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Lockdown to persist says Johnson, clergy weigh in on behaviour of corona-corporations

The PM is back at his desk and says the lockdown must continue for the foreseeable future, and it would be premature to consider lifting now. After having been struck down with COVID-19 himself – and ending up in intensive care – the premier has finally convalesced and spoke from a podum outside Number 10 this morning. He said the country is “turning the tide” but said we are currently at the moment of “maximum risk” and wanted to be sure the virus is fully under control.

Johnson faces an unenviable balancing act between an economy that is fast shedding jobs and bankruptcies are beginning to loom, and trying to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed by sufferers of the disease. He will be keen to avoid any so-called ‘second wave’, in case it produces the horrors seen in Italy where medics were simply unable to handle the volume of people presenting with severe symptoms.

FTSE 100 companies claiming furlough support have cut executive pay reports the Guardian, although it arguably wrote its story the wrong way around, choosing to start by saying that in the previous year, when there was no pandemic, they paid their CEOs an average of £3.6m. Companies that have applied for furlough funding include AB Foods (which owns Primark), JD Sports, Next, and the owner of British Airways, IAG. All have cut pay at the top, but you have to trudge to paragraph three to find that out.

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Travel further to paragraph seven (who even does that online, except for this column you’re reading?) and you find out the 37% of FTSE 100 companies (or, simply, 37 of those companies) have already cut their board-level pay. It is fair to say that they have not behaved entirely altruistically, because only 13 of them have dispensed with bonuses or reduced the long term vesting-share remuneration that is commonly seen at the top of big businesses. Someone have a word with the Guardian’s sub-editor.

Admiral is only suspending part of its dividend payments, reports the Guardian. It would seem the company regards itself as being in good health, as it has not applied for any government support and has been rolling out refunds to customers. It announced last week that due to the savings it was making on reduced claim volumes because road traffic had plummeted during the lockdown, it was able to start sending money back to customers. 

In a statement today the insurer said the dividend in question was a special dividend of about £60m. Instead it will go for its normal dividend of £165m due on June 1st. The one bit of arguably bad PR is that the chief exec David Stevens will still collect his £5m in remuneration, but he and his wife have promised to give a chunk of it to a charitable foundation they set up which will in turn help charities facing funding shortfalls during the crisis. 

Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed in on coronavirus bailouts saying that companies which are incorporated offshore in secretive tax havens should not be granted any public funds for bailout purposes. Williams and other senior bods at the Church of England said an example could be found in the tough rules from Denmark, Poland and France, whose governments have already said companies with complex tax arrangements that are obviously designed to reduce their liability where they are seeking help, should not be assisted.

In a letter written to and published by The Times this morning, they said: “During this crisis many of the most vulnerable people in our society are paying the price for a health and welfare system woefully unprepared for an epidemic. Meanwhile some large corporations continue to avoid responsibility, making huge profits yet hiding their wealth in tax havens.

“More than 80% of the British public believe that legal tax avoidance is morally wrong. This crisis demonstrates why they are right. Today at least $8tn [£6.44tn] sits offshore, with its wealthy owners hiding from their tax and social responsibilities. Developing countries are deprived of up to $400bn every year by tax dodging.”

Hard to argue with that really…

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