World News

More than a quarter of UK firms cut staff as coronavirus hits – ONS

LONDON (Reuters) – More than a quarter of British companies reduced staff levels over the short term as the coronavirus crisis began to hammer the country’s economy, a survey published on Thursday showed.

“Over a quarter (27%) of responding businesses said they were reducing staff levels in the short term, while 5% reported recruiting staff in the short term,” the Office for National Statistics said.

The survey of 3,642 businesses was conducted between March 9 and March 22, covering just a small part of the period after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a shutdown of much of the country’s economy on March 20.

Another survey published earlier on Thursday, by the British Chamber of Commerce which was conducted between March 25 and March 27, suggested almost half British companies expected to temporarily lay off 50% or more of their workforce.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has said the British state will pay 80% of the wages – up to 2,500 pounds a month – for workers who are temporarily laid off but remain on companies’ books in an attempt to soften an expected surge in unemployment.

The ONS also said its survey showed 45% of firms reported lower-than-expected turnover – compared with 5% that saw higher sales – and 46% had encouraged staff to work from home.

Among companies that import and export significantly, nearly 60% said their trade had been affected by the crisis.

(Writing by William Schomberg; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)