In a detailed and assertive public announcement made by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar this afternoon (24.03.2020), the measures put in place have included an assistance scheme for private sector employees and self-employed persons.
A list of excluded industries which will not be able to benefit from this assistance will be announced later on today on the government Facebook page.
Communal and international solidarity
He made it clear that this is a time for communal and international solidarity and that the benefits will apply to everyone is a registered employee in Gibraltar regardless of nationality or place of residence.
Mr. Picardo had words of fellowship for Spain which is suffering so much at the moment.
The figure of a “inactive employee” has been created in law. This refers to people in employment as at the 15th of March 2020 who are not able to carry out their work on account of the restrictions and are not able to work from home.
Responsibility of registering “inactive employees” lies solely on the employer. The sum of up to £1,115 for full time workers will be paid to employers for immediate and complete transfer to their inactive employees.
In the case of part time and zero-hour contract employees, a proportion of this amount will be paid based on the average number of hours worked in the period January and February 2020.
The Chief Minister stated that any business looking to register ‘inactive employees’ must do so immediately if they fall within the correct criteria. This does not include employees who are able to carry out their work from home remotely.
He issued a stern warning to anybody who thinks that they could take advantage of the situation. He said that anyone who took more than his entitlement in relation to any of the emergency measures announced will be severely punished. They would, he said, after all be acting against the interests of all fellow citizens and would deserve nothing less than the harshest penalties available to the law, which will include fines and imprisonment.
A ministerial team had put together a package known as the “Business and Employment and Assistance Terms” (‘BEAT’), to provide assistance to the private sector which he said was the “lifeblood” of the economy.
These included the following:
- Commercial rent waivers as previously been announced.
- Waiver of municipal rates.
- Deferral of payment of utility charges.
- Deferral of PAYE and social insurance contributions.
- Public acquisition of perishable stock.
- Elimination of certain import duties.
- Issue of emergency work permits.
- Deferral of financial services fees.
- Review of Gaming duty with particular reference to sports gaming which relies on international sporting events that are being cancelled.
- Review of statutory insolvency margins for insurance companies.
- Capital expenditure tax deductions up to £50,000 for expenses incurred in trying to reposition businesses during the crisis.
A Shield to Businesses and Working People
In addition to the above, evictions for non-payment of rent in residential accommodation would be stopped where the reason for non-payment is attributable to the current crisis.
Purchasers of off-plan apartments who could show “genuine hardship” as a result of the crisis should seek assistance from the Government agents GRP Ltd, who will do their best to provide solutions.
He asked management companies for building estates to give service charge payers some leeway.
Take only what you really need
However, the underlying message that Mr. Picardo gave was one where everyone must take responsibility and people should not ask for any assistance or leeway which they do not need.
Whatever is paid over and above what a person requires for essentials is something which will deprive others who are in genuine need in coming months.
Thus, he said: “Do not claim for an inactive employee if they are able to work … we will come down on you like a ton of bricks if you do. If you can pay your employees without our help, please do so for as long as you can.”
Profiteering from Crisis
On the same lines, the Chief Minister said that the Office of Fair Trading will be keeping close scrutiny to ensure that there is no profiteering in any items of genuine necessity at this time, and he gave the examples of high-demand goods such as sanitizers, gloves, facemasks and medication.
He has capped any price increase at 10% over prices applicable as at the 15th of March 2020.
Again, he promised swift punishment for anyone who tried to take advantage of fellow citizens or the government, and a fine of up to £5,000 will be issued to businesses profiteering from the crisis.
Privacy in Hospitals
In view of the demoralising pictures coming out from other countries, all recordings in hospitals will be forbidden in order to protect also the privacy and sensibilities of patients, family members and staff.
In answer to questions, Mr. Picardo said that the expenditure expected could range between £10 m and £30m per month and therefore, care and responsibility must be exercised to ensure maximisation of the benefits of any monies paid by the Government.
The Government was taking out substantial loans in order to be able to defray costs the expenditure for as long as possible.
There had been positive liaison with the British Government in order to be able to make use of the AAA Rating that the British Sovereign State has in the international markets.
There were also talks to see whether Gibraltar could access EU rescue funding, even during this Brexit transitional stage. He said that this was justified, not least because Gibraltar had not voted to leave the EU.
The Ministry of Defence in London has approved the request to support civilian authority which would be in the form of logistical support and an MOD team was already working closely with the Government of Gibraltar.
Support to the Police
Mr. Picardo asked for all citizens to support the work of the police at this difficult time and to follow instructions without argument.
When will it all End?
“We have to have an economy once the pandemic subsides, and it will subside.”
The Chief Minister said that there was no way of knowing when this crisis would end. He had previously said that the international market economy had been ‘broken’ and that normal principles of supply and demand no longer work.
Even after the health crisis has finished, there will be a long period of recovery during which time continuing assistance would be required to mitigate hardship as much as possible on a long term basis.