Chancellor Rishi Sunak hints at 'effective ways' to replace furlough scheme and protect coronavirus-hit jobs

ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills analyses the latest unemployment figures

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has hinted the Treasury is looking at replacing the Job Retention Scheme when it ends next month.

It comes as thousands of workers across the UK are likely to lose their jobs in the coming weeks, especially those who have been put on furlough due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Sunak's comments come as around 695,000 UK workers have been removed from the payrolls of British companies since March when the coronavirus lockdown began, according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The chancellor said he did not believe it was the "right thing to do" to "endlessly extend furlough" but "protecting" and "creating new jobs remains top of my mind".

"The furlough scheme has worked in protecting millions of people’s jobs but as the numbers today show I wouldn’t be being honest with people if I pretended that it was always going to be possible for people to return to the job that they had," Mr Sunak said.

"Now in terms of helping those people I don’t think the right thing to do is to endlessly extend furlough, as you can see talking to people here today people don’t want to be at home they want to be in work and that’s why our plan for jobs is so important because it helps to provide people with new opportunities going forward."

Experts are worried that the full extent of Britain’s jobs problems has been hidden by the Government’s furlough scheme. Credit: PA

Mr Sunak added: "But protecting people’s jobs, creating new jobs remains top of my mind and I’m always looking for interesting, creative, innovative and effective new ways to support jobs and employment and people can rest assured that will remain my number one priority."

Speaking earlier in the House of Commons, shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson said: "Despite countless warnings from these benches the government is pulling away the Job Retention Scheme just at the moment when infection rates are rising again right across our country."

She added: "Will the minister not listen and change course before it is too late?"

Treasury minister Stephen Barclay replied: "(Ms Phillipson) is just simply wrong because what she ignores is the fact that (Mr Sunak) has put in place a furlough bonus as support that goes beyond October to retain that link for employees to come back."

Ms Phillipson said: "Rather than stubbornly sticking to a decision made back in July, can the Chief Secretary not accept that the situation has changed and the Government must too change course?"

Mr Barclay replied: "The reality is that the furlough pays a higher rate of people’s wages than Spain, it supports a wider range of businesses than New Zealand and the scheme runs for twice as long as that in Denmark."