More than 140,000 firms have already applied for grants on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) application portal which went live at 8am this morning, chancellor Rishi Sunak has said.
Sunak said that, thanks to the scheme, the jobs of 1 million people who have been furloughed will be saved. He thanked the thousands of staff at HMRC who had been working "around the clock" to get the new system up and running, calling it a "remarkable story of public service".
He also announced the launch of two new initiatives: a Future Fund worth £500m, launching in May, for firms to access the investment through loans of between £125,000 and £5m; and £750m worth of loans for highly innovative firms in every sector and region across the UK, in partnership with Innovate UK.
He said that the unique launch aimed at start-ups was a very specific response to the current unprecedented circumstances and was designed to support one of the most "dynamic parts of our economy" and enable the UK's economy to get back to an upward trajectory.
"We have never seen an economic crisis like this," Sunak said, adding that the goal of new initiatives was to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs, keep businesses afloat and maintain the economy's productive capacity to "bridge through this crisis".
As well as dealing with a national health crisis, he said the government had also been "sowing the seeds of our recovery".
When asked about the government-backed loan scheme, Sunak said he was not persuaded that moving to a 100% guarantee was "the right thing to do". He said that the application acceptance rate was running at 80-90%, that "progress was being made" and that the government was looking to streamline and simplify the application process.