By Scott Wright

LORD Karan Bilimoria, president of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), has declared the door should not be closed on extending the furlough scheme as fears persist over tens of thousands of job losses in the hospitality sector.

And he declared government has failed to provide any scientific evidence to support the decision to impose a 10pm cufrew on pubs, bars and restaurants, as the hospitality industry continues to contend that the rate of coronavirus infection in its outlets remains low.

The founder of Cobra Beer said Chancellor Rishi Sunak has shown he has listened business during the pandemic, first by introducing the furlough scheme, extending it and then expanding its replacement, the job support scheme, on Friday last week.

Asked if he feels the extended job support scheme, which will see the UK Government cover two-thirds of the wages of people who work for businesses forced to close because of Covid restrictions, Lord Bilimoria said: “I think they have got to keep an open mind, as they have so far. If you look at the Germans, for example, they have extended their furlough scheme all the way to the end of next year, and theirs is even linked to families. We have to try and save these businesses, save these jobs. The British Beer & Pub Association have said if we do not act, we are looking at 12,000 pubs closing down, with the loss of 291,000 jobs. We cannot have that happening.”

Lord Bilimoria emphasised the importance of the coming months to the sector, citing figures that suggest it does one-third of its business between Halloween and New Year’s Day. This year, that period comes after months of disruption sparked by coronavirus.

Lord Bilimoria added: “Now, if we are going to close another really important period for the industry, we have got to try and allow these businesses to survive and save those jobs.”

Lord Bilimoria questioned the testing policy currently pursued by Westminster, declaring that regular mass testing of the whole population is key to getting the economy “firing on all cylinders”. He said the UK should be striving to test all members of the population regularly, stating that this would allow the economy to open up while ensuring the most vulnerable in society are protected. And he argues the UK, which aims to increase testing capacity to 500,000 per day by the end of this month, would be better served by following the approach to testing being taken in the US and Greece, where “five dollar, 15-minute Covid tests” are available.

But he added: “What has not helped is the 10pm closing, because the government has not given any clear scientific evidence for that.

"The scientific evidence I have seen is that it is less than 5% of new infections come from the hospitality industry.

“I know from my trade, from our surveys that we do within the trade, that only 10% of drinking takes place after 10pm, so why is an industry that employs four million people in the UK, that has suffered so badly, that was shut for three and half months and has gone to so much expense to make our venues Covid safe… been put under more pressure when we are desperately trying to survive?”

Lord Bilimoria was speaking as the CBI holds its first ever conference on international trade, which comes as talks between the UK and EU over a Brexit deal enter a critical phase. He said the most recent survey of CBI members showed 77 per cent want a deal. He said: “The size of the prize for getting a deal will be great.

"It will allow us to go full throttle [into] recovery next year, it will protect jobs under pressure from the pandemic by duty and quota-free trade. Closer customs co-operation will minimise red tape and costs, easing the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which has been an issue.”

He added: “Frictionless trade is so important.”