When the furlough scheme came to an end in September 2021, Gary Ashworth appeared on Times Radio to talk about the long-term impact of the government’s financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic. Below is a transcript of the interview, where Gary spoke to Early Breakfast host Calum Macdonald.
Calum Macdonald: Let’s return to our main story. We started the program with this. Uh, so of course, the end of the furlough scheme, the £70 billion furlough program, which ends today after supporting millions of UK workers over the past 18 months. Uncertainty remains for the future of almost 1 million workers who were expected to still be receiving support through the financial scheme until now. So that’s the kind of estimate for how many people would still be on furlough. Economists warning that although many may find work in recovering sectors like hospitality and travel, there is also likely to be a rise in unemployment due to new redundancies. Let’s speak to Gary Ashworth, entrepreneur business leader, and recruitment specialist. Good morning, Gary.
Gary Ashworth: Good morning, Calum.
Calum Macdonald: I think first of all, then on that, on that note on unemployment, um, I mean, what would your forecast, what would your prediction be on unemployment? Is this likely to surge as a result of the end of furlough today?
Gary Ashworth: I don’t think it will because I don’t think there’s a wall of talent kind of eagerly waiting to step back into the workplace with “ta-dah!” tomorrow morning. So if you look at the unemployment figures, probably there’s very little unemployment, we’re almost in a space of full employment now because 4% unemployment probably means that there are a few people changing jobs but no real gaps. But I think if we look underneath the headline of this million people coming off furlough, a few will come back but already many of them are part-time, some of them working elsewhere already, some of them are older and they might not come back into the workplace at all. Uh, some of them have had an epiphany and decided they didn’t like the old job. They’ve decided they want to do something new. They want to go and learn to play the cello and sit on the top of a hill in a dinner jacket. And some of them are just plain unemployable and have a bad attitude and are anti-vaxxers, and won’t get jobs. So I think if we look underneath, we won’t see a great rise in the unemployment figures and we shouldn’t panic about that. We should panic back other things.
Calum Macdonald: Yeah. So that’s interesting. So your analysis there suggests that the furlough scheme and the end of the furlough scheme indeed, will be used by companies to almost just sort of usher people out the door that perhaps they don’t want to welcome back.
Gary Ashworth: Well, I don’t think a lot of them necessarily want to come back, but it’s human nature that you don’t leave your best people on the bench, I’m sorry to say. It’s, it’s not as though we are going see, you know, a great plethora of healthcare workers or HGV drivers or tech people suddenly available for work saying here I am, you know, use me, I think most of those people have already come back to work.
Calum Macdonald: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean the scheme itself, just to look back over its 18-month history, £70 billion has been spent. The chancellor says he’s proud of it and it’s done what it needed to do. Is that your feeling as well, that furlough was necessary but now, the 30th of September, is the time that it needs to wrap up and we get back to normal?
Gary Ashworth: Well, I think two things, I think in the context of the lockdown, furlough was needed and was quite brilliant and Rishi’s done a great job. However, if you look back on the 40 years that I’ve been in business and voting, I think the lockdown itself was probably the worst decision any government’s ever, ever made. And without the lockdown, furlough wouldn’t have been necessary. But I think it is time to bring it to an end now and I think it will end elegantly, and without a bump that some people are suggesting.
Calum Macdonald: Okay. It sounds like you’re taking quite a pragmatic view, I suppose, Gary. Just in terms of your recruitment expertise, what happens to the labour market? We are seeing shortages in the areas that you mentioned, HGV drivers, care and healthcare. These are places that desperately need people to be recruited into them and so if people are not returning to their jobs that they were in 18 months ago, are we doing enough to kind of retrain, to reskill people, to direct people to the areas of our economy and our society, frankly, that have vacancies that desperately need filled at this point?
Gary Ashworth: That a great question, and I think that there are only three ways that we can get employees in these skill short areas. We can build them, but that takes time to coach people and train them, especially in the healthcare sector. We can swipe them, we can steal them, you know, we can hire them from other companies and that’s why there’s been massive age inflation. I think they haven’t even seen the start of the wage inflation yet. We’re seeing salary increases in counter offers of 15 or 20% of basic salaries. Or, we can import them. We can import them from other countries and perhaps the government needs to look at examining or relaxing some of the visa programs in these skill short sectors. The economy is zooming away now, there are only two or three times in my lifetime when I’ve seen the economy be this busy and the only thing that’s holding us back now is not having enough people to take the jobs.
Calum Macdonald: Mmm. Really interesting speaking to you, Gary. Thanks for your time.
Gary Ashworth: Thank you Calum.
Calum Macdonald: Cheers. We’ll catch you again soon. That is Gary Ashworth, entrepreneur, business leader and recruitment specialist, on the end of furlough,
This interview took place live on 30 September 2021, at around 5:30am, on Times Radio.