The UK’s top 50 contractors claimed up to £1.1m in furlough cash from the government in December, according to figures released by HMRC.
The claims show that, of the top 50 contractors ranked by turnover in the CN100, 22 firms are understood to have claimed between £450,000 and £1.1m from the scheme in December, which helps protect staff wages over the course of the pandemic.
The biggest claim during the month was submitted by Colas, which claimed between £100,001 and £250,000 in December, with three Engie subsidiaries claiming between £85,000 and £175,000 and Vinci, which claimed between £50,000 and £100,000. Construction News has approached the companies for comment.
The scheme is currently set to expire in April but business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC News yesterday that it would be extended in today’s Budget. It has been widely reported in national media today that chancellor Rishi Sunak will extend the scheme until the end of September.
Until recently, the names of companies claiming furlough payments via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme were withheld due to confidentiality restrictions under the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005. Company names are now disclosed following a Treasury directive issued when the scheme was extended in October. So far HMRC has only released data for December, with the amounts given stated in ranges rather than specific figures.
A number of big contractors including Balfour Beatty, Kier, Morgan Sindall and Laing O’Rourke did not appear on the list, which shows all limited companies that submitted a furlough claim during the month. Claims, however, are submitted via a firm’s PAYE reference, which does not always match their limited company name.
A total of 745,551 separate companies submitted claims during the last month of 2020. The claims for December were submitted before the government announced a UK-wide third national lockdown to tackle increasing coronavirus infections.
The industry as a whole has claimed more than £4.16bn in furlough cash since the start of the crisis.
The figures for December pre-date the significant rise in construction sector workers furloughed in January, with 244,100 people on furlough at the end of the month, according to the latest figures. This was up from just 195,100 furloughed employees as of 31 December.
Some firms have been criticised for claiming furlough cash while also paying out dividends to shareholders. In August, Morgan Sindall pledged to repay £9.1m in furlough cash claimed under the CJRS scheme. In September, Kier revealed that it had furloughed up to 2,000 employees during the height of the coronavirus pandemic however the contractor confirmed that no employees had been on the furlough scheme since 31 July.
This week, Labour MP and shadow minister for international trade Bill Esterson slammed Australian-owned developer Lendlease for paying a dividend for the half-year ending 31 December 2020 despite claiming from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Lendlease did not appear in the latest figures disclosed by HMRC.
Balfour Beatty faced similar controversy in December when it confirmed it would hold on to £15m of furlough cash as it reinstated dividends and began a £50m share buyback programme. Public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier questioned why firms that were doing well were keeping the money. “This is not free money. The taxpayer is not an ATM for companies doing well in COVID,” she told The Sunday Times at the time.
According to BBC News, under the new furlough plans to be announced today, employers will be expected to pay 10 per cent towards the hours their staff do not work in July, increasing to 20 per cent in August and September, as the economy reopens. The next round of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is also expected to be widened to include the newly self-employed who only filed their first tax returns in 2019/20.

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Revealed: how much furlough cash the top contractors claimed in December – tim.clark@emap.com – 2021-03-03 09:50:06

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