THE five-month extension of the government’s furlough scheme will protect thousands of jobs across Worcestershire, one of the county’s leading accountants has said.

Alistair Hayward-Wright has praised the decision by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to keep the furlough initiative going not just through the four-week lockdown, but until March next year.

The move means businesses stay afloat and avoid laying workers off, while the self-employed can also access higher grants until April 2021 with payments capped at a new total of £7,500.

Mr Hayward-Wright, who has been through the finer details of the extension, said businesses would only have to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions, making the new-look furlough scheme much more generous than the Job Support Scheme that was due to replace it.

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Although furlough has already cost taxpayers in excess of £41 billion, Mr Hayward Wright said the economic damage of surging unemployment would be far worse.

“Without this additional support from the Chancellor, the unemployment rate was about to soar,” he said.

“Now with the extension of the furlough and self-employed schemes, businesses will be able to get through the lockdown and challenging trading conditions in what was meant to be their most lucrative time – the run-up to Christmas.

“By keeping staff employed and increasing the grants available through the self-employed scheme, the economy in Worcestershire benefits from their spending and has a fighting chance in 2021.

“This will protect thousands of jobs – not just those directly saved, but all those reliant on workers having money to spend.”

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The extension to the furlough scheme is due to be reviewed again in January. To benefit, employees needed to have been on the payroll as of 30 October.

The Job Support Scheme – which was due to replace furlough and would only cover a third of someone’s wages if they were working a third of their normal hours – will not start until the extended furlough scheme closes.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended further, until March 31 2021.

The scheme, which enables employers to claim support for employees who have been furloughed, was launched in April 2020. The Government had initially extended the CJRS from November 1 until December 2.