancellor and the Bank of England have today written to banks to urge them to get the funds to businesses.  In a slightly more sober phrase, he reminded the banks that the taxpayer bailed them out in the financial crisis and they are expected to play their part now.  He added that the Chancellor will say more on this issue in a few days.  When we exit the crisis, he said, business must be in a position to grow.

Most of the questions from journalists focussed on testing both of NHS workers and the public.  There were a number of questions about the provision of personal protection equipment for doctors, nurses and paramedics. The desire to increase testing as fast as possible was emphasised repeatedly, but no clear timetable or explanation of why it is taking so long to ramp this up was forthcoming despite the journalists repeated probing.