UK triples coronavirus response fund for NHS and public services | Society

The government’s coronavirus emergency response fund, set up during last month’s budget to provide financial assistance to public services, has been almost tripled to more than £14bn, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced.

The move comes as the government faces mounting criticism of its response to the pandemic, amid concerns that frontline health workers have not received sufficient protective equipment and that hospitals urgently require more ventilators.

The funds will bolster the NHS and local authorities, the Treasury said, with the addition of £9bn to the initial £5bn fund Sunak announced one month ago.

The chancellor said: “Our public services and its incredible workers are working with immense resolve and skill to keep us safe.

“We depend on them, which is why we are doing everything we can to provide our NHS, local authorities and others, with the resources and tools they need to tackle the virus.

“From the start, I’ve been clear our vital public services will get whatever they need to protect this country and its people from coronavirus.”

The Treasury said the £14.5bn funding package included £6.6bn of support to health services, which would be specifically targeted towards freeing up hospital beds and delivering “urgent priorities including acquiring ventilators, diagnostic tests and protective equipment for NHS staff”.

The remainder includes: £3.5bn to keep rail services operating; £1.6bn for local authorities; £1.9bn to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and £900m to cover extra measures such as food packages for vulnerable people.

The new funds will be raised by drawing on a combination of the government’s existing reserves, money earmarked for spending that cannot now take place and additional government borrowing, the Treasury said.

It declined to reveal how much of the £14.5bn would come from each source of funds, or what form the government borrowing might take, saying only that it would outline further details in the next budget.

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The provision of the extra resources for public services comes as fears grow about how Sunak will pay for the huge requirement for Covid-19 funding, with the chancellor reported to have told colleagues that the UK’s economic output could fall by as much as 30% between April and June, as cabinet colleagues have called for restrictions to be eased.

The Times reported on Monday that ministers said Sunak discussed the possibility of a “25% to 30%” fall in the second quarter of this year, while City analysts have forecast an average contraction of around 15% in the economy caused by the coronavirus lockdown, although some economists have predicted the drop could be as severe as 24%. The Treasury did not comment on the report.

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