Shropshire Chamber of Commerce today welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to extend the furlough scheme, describing it as a ‘huge sigh of relief’ for businesses across the county.

Richard Sheehan, the Chamber’s chief executive, said: “We have been lobbying hard for this kind of approach, and it shows that the Government has listened to the business community.

“For all of those Shropshire businesses which are currently still closed, or running with virtually no reserves as a result of Covid restrictions, this is going to give them a huge sigh of relief.

“The furlough scheme has been a lifeline to all sectors of the Shropshire economy, and to have abruptly turned off the tap would have risked undoing much of the good work over the past year.

“At Shropshire Chamber, we have been persistently calling on the Government for clarity, allowing companies to plan ahead as they start to rebuild – this Budget has certainly gone some way to help.”

Mr Sheehan added: “We realise that a time is going to come when business support will have to reduce, and the Government will need to step up strategies to recoup much of the money it has spent.

“But a gradual transition, tapering down the financial support rather than abruptly cutting it off, is definitely the way forward. Shropshire companies which have been worst hit by Covid are not going to be able to rebuild overnight – it’s going to take time.

“And that means that this certainly isn’t the time for an end to crucial lifelines such as Business Rates Relief or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.”

Mr Sheehan said the Government had also taken a sensible approach with its plans to raise Corporation Tax – by exempting companies with profits below £50,000 from the increase.

And he welcomed the extension of lower VAT rates for the hospitality industries. “This will make such a big difference in Shropshire, where the health of the tourism and leisure sector is so crucial.”