That’s it. Furlough is over, at least as far as my company is concerned. I am not prepared to contribute to a culture where people sit at home and do nothing.
As the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, London’s largest independent plumbing company, I’ve heard all the excuses – people are worried about catching Covid-19, or they’re afraid of infecting a vulnerable relative who is self-isolating.
But to any employee who tells me that they don’t want to come back, who wants to string out the furlough till the Government closes the scheme in October, I’ve got one thing to say: we don’t want you back. So far I’ve already told 30 former staff: ‘Don’t bother coming in, ever.’
People say I’m being heartless. In fact, I’m being compassionate, and of course I believe it’s imperative that anyone who genuinely needs to shield should be supported in doing so. However, I’m facing reality, and the rest of Britain needs to wake up and do the same. If we don’t all get back to work, we will face economic catastrophe on an unimaginable scale.
For if Britain does go bust, it’ll be the most vulnerable people who will be hit worst. I’m not exaggerating: the damage done to Britain’s businesses over the past four months is already incalculable. We won’t see the full effects for years.
And so we must put a stop to it now. Otherwise, when October comes, millions are going to discover that they don’t have a job to come back to – and that’s the toughest time of year to find yourself on the dole, with Christmas coming. Far better that people face reality now, and set about job-hunting, retraining, even embarking on a new career, in August.
It was crazy of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce back in May that the furlough scheme would run till October. Faced with an unprecedented situation, being battered by conflicting advice from all sides, the Government panicked and overreacted.
Once October was mentioned, Downing Street was in an impossible position. They couldn’t reverse the decision without causing national outrage. The fact was, people were scared of the coronavirus but they also liked furlough. Many were actually better off, despite getting just 80 per cent of their wages: not only did they pay less tax but there were no travel expenses and no need to buy work clothes. Even the cost of a daily coffee and sandwich soon adds up.
The Chancellor got his figures badly wrong. With furlough payments set at 80 per cent, millions have been treating the crisis as a paid holiday.
They’re milking the system. I had grave misgivings about furlough from the start. We had about 150 people working in our head office, and we did all we could to create a safe environment.
Of those 150, about two thirds took leave. One third continued to come in, without whom we might not have stayed afloat. Those people know how much I admire their spirit. They’ve got the right attitude.
We looked after them well, with a £20 daily bonus and free food and drink, ordered from outside caterers at a cost of £2,000 a week. Some have been working seven days a week.
They are heroes. I’ve always said plumbers are one of the emergency services, even if you can’t get us by dialling 999. My business is one of countless thousands that keeps Britain going.
But if we don’t end the furlough, and get everyone back to work, I don’t know how much longer the country will cope.