The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has this week announced further measures to protect jobs in local businesses legally required by COVID-19 restrictions to close, by introducing a new wage support through the Job Support Scheme. This means that the government will provide a grant for employees unable to work, covering two-thirds of their usual wages and subject to a cap. Eligible employers must have an existing PAYE scheme that was registered on or before 23 September, as well as a UK bank account. Additionally, businesses that have been legally closed under coronavirus restrictions since March, and are still legally closed, are eligible. Employees working at the above premises affected are eligible and must be on their employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 23 September 2020. They cannot work or volunteer for their employer during the period they are claiming. Each eligible employee will be paid a grant by the government worth two-thirds of their usual monthly pay, up to a limit of £2,100 per month. Employers will be required to cover employer national insurance and pension contributions in full but make no further contribution to wage costs. Employers can also top up employee pay if they wish. The scheme is temporary and will start on 1 November, for a period of six months, and with a review in January. Payments will be available from the beginning of December.
In the past week the Government has also announced some of the first beneficiaries of the culture and heritage recovery funds. These form part of a £1.57 billion support package for the arts, recognising the challenges faced by organisations whose income is usually dependent on the support of paying visitors. Whilst many of the organisations in the leisure and hospitality sectors that have been badly affected by the COVID-19 restrictions have been able to access various business support schemes, often arts organisations have required additional help. I was particularly pleased to see that substantial grants have been made to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, to the Creative Foundation in Folkestone to support the Quarterhouse theatre, as well as to the Cheriton-based arts organisation Strange Cargo.
Folkestone Invicta football club has suddenly found itself amongst the best supported teams in the country. I know for many readers this was never in doubt, but it’s one of the consequences of the new rules on who can attend football matches. Folkestone play in the highest level of football where fans are allowed to attend matches. Up to 600 spectators can watch at Folkestone’s ground in Cheriton Road, whereas if they had been promoted last season to the National League South Division, they would not be allowed to have any fans in attendance at all. Many football fans don’t understand how such an arbitrary line can have been created. If 600 fans can watch safely in Folkestone, why can’t people do the same at Dover Athletic or Maidstone United. People are rightly asking as well why is it that 3,000 people can watch a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, but no-one can attend an event at Wembley Stadium. We need some clear guidelines for organising large events that would help create a pathway back for spectators and audiences.