In this editorial, we look at some of the transparency issues arising out of the furlough scheme.
The furlough scheme is expected to cost the government more than £54 billion between March and October, which accounts for more than a third of the entire pandemic support. The government has put very little restrictions on which employers can claim under the scheme so long as they met certain eligibility criteria (which had very little to do with the size or revenue of claimants). The aim was clear: to allow any employers up and down the country to retain as many employees as possible on payroll without resorting to making them redundant which was seen as an inevitability without external support.
Whilst this was clearly a boon for many struggling employers in the midst of the pandemic, the media wasn’t so forgiving to many high profile employers such as Premier League football clubs Liverpool and Tottenham who eventually reversed their decision to furlough their non-playing staff. Victoria Beckam's fashion label soon followed suit after coming in for criticism for deciding to furlough 30 of her staff. None of these companies would have been legally in the wrong had they made use of the furlough scheme but there was a moral force against it, and they relented under the growing pressure from the media.
Now well into several months of the scheme and the scheme soon to expire in October, companies are beginning to repay their furlough grants back to the government to show that they are "doing the right thing", and in an effort to showcase their transparency. Bunzl, The Spectator and Ikea have all repaid their furlough grants in recent weeks. With return to work firmly in sight for many employers, with the associated debate surrounding whether employers ought to publish their health & safety risk assessments online, not to mention Black Lives Matter, corporate transparency has come to the fore once again. Repayment of furlough is merely one manifestation of this increasingly important global corporate topic which will increasingly occupy the minds of employers.