Leicester firms have been given the green light to “re-furlough” thousands of people who came back to work after the city was placed under local lockdown.
Non-essential shops were left stricken last night in the city – population 330,000 – after they were told not to reopen their doors this morning.
Many of them had already taken people off the government’s furlough scheme when non-essential shops were allowed to return from June 15.
That prompted fears for their future because the cut-off date had already passed for new entrants to join the furlough scheme.
But today Downing Street confirmed any firm that used the furlough scheme between March 1 and June 30 can now ‘re-furlough’ workers from July 1.
The scheme will still begin winding down from August 1 but, crucially, workers who had been taken off it can be put back on.
Although the policy applies nationwide it’s expected to be of particular use in Leicester – which is now recording 10% of all new Covid-19 cases in the country.
PM Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “If employers have used the furlough scheme at any point between March 1 and June 30, which of course very many will have, they can re-furlough those employees from July 1.
“In effect, if someone worked in non-essential retail and they’d been able to go back to work and that non-essential retail now has to close again, they will still be able to benefit from the furlough scheme.
“Likewise the support which we put in for businesses of all sizes continues to be in place.”
He added: “Leicester’s obviously a particular circumstance where people are likely to have been furloughed and then been un-furloughed when non-essential retail reopened.
“It applies nationwide but obviously it’s a particular circumstance to Leicester and those surrounding conurbations at the moment.”
The furlough scheme guarantees 80% of a worker’s wages up to a cap of £2,500 a month.
Firms must contribute from August, while state support drops to 70% in September and 60% in October before ending entirely on October 31.
Some 9.3m jobs have been furloughed at a cost of more than £25bn so far.
Under the drastic measures announced last night, non-essential shops in Leicester which opened on June 15 must shut from today onwards.
That includes clothes shops and toy shops.
Primary schools which opened to some pupils from June 1 must once again close in Leicester, to all but the most vulnerable or children of key workers, from this Thursday.
Pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and more in the city will not reopen as in the rest of England on July 4.
And shielding for vulnerable people will not be eased in Leicester when it is in the rest of England on July 6.
People in Leicester must once again “stay at home as much as you can” and cease non-essential travel.
The police will enforce the local lockdown in Leicester – and Matt Hancock has threatened to change the law in order to enforce the rules.
Downing Street confirmed regulations will force the closure of non-essential shops and stop the wider reopening of pubs, hotels and restaurants in the city.
People have been told to stay at home and make non-essential travel only, but the regulations will not impose a legal travel ban – yet.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock threatened the move, but Boris Johnson’s spokesman later said: “I don’t think that is something that he proposed doing straight away.
“I think his message this morning was that we were recommending to people don’t travel unless necessary.
“Obviously people have followed rules and made sacrifices in the past and we would expect them to do so again to help control the spread of this virus.”