MORE than a third of eligible jobs across Dorset have been furloughed since March, new figures reveal, with thousands more added to the scheme last month.

The Institute for Public Policy Research and Resolution Foundation think tanks are calling for the Government to extend or modify the Job Retention Scheme beyond October, to avoid triggering a spike in unemployment.

Figures from HM Revenue and Customs show around 60,800 claims to furlough jobs were made in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole by the end of July – 34 per cent of all eligible jobs.

That was 3,000 more than at the end of June, though this was fewer than the 7,800 jobs added to the scheme the previous month.

In the Dorset Council area there were 51,600 claims, equating to 33 per cent of all eligible jobs.

The figure is 1,900 more than the end of June but fewer than the 6,600 jobs added in the previous month.

The figures have been published as it is revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has severely undermined Britain’s public finances with the government’s debt exceeding £2tn for the first time and borrowing at its highest ever peacetime level.

The Office for National Statistics reported that public sector net debt rose another £20.2bn to hit £2.004tn in July. It is now higher than the annual value of goods and services produced in the UK.

During furlough time, the Government has paid 80 per cent of employees’ wages through Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s scheme, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month per employee.

Jobs at firms which are unable to operate or have no work for their employees because of coronavirus are eligible for furlough.

Between the launch of the Job Retention Scheme in March and the end of last month, 9.6 million jobs across the UK had been placed on furlough, amounting to £30.9 billion in claims.

Across the South West, the scheme has a take-up rate of 32 per cent, which is the same as across the whole of the UK.

From September, the Government’s contribution will drop to 70 per cent of wages, with employers having to make up the extra ten per cent, before the scheme is expected to end in October.

Now there are calls for it to be extended.

Paul Kinvig, Chief Operatnig Officers of the Bournemouth Town entre BID said: “Anything that the government can do to help businesses in what is an extremely challenging time they should look at doing.

“Furlough and Eat Out to Help Out have been hugely successful in the town centre.”

The Institute for Public Policy Research said that would be a “historic mistake”, and an extension is urgently needed.

Carsten Jung, IPPR senior economist, said: “The jobs recovery is real, but it looks slow and fragile.

“Even though the lockdown has been partially lifted, the economy is still only carefully picking up speed.

“Reforming and extending the scheme now could prevent jobs losses and boost the economy in this time of need.”

He added that transforming the furlough scheme to focus on job sharing could save 2 million jobs from being lost.

The Resolution Foundation said the scheme has played a critical role in protecting firms and workers from the worst of the economic crisis.

Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the think tank, said going forward the Chancellor’s “immediate priority” should be on the hardest-hit sectors, or he risks an unemployment spike this autumn.

As is the case across the UK, the industry most reliant on the scheme in the South West is hospitality, with 78 per cent of eligible workers furloughed by the end of July.

Also set to end in October is the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which allowed the self-employed to claim a grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits between March and May, up to £7,500.

Separate figures from HMRC show more than 32,000 people across Dorset had applied to the scheme by the end of July – 76 per cent of eligible workers.

They can now apply for a second and final grant, worth 70 per cent of profits and capped at £6,570, before the scheme closes on October 19.

Treasury spokeswoman said “We’ve been clear that that we can’t sustain this situation indefinitely but the end of the furlough scheme is not the end of our support for jobs.

“For businesses that can successfully bring furloughed employees back to work, this includes a £1,000 job retention bonus.”