Boris Johnson has played down the prospect of the government extending the furlough scheme beyond the end of September.
Speaking at the government’s Covid briefing on Monday (14 June), at which he announced a four-week delay to the proposed 21 June domestic unlock, the prime minister also declined to give any further guidance on overseas leisure travel this summer.
Jim Pickard of the Financial Times pressed Johnson on his ministers’ mixed messaging on summer holiday travel after transport secretary Grant Shapps said people wouldn’t have long to wait to get away, only for environment secretary George Eustice to encourage people to stay at home – "which of these contradictory pieces of advice would you recommend?" he asked the prime minister.
Johnson responded: "On travel abroad, I think the most important thing is to follow the red, amber and green guidance that we’re giving, that’s continually reviewed and that’s the important thing. I wouldn’t want to give any more guidance than that at this stage."
Pickard also asked about what support would be available to the industries hardest hit by the Covid crisis, who would likely still be struggling by the end of the summer. "Is there any situation in which you can see the furlough scheme and other major business support schemes continuing beyond their current end dates, the cliff edge at the end of September?" Pickard asked.
The prime minister, though, suggested there wouldn’t be a lot more support forthcoming.
"On furlough, we’ve always made sure the scheme would continue until September to take account of the whole spread of the roadmap, the chancellor has been very clear about that," said Johnson. "On the basis of what we can see now, we don’t think we’ll need to change that."
From July, the furlough scheme will be tapered, meaning employers will start to have to pay more towards retention of staff.
The travel industry has for many months been calling for sector-specific support, including a tailored furlough scheme allowing travel industry employees to carry out non revenue-generating tasks while furloughed, as well as retaining and/or increasing grant support for small businesses and business rates relief.
Abta chief Mark Tanzer said the 21 June delay highlighted the importance of a "rethink" on ongoing financial support for businesses whose trade remains constrained by government Covid policy, such as the traffic light system governing international travel.
"As we head into the critical summer season, where travel companies ordinarily earn the majority of their income, we must finally see a package of tailored financial support for travel agents and tour operators" said Tanzer.
"Without this tailored support, we will continue to witness people across the country lose their businesses, many of which are independent family firms that have been in existence for decades, and many thousands more people will lose their jobs."