Thousands furloughed across print as scheme goes live

HMRC’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme portal has gone live, with thousands of workers across the UK printing industry already furloughed under the arrangement.

Government scheme is key plank of business support measures
Government scheme is key plank of business support measures

The taxpayer-backed scheme will pay 80% of a furloughed employee’s wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

The portal went live this morning. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said that in its first 30 minutes of operation 67,000 claims had been successfully registered.

The system has been designed to handle up to 450,000 claims an hour. 

Employers should receive the money to pay their employees within six days, with firms urged to register their claims by Wednesday (22 April) in order to meet April payroll.

A step-by-step guide on how to apply is now available. Firms have also been warned that scams are likely to spring up around it, and to take precautions accordingly.

Unite national officer Louisa Bull told Printweek the scheme was being used “everywhere and anywhere” across the industry.

“We have furlough agreements in place with YM Group, Walstead Group, Reach, JPI Media, Newsquest, Communisis, Prinovis and more,” she said.

“We put a lot of work into creating a print furlough collective agreement, which covers everything we wanted protected for our members. Nearly everyone [employers] has gone with that because it takes the pain away.”

Bull said Unite was also having regular dialogue with the BPIF.

“Most people have put in place good furlough arrangements and are not abusing it,” she added.

“How we bring people back afterwards will be the next challenge. Until the leisure and hospitality sectors get going again, the print side won’t.”

During a BPIF webinar last week, BPIF economist Kyle Jardine said that the scheme “had avoided significant redundancies in print and industry generally”.

Printing companies of all shapes and sizes have embraced the scheme. YM Group chief executive Stephen Goodman said the business, which has four print sites, had “furloughed an element of our staff where appropriate”.

“All sites remain operational and we continue to meet our customer needs; we can increase capacity if necessary at short notice,” he stated.

Clays chief executive Paul Hulley said the book printer had also begun furloughing staff.

“We’ve furloughed around 200 and will keep that under review. Business has dropped to around half our normal volumes for the time of year, which is very good all things considered and still means millions of books per week – we’ll produce just short of 2m books this week.”

Earlier this month, Bluetree Group, owner of the Route 1 Print and Instantprint online printing brands, found itself under fire in local newspaper the Rotherham Advertiser after the group laid off a number of workers prior to the introduction of the scheme.

Managing director Adam Carnell said: “We made some redundancies and we’ve now also got a number of people furloughed. We have to scale the workforce to a size that is appropriate – we’re seeing big fluctuations in work on day-to-day basis and our priority is to provide a consistent service."

He added: “Many people on the team are working from home and we’ve implemented very strict social distancing in the factory."

Webmart founder and chief executive Simon Biltcliffe has been furloughed by the firm’s newly-appointed managing director, Richard Boon.

"I debated with Simon about which one of either me or him should be furloughed, and in my first week as MD ended up furloughing my own boss!” Boon said.

“I think it’s reassuring for staff to see there is no favouritism.”

Biltcliffe said of Boon: “Anything that I could do, he can do (and quite a bit better, truth be known, but don't let on).”

He plans to use some of his furlough ‘downtime’ to write a book, with the working title The Marxist-Capitalist Manifesto.

Details about the Job Retention Scheme and other government support initiatives during the coronacrisis can be found in Printweek’s ‘useful information for print businesses’ article, which is being regularly updated.





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